After giving birth to my second child about a month ago, I shared a hospital room with a woman whom I’d describe as one of the most cheerful and glass-half-full people I’ve ever met. Mara–the polar opposite of a jaded New Yorker–is a midwestern transplant to New York whose optimism felt contagious.
Despite having just come out of a very difficult 24-hour labor, she was nearly all-smiles–friendly and kind to everyone who came in and out of our room (and anyone who’s given birth in a hospital knows that lots of people come in and out post-labor). I will never forget how excited she got each time she was served the hospital food, which I, of the more jaded New Yorker variety, barely touched, and managed to complain about plenty.
It wasn’t until after several unsuccessful attempts to breastfeed her less-than-one-day-old son that I saw Mara’s optimism hit a bump. I could tell just how frustrated, guilty and disappointed she felt because–like every mother on earth–I had been there too, during those early days of motherhood.
While I am no expert in child rearing, and am finding plenty of new challenges with baby number two, I did have the benefit of experience this time around, something that my roommate–a first-time mother–didn’t have.
So in the middle of the night, during one of our endless–and luckily, simultaneous–feeding sessions, I explained to Mara that all the frustration and unhappiness she was feeling was normal, that breastfeeding–for the first time especially–can feel almost impossibly difficult and that, yes, it’s normal for your nipples to feel like they’re on fire (and that lanolin cream helps that).
Of course, I also told Mara that it gets easier, and tried to offer her some encouraging words. But in that moment, I felt that what she needed more than anything was empathy, validation of her feelings and some company for her misery… three things every new mom needs.
There’s just something about the newborn stage that can make a mother feel isolated, lonely, and helpless, regardless of how supportive her partner is.
I remember, the first time around, feeling comfort when I’d look across the street while nursing in the middle of the night and see other apartments with their lights on. The fact that other people were up at the same godforsaken time as me–for whatever reason–somehow made me feel less alone.
And when you’re facing the uncertainty and insecurity that comes with first-time early parenthood, strength comes from knowing you’re not alone.
That’s why it’s so important for fellow moms to be honest with one another about just how hard these first few weeks can be. Sleepless nights, frustrating nursing sessions, post-labor pains, and general uncertainty about caring for a tiny human are par for the course. The fact that at any given time millions of women are feeling the exact same way is something every scared, stressed and unsure mother needs to know.
Among today’s Facebook generation, moms (myself included) love to post adorable pictures of their brand-new babies and publicize every positive experience (first smiles, etc.). New moms prefer not to admit to themselves–and certainly not to the rest of the world–that it’s not so easy. But take it from me and every new mother I’ve ever spoken to (the honest ones, at least)… it’s not.
When I had my first child four years ago, I had an awful second night in the hospital. It was my second sleepless night in a row and Scarlett screamed non-stop. While I tried to rock her to sleep for the second consecutive hour, I suddenly remembered something my mother told me: Right after my older sister was born, during a difficult moment, she thought to herself: “What have I done? My life was so easy before this baby.”
When I first heard that I was vaguely offended, but in that moment, in that hospital room at God-knows-what time in the morning, it brought me comfort to know that my feelings of fear, inadequacy and honest-to-goodness dread were not only my own. I now know that there’s not a mom in the world who hasn’t felt the way my mother did… and then felt guilty for feeling it.
But for new moms, there’s strength in numbers–and in knowing that we’ve all wondered why we did this, as we suffer through sleepless nights. And we’ve all made it through… so successfully, in fact, that most of us–like me–do it all over again.