I am most comfortable when I am doing something I already know how to do well. Or, if it’s new, have had time to research and methodically tackle the learning curve. Whether it is checking online prices at six stores before ordering a gift, or reading reviews to see which air mattress people like best, I feel a little lost if I try to make the decision before I’ve put in the work. We live in an age of technology and communication that makes it possible to find out something about everything if you know where to look. Heck, you don’t even need to know where to look most of the time, Google does that for you. So I almost feel like I’ve wasted the information if I don’t take advantage of what is out there before I go forward.
I’m not trying to compare preparing for a new baby to picking an air mattress, but when I was pregnant with my oldest, my approach was no different. I read books. I searched reviews, and I compared prices. My way of feeling like I was prepared (HA!) was to absorb as much information as I could. Except I skipped the section in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” that covered emergency situations, special nurseries, and what could go wrong, because I figured it would cause me unnecessary anxiety. Everything was normal, no reason to take time reading that. And then my son was born seven weeks early and spent three weeks in the hospital before he came home. So, yeah, so much for being prepared. For anything.
Fast forward a few months to new-mom me, sitting in the nursing mothers’ room at work, pumping and using my time to catch up on parenting magazines that I didn’t otherwise have time to read. More research. More learning. More being prepared for all the things I hadn’t experienced before. I picture that little room and those big anxieties and can’t do anything but shake my head and feel something like pity. I want to both hug her and tell her she is enough and then shake her and tell her to sleep. Because when you have a newborn, yes, you CAN fall asleep while you’re that uncomfortable.
I don’t remember the day that I finally figured it out. It probably was a gradual process and then one day I just let it go. But at some point I recognized that those magazines, those smiling, well-rested faces staring back at me from the pictures of perfectly assembled Tuesday snacks made entirely of raw, organic, natural ingredients picked from the backyard, were making me crazy. Instead of seeing them as interesting examples, idea generators, or cautionary tales, I saw them as challenges, as the standard I was failing to reach, as the voice in my head telling me I must be doing something wrong. But, you know what? I was an idiot. I was a sleep-deprived, overwhelmed lunatic. I was trying to take control of a life so completely out of control by searching for the answers in the words of imagined experts. I was missing completely the expert I should have been trusting the most: me.
I am not discounting the advice of mothers who have been through it before. I mean, here I am, a mom who has been through this before, sharing what I learned. There are millions of us. I am not discounting the research being done by well-educated scientists and researchers. In fact, I put a lot of weight in what they all have to say. And I know there are times when we all have to reach out to someone who has gone through our experience just to hear hope. I can’t even count the number of times someone has said exactly what I needed to hear, to know, to understand, to make it through the next parenting crisis. What I am saying, is no matter where you are seeking your information, the most important thing is this: you are enough, and you, YOU, will figure out what is going to work best. Get all the help you want and need, but put it through the filter of the expert you are in knowing your child/children. My mistake with my oldest was assuming from the start that I was not the right person, I couldn’t possibly be the one who knows best, and someone else would have to teach me. I wish I could pinpoint what happened to change that, but I can’t. I just know that eventually I tossed that stack of magazines and stopped my subscriptions. Over time I asked for help and used it as a tool in my own decision making, instead of just doing whatever that help told me. I smiled and nodded politely when unsolicited help came around. (That skill was applied ad nauseam when my twins were on the way, mostly with all of the people who told very-pregnant me that they always wished they could have twins). I gave myself the credit I deserved as the best mom for my kids.
I still have anxiety and mommy guilt about the decisions I make every day, but that’s just par for the course for me. I like to think that those feelings make me think and be intentional as much as possible, and make me better. But, thankfully, I no longer let those magazines get to me. I’ll even pick one up every now and again, appreciate the creativity it took for someone else to make a 34-ingredient sugar-free brownie that provides a full-day’s serving of vegetables, and then throw Bean a pre-made factory granola bar, guilt-free, as we go outside to have fun together.