We have been friends since before we were born; our fathers’ bond bringing us together long before we had a say in such matters. We have always lived hundreds of miles apart, but our mutual affection kept as close as we navigated the unartful process of growing up in parallel, even when we could not be together. I remember whispering late into the night about musical shows we would put on for our parents, and later, about crushes we would never reveal to our folks. We have shared heartbreaks, dream jobs, cross-country moves, and familial angst. But when I got married and started a family, while you continued your pursuit of passion, it seemed like we did not have much in common anymore.
Now, on the eve of the birth of your first child, I feel closer to you than ever. I have known you my whole life, but not even I – not even you – can know how motherhood will change you. You will get advice from every side, often contradicting itself (for example, “do whatever you need to do to stay rested,” versus “avoid using any ‘crutches’ to get your baby to sleep or else you will establish bad habits”). I am always available to you should you have any questions, but I will limit my advice to a single mantra: Just DON’T.
There seems to be an innate human desire to protect our own identity against any assault. That’s why we reject feedback that is in conflict with our most deeply held values, and are particularly sensitive to failures that tarnish our image of ourselves. Upon the birth of our first child, we initially cling to those aspects of our former self we once held dear. We tell our girlfriends we need to pass on Thirsty Thursdays this week, but will return as soon as we find a good babysitter. We continue putting in long hours at the office to prove that we are as dedicated as ever, but the photo of our baby on the desk urges us home earlier and earlier. We insist we are committed to losing the baby weight, but when forced to choose between going to the gym and spending an extra hour with out child (or sleeping!), the latter will almost always win.
This is not to say you will never go back to happy hour or 6am yoga class. But I recommend allowing yourself a chance to stop and re-calibrate to yourself as a mother before reintroducing any “extras” as feels right. To that end, I urge you to just Do Only Necessary Things (DON’T). At first, that may be simply eating, sleeping, feeding your baby, and doing the occasional load of laundry. As your “mom muscles” get stronger, you will venture to the grocery store and cook a real meal for your little family. You will meet friends for lunch and you’ll all coo over your baby, who will sleep sweetly through the whole thing. You will leave your precious child with your mother for a few hours so you can attend a friend’s birthday dinner with your partner. You will start a baby book to chronicle your little one’s early days, even though it may not be complete until she goes to college.
I was recently telling a friend I feel guilty my family has only been to Church a few times since my son was born four months ago. She laughed and said her biggest regret after her daughter was born was trying to do too much that first year. Church – like happy hours, yoga classes, and hobbies – will always be there. But a newborn’s chubby fingers and gummy grin are fleeting.
You will never see time the same way after having a child. With a baby comes constant nostalgia – a longing for your child’s present stage even as you are living it. Those little socks will soon no longer fit. A baby’s first tentative exploratory missions when she learns to crawl quickly turn to running at full speed with no regard for life or limb. The mispronunciations that make you laugh until you cry but will forget about in a few months.
Your child’s first year of life is the longest shortest time (and, by the way, if you don’t already listen to Hillary Frank’s podcast by that title, you should!); the days are long but the weeks and months are short. Soak it up! The good, the bad, and the ugly. When you are ready, a new you – Mama J – will emerge like a butterfly from her cozy cocoon. Until then, just DON’T. Give yourself permission to stop making “to do” lists for a little while and revel in what you’ve done . . . created a tiny human being who is completely dependent upon you and who will change everything.
You are about to meet someone who will be one of the most important people in your universe for the rest of your life. Congratulations! I cannot wait to celebrate your birth as a mother.