Friday, April 16, 2010

Motherhood makes me humble

I have known for years that I wanted to be a mother someday. In fact, I consciously prepared for the job, reading the books, watching my younger siblings, becoming a nanny, becoming a teacher. It was all part of the road to being a mother. So I must say, I considered myself something of an expert. When the nurses asked me if I knew how to burp or bathe a baby, I gave an assured smile and said, "Well, I have four younger siblings and I was a nanny!" I felt like those credentials ought to count for something. And I have an immense amount of book learning, thanks to my mom's fondness for parenting books: I can discourse intelligently about the relative merits of Dr. Spock and Dr. Sears, I have opinions about every child-raising decision there is, and I have read pretty much every single book out there about getting your baby to sleep at night.

But I've had this baby for less than two weeks, and already I'm cringing about things I thought and said in the past. I remember reminding my mother, "There's no point in getting mad at the baby, he can't help the fact that he's crying." It seemed like a rational thing to say. But when my own baby was starving and simply refused to latch on, screaming at me like a mad thing, tears were rolling down my own cheeks too. It's just the way it goes.

And I remember not understanding in the least why my mom would regale me every morning with her efforts to get the baby to sleep in his crib. "He clearly doesn't want to sleep in his crib, and you're staying awake all night trying to get him there," was my take. "Wouldn't be easier to accept the inevitable and keep him in your bed?" But that was before I knew the difference between curling up, half-asleep, around a sweaty baby, terrified to twitch for fear of waking him, and the sheer luxury of stretching out at will in my own bed while the baby sleeps contentedly (even if only for a few minutes) in his.

I have pointed out before to others that a nursing mother never enters the deepest phase of sleep. It was a wonderful argument for the safety of co-sleeping, plus an interesting tidbit. But now I crave that deepest phase of sleep like an addict craves crack cocaine.

I have read a great deal about breastfeeding, and I simply couldn't understand why there are people who don't do it. After all, it's not just better for mom and baby -- it's so much more convenient! I didn't know how much I would wish for a single day where my body was completely my own. Or the ability to hand off the baby to someone else for eight hours while I went off and did my own thing.

In fact, it never occurred to me how badly I would want to do my own thing. I always thought that a new mother trying to have a life of her own was bound to be futile -- just when you get started doing something, the baby needs you -- so I thought I wouldn't bother trying. But instead I spent a good deal of effort getting the baby down in his crib so I could blog and read up on my Facebook.

My excuse for my surprise at so many things has always been, "But my mother always made it look so easy!" However, that isn't quite true. Sometimes I saw my mother terribly frustrated, tired, worn out, desperate for sleep. And in my head I would figure out how I would do things better so I wouldn't get in that state myself. And here I am, sometimes just fine, but sometimes so exhausted I can barely function; sometimes handling my new baby with grace, and sometimes completely clueless. The fact is, no amount of book-learning can teach you what an hour with a baby can. And no number of hours with a baby can teach you what it is to be that baby's mother. Everything is different from this angle.

I foresee the future with this child as being one long string of experiences that humble me, that teach me that I truly don't know it all. Hopefully I will learn to be less judgmental and more accepting of imperfection. Because imperfection is a big part of being a parent ... just when you realize that nothing but perfection is good enough for your child, you find that it just isn't in you. You're just going to have to do the best you can.

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