Hi there, Momo in the 6 readers. I’m honoured to be able to share some thoughts for new moms on Momo’s lovely site.
A bit about me: My husband and I are so grateful to have a beautiful and sweet little girl named Norah. She’s almost 17 months old and starting to talk up a storm! It’s truly the best thing I could have imagined. I’m a lawyer who loves distance running, cooking (then eating) and reading. My husband is a lawyer who is also in an amazing band. In addition to Norah, we have two dogs, a cat and live downtown in tiny Victorian.
I had so many thoughts floating around in my head about what to say in this post that I actually jotted down a mind map. Like a big dork. At the end of the session I had a page black with ink that looked like a web spun by a drunk spider. I’ll spare you all the details and just share the big themes that emerged.
The People in Your Neighbourhood
I’m an only child who is crazy close with my parents but the rest of our lovely family lives abroad. Perhaps because of this, the people around us became very important in my childhood as well as in motherhood. Keeping in close contact with my girlfriends in-person or via Skype and emails during pregnancy and when our daughter was born helped me in so many ways. First of all, the people who know me the most were there to share in my joys and fears. They knew from the moment I found out I was pregnant, through some scares and into the hospital (no video then, just texts!). Equally important for me was making sure that I stayed close with my friends who don’t have kids. I knew that I needed to maintain all my special friendships, not just those with people who are in the same boat. As side note: friends who don’t have kids are the best. They have the time and energy to take you out, hold your baby and make sure you still know where the cool places to grab a drink are! Surrounding myself with friends, even when the things I needed to share were not very new, exciting or glamorous, deepened the bond we already had and I’m so grateful to all my friends for keeping me sane and showing our growing family love in many different ways.
Isolation is one of the biggest fears and challenges of new motherhood that I hear from my friends and I think that, especially in a city and with technology, this is a worry that can be addressed.
On that topic, popular wisdom holds that women don’t make new friends after a certain age. I call bullshit on that. Big time. It’s a pernicious myth and one I want to shout from the rooftops about. Go out with your baby, as early as you can muster leaving the house, and make some new friends. There’s nothing like having people in your neighbourhood to meet up with. Making new friends isn’t automatic and, like dating, you’ll certainly be attracted to some and not feel a connection with others, but the people you do pick up will be precious new additions to your life. They will most often be the people who see your little one have her many firsts. There’s also something wonderful about having a friend text you at 11 am on a Monday to ask if you and baby want to go grab groceries and a coffee. If you’re up for it, find your neighbourhood drop-in center / song-circle / library / kinder-gym and show up as frequently as you’re able. You’ll find a routine, expose your baby to new experiences and, as I did with Momo, you may just pick up a special new friend at the swing-set!
Motherhood is deemed by the media to be divisive. I’d also like to call bullshit on that. I have never in my life had the privilege of befriending people from such varied backgrounds, philosophies and professions. When two people have a tiny child clinging to them, it doesn’t matter what your job is, where you live or what clothes you wear, you instantly have something to talk about (not that your mom friends should only be focused on mothering and erase who you are as a person!), but the lesson I’m so blessed to have learned is, let new people in. They have taught me so much. Even when I’ve met people who I don’t click with, being exposed to a variety of opinions has been one of the biggest influences in helping me figure out what kind of person, parent and partner I want to be.
Another big lesson I learned in the past 17 months is to abandon my pride, period. This is especially true when things aren’t working. Baby Norah was an amazing sleeper, that is, until we took her to Europe for three weeks. When we got home, she was having trouble sleeping through the night then, as a result of being over-tired, the poor dear starting fighting her naps with the strength of ten thousand grown men. My husband and I were a bit cocky. We figured that we’re smart and surely we could coax a good little kid back into a great sleep schedule. I admitted I was wrong and needed help only after crying big, ugly sobs over the phone to one of my oldest friends whose baby had spent the first 5 months of his life refusing to sleep. Like the gem she is, she let me “feel my feelings” then reminded me that everybody needs to call in an expert from time to time. In came the sleep consultant. Three nights later (and in a manner that was loving and respectful for our baby), Norah was sleeping through the night again. If you’re at wits end, chances are you need some help. Ask around, Google (but take everything on the internet, including my post!, with a grain of salt) and, if you need it, find somebody to help.
