Before my first son (aka "The Boy") was born, I read. There was the obligatory What To Expect When You're Expecting, the feminist Misconceptions, the scholarly Birth, the New Age Birthing from Within and the back-to-nature wisdom of Ina May Gaskin. I read blogs and pamphlets. I pored over the American Academy of Pediatrics guide from birth to age five. I researched baby names and breastfeeding and wrote up a birth plan. |
When my mother said birth and parenthood were not something I could learn from a book, I bristled.
"I know," I told her. "I'm not stupid. I know it's something I have to go through to really understand. But that doesn't mean I can't be as prepared as possible."
I hung up the phone and went over the pain management section of "Birthing from Within" again.
And then The Boy was born. And I realized exactly what Mom meant.
The trick to motherhood is trusting yourself, even when you have no idea what you're doing. Especially then. Every child is different; no method from a book is a perfect fit for every baby. And even doing your best, you're probably going to screw up a little. But it's OK. You're the expert for your baby. All that child wants is to be fed, sheltered and loved. You can do that.
For me, the illusion that information could fix everything disappeared about a week in when breastfeeding just wasn't working for The Boy and me. We'd had the perfect pregnancy and delivery, and he seemed to be latching just right. Yet, he wasn't gaining enough weight. I was crazy about it--and making him stressed--and no amount of reading or talking to the lactation consultant made things better. I took all their advice and still: tiny baby and hysterical momma. So, I took a deep breath, I cried enough tears to soak through I don't know how many burp cloths, and I broke out the formula. It wasn't what I was supposed to do. It wasn't a by-the-book decision. But, I knew it was more important for my child to have a sane, comforting mother and enough food, than a frantic, depressed momma and an empty belly. It was the right choice for us.
A friend read even more than I did before her little guy arrived nine months after The Boy. I shook my head over her, just as Mom did over me, but didn't say anything. Some things, you need to learn on your own, and I understood her impulse. We're both driven, book-smart women. Books have gotten us this far; of course they could take us through motherhood. Only, my friend's son was simply not a sleeper. He was independent and active from birth. She describes having a revelation in the middle of the night when, in tears she moaned to her husband over the screaming baby that she had tried everything the books said, so why--WHY?!-- wouldn't he sleep.
"He told me, 'He's a baby, not a robot,'" my friend said. The stack of books on her nightstand started collecting dust.
This isn't to say that books can't help. They can, just in pieces. I've read a few books since The Boy was born and found good suggestions in them. Getting him on a schedule, something I read in a five-minute book-store perusal of BabyWise, made my life a zillion times easier when I went back to work.
But the best advice often comes from other mothers. Motherhood renewed my faith in women, not just in myself. I've always been a feminist, but I began voicing it again--loudly--after The Boy was born. Partly, it was the birthing experience, which made me feel like Superwoman, and partly it was the judgments that get foisted on mothers, which enraged me. But also, my renewed feminism was born in amazement and appreciation for the women in my life. My mother, my sister, my grandmas and aunts--they all are good mothers to their kids.
I can't be a good mother to mine by acting just like any one of them, but each has some trick or philosophy that's made me a better momma. Even women I've never met, the so-called mommybloggers I found in desperate Google searches after The Boy was born when I was the only momma in my group of friends and my mother was unavailable for a phone consult, have made me feel less crazy and given me good ideas to solve even the littlest parenting dilemmas. (Right now, my son is sleeping past 6 a.m. because of a suggestion I found on Parenthacks to teach your kid to recognize the numbers on a digital alarm clock.)
Women in their careers are often said to suffer from the impostor syndrome. They feel like they're not really as good as everyone thinks they are, like they're just faking it and will be discovered at any moment. I've felt this in my career, even as I've tracked down another source or written another front-page article or read another book for background. Motherhood made me realize in life--at work, at home--we're all impostors. The trick is acting like you aren't.
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