Right. Wrong. Life. Death. Few things are ever that black and white. But when a new parent brings home their little baby for the first time, the fear of caring for them can feel that stark. It was the hospital’s job to keep that baby alive and now it’s all on them. Every hour. Every day.
As a postpartum doula, my job is to offer support to a new parent — usually mom — once the baby leaves the hospital. This in-home support can look different on any given day. Some days I help mom and baby find an optimal breastfeeding position. I sterilize bottles; prepare mom a nutritious snack; help with baby’s first (or second or third) bath; listen to mom’s frustrations, musings, concerns, joys and sadness; do the baby’s laundry or soothe the baby while mom naps or showers.
The one thing that all my clients have in common are the questions they ask: How long should I breastfeed? Should I swaddle during the day? Should I cover his hands with those little mitts? Why can’t I calm her down? Should I dress him in more layers? Why does she spit up after I nurse? When should I do ‘tummy time?’ Will the food that I eat upset the baby’s stomach?
These are all important and valid questions, worthy of thoughtful responses. And if needed, it’s my responsibility and duty to clearly instruct new parents on safe practices. But I’ve come to realize that these questions are all manifestations of a worry that unites many new moms: Do I have what it takes to be the best parent to this baby? Am I a good mom?
New mothers are vulnerable. They worry. They judge themselves. They worry that others are judging their every move, their every decision. Am I a terrible mother if I stop breastfeeding? Do I have to watch the bris? What if I just don’t want any visitors?
But here’s the thing: There is more than one way to comfortably dress a baby. There are multiple ways to soothe a fussy newborn. Burping works over the shoulder and over the leg. It’s OK to walk around the block; it’s just as OK to stay in bed. Mom prefers to make her own lunch? Great! Mom wants to be surprised with a delicious plate of food? Wonderful!
New parents make scores of decisions every day on behalf of their babies. Very few are either right or wrong — there is a lot of room for gray. Parents can express themselves as individuals, experiment with different solution-searching methodology, and grow to become the kind of parent they hope to be. As with any new skill, they need the time and space to “learn their baby.” And just when they think they’ve figured it out, their baby begins a whole new phase of development.
What there is no room for, however, is judgement. Be kind to yourself as you adjust to this new phase of life. And to all new moms out there: You are more than “good enough.” You are your babies’ everything. In grayscale.