“I had to explain to my husband that, if he sees a number repeated numerous times every day on our phone bill, it’s you and I’m not having an affair.”
One of my best friends from college and I entered motherhood within a year of each other, and take roughly the same approach to parenting. Thus, we spend countless hours on the phone discussing different behavioral challenges, cloth diapering techniques, and the like. I am positive, that if I could go back in time and tell my 18 year-old, college-freshman self that this would be the case 14 years later, I’d have trouble selling the story.
But the truth is, a girl needs her mamahood.
Our daughter, Naya, was two months old when we sold our house, packed up, and moved to the outskirts of a new city in a new state where we knew absolutely no one. The isolation I felt, holding my tiny baby in our new, unpacked house in our new, unknown town was intense. My husband would leave each morning for work, often before the baby was even fed, without any idea how long his work day would last (often long after Naya was asleep for the night), and my days consisted of holding Naya and arguing with the cable company who couldn’t seem