Here are a few things that I’m grateful to have watched the moms around me I admire do so that I could take a page from their book, as well as a few things that we’ve discovered works for us:
Wear that baby!
It makes life so much easier, not to mention intimate and fun. It comes so naturally to speak to your baby (or toddler) or to point out new and amazing things when she’s inches from your face. We have both the Baby Bjorn (my husband’s favourite) and the Ergo Baby (my favourite which we have used since she was 5 days old and still use today, comfortably, for long walks).
Follow your baby’s lead and let her turn you into a silly person or turn you onto her interests:
• Babies tend to be easily amused and charmingly silly. Follow your baby’s lead and laugh at a silly noise, make funny faces and find hilarity in the mundane.
• Also, fight the temptation to only steer your baby’s interest to things you like while ignoring what makes her tick.
• Notice all the little things
• Everything is new to a baby, so most things are fascinating. If you stop and watch what captures her attention, it can be as simple as a bright light, a bug or a bird. Take a moment to notice these things too and talk to your baby about them. Bonus if you get down on her level and see the house or park from her vantage point.
• We’ve started feeding the birds outside our front door and stop to watch squirrels scurry up a tree. It makes Norah so delighted and I feel more grounded, too.
• Go to as many new places / do as many new things as you can
• The park, the zoo, the wading pool, the farmers market, a new country. These are all new and enriching experiences for your baby. Talk to her about everything you’re experiencing and let her use as many senses as appropriate to explore the new place.
• To this end, procure the coziest, warmest, most waterproof or warm weather appropriate gear that you can find so that, no matter the weather, you can set off on an adventure.
• Talk your baby’s ear off
• I didn’t realize how much Norah understood until she started speaking. It blew me away. It’s true, they understand oh-so much before they can form their first word and you’ll be astounded by what they already know and what they have been filing away as you chat to them.
• On that note: radio edits are key. I may have realized this one a bit too late myself. #liveandlearn
• Kiss your baby
• This one comes naturally, but I do make a point of kissing Norah and telling her how much I love her, how lucky I feel to be her mother and that her daddy and I will always love her for who she is, not what she does. We feel so blessed to have her and we want her to know, every day that she is so wanted and brings so much joy.
• You should always do you
• I don’t like clutter and I find many baby-specific products annoying. Instead of buying a nursing cover, I bought a funky scarf from Artizia that served as a nursing cover, baby carrier cover in the fall and scarf on me. We also got a tote bag from Herschel with tons of clever interior pockets instead of a diaper bag. You don’t have to abandon your sense of self or style.
• You should also always feel free to graciously listen to then discard advice. You’re smart, you love this kid, you have a sense of what works best. Each baby, mom and family are different and having the maturity to know what clicks for you is part of the beautiful confidence that motherhood can bring.
Your partner is key
• Let your partner parent. Don’t assume that because you would do something differently that he’s not doing it “right.” A lot of bonding takes place through figuring out how to get through the day.
• That’s also a great excuse to make sure you resume a hobby or passion of yours when baby is little, get out of the house and give baby and dad some really special time alone.
• If you’re lucky, your baby will grow up and head off to school and your household will be you and your spouse. Make sure to nurture your relationship, even when you’re both so tired your eyes are watering. Date nights or even just a special night at home where the TV is off, phones are away and you do something out of the ordinary (might I suggest a bottle of good wine and a paint by number, the card game Exploding Kittens or a really hard puzzle?)
It’s easy when you’re pregnant, nesting and trying to assert control over something so far out of your control to focus on accumulating very cute stuff for your little one. I was and am still guilty of that. I did, however, quickly realize how fast babies grow out of special outfits and toys. Since we are going to be a family of three, I find giving Norah’s baby items away to be incredibly emotionally charged. Gifting her things to friends or to families in need is an excellent way to assuage those feelings of nostalgia and what-ifs. If you think your family is complete or you’re done with some baby gear, consider making a donation of your gently used items to The New Mom Project. Not only is it a perfect way to keep your house clutter-free, but you have the comfort of knowing that another mom who may not otherwise have the resources will be able to shower her new love with special gear.