As I approached my first Mother’s Day, I reflected on the experience of motherhood. I feel like my life finally started when Tucker was born. I’ve known since I was a little girl that I was born to be a mother. And now I have moved into my life purpose. I have never been happier.
I have also learned over the last five months that mothers make mistakes. And sometimes, in the desire to look perfect, we don’t always share the vulnerable and challenging moments. So today, I am sharing the honest mistakes that occurred alongside the most joyful time in my life.
Tucker spent three nights sleeping well in our hospital room, only waking every 3 hours to nurse. And then, during our first week at home, he was up all night for 4 nights. As a new mother, I was doing my best to soothe and comfort him. Later I realized that I should have just been feeding him more often because my milk had come in and he wanted to nurse all the time in those early weeks. We survived. And after those few long nights, Tucker was able to turn his days and nights back around.
Tucker also went through a phase during the first month of “fussy nursing”. One night, I was mad at him. Because he would keep latching on and off, crying and hitting me with his tiny fists. Of course, I felt terrible for experiencing anger at an infant. And I knew none of the behavior was his fault nor intentional. But it was a real and passing emotion. I’m sure all mothers feel frustration and anger at times. The important thing is how you cope with these new stressors. I am a very calm person, a “mature” mother, and Tucker is a very easy going baby. And with all of that said, parenting a new infant is very frustrating at times.
After that phase, Tucker had a few weeks when he was just fussy for a short time, often in the evening. This is incredible frustrating – when you know he has been fed, changed, and you are holding the baby but he is still crying. Famous pediatrician, T. Berry Brazelton, talks about the nervous system still developing and sometimes an infant just needs to cry. Two friends of mine who are fathers shared their experiences around fussy infants with me. One dad said he did the “shut up dance” and the other dad would turn up the volume of the TV while he held his crying infant. I found this interesting that men were more open to admitting that sometimes you cannot comfort your infant, despite all of your efforts. Woman did not tell me those stories. Are we too concerned about looking like a great mom to admit these dark nights of early motherhood? I remember times when I just had to lay him down in the bassinet for a minute (usually, to go the bathroom). But it was also the chance to take a deep breath, and then patiently pick up the crying baby again. At the time, these nights of walking around the house in circles until Tucker finally calmed or fell asleep felt long. And now, it feels like such a long time ago as that phase passed by so quickly.
Other mistakes I have made…
At times, I would think Tucker was happily cooing to himself -- only to discover that he had turned sad and I didn't realize.
Eventually I learned that you must offer BOTH breasts before concluding that the baby is just tired and not hungry. For on different days, at different times, he would have a preference for one side over the other.
I forgot my baby once, just once, for a few seconds. I was standing at the checkout of Lowe’s with my brother and sister-in-law with my back turned to the stroller. And, in conversation with Shawn, I started to walk with him until the cashier said “Aren’t you going to take the baby?” Eeek!! I’m sure I wouldn’t have gotten very far without Tucker.
One lovely afternoon, I took Tucker out onto the back porch. I was working at the table on my laptop and he was in his bouncy seat. Then, I spilled a glass of ice water on Tucker. Even with a lid and straw on the cup, he was drenched. And screaming! I’ve never heard him so mad.
Once I left him without enough milk to drink. I had to attend a work dinner and a friend graciously offered to take care of Tucker. Over the course of several months, Tucker had only drunk from a bottle 3 times. Generally he would just play with the nipple and not actually drink. While trying to teach him to take the bottle, I poured a lot of breastmilk down the drain. But this particular night, he actually sucked down the couple of ounces and wanted more. Who knew! And then I heard him on the other end of the phone screaming for more. That was a terrible feeling – to know that your baby was hungry and you had a 20 minute drive to get back to him. Tucker eventually fell asleep while waiting for me and survived just fine. (Incidentally, he has never taken the bottle again since.)
Sometimes when a stranger hears that Tucker is my first baby, they reply “oh he must be so spoiled.” And if I could spoil him more, I would. But the truth is that as a single mother, I cannot possibly spoil him. Tucker is going to think I can’t tell time. Because so often I say “one second” or “one minute” when he starts crying because I can’t always go to him right away. Tucker is very content and frequently plays happily on his own. Then, when he is distressed, I do my best to meet his needs as quickly as I can.
So I have made mistakes, as all mothers do. And I know that I have done many things right as well. Mostly I’m proud to just stay calm no matter how upset Tucker may become. One thing I did well was starting to put Tucker to bed awake around two months of age. And now he still goes to bed awake, whether at home or in a hotel room. He will talk happily or squirm around; and then go to sleep on his own. I knew that all babies wake up during the night and they need to know they can fall back to sleep on their own. One big victory for Mom! (And I’m lucky to have a happy, cooperative good sleeper).
Pregnancy was an amazing experience – to grow a human. That the female can then completely feed another human is miraculous as well. And in the modern age of digital baby monitors, my favorite “TV show” now is Tucker. I love to see him sleeping on the monitor – a priceless image that never gets old. I’m sure there will be many more mistakes to come. But that is alright. Because Tucker will know that he was very deeply wanted. And I know that I was born to be his mother. A dream come true for both of us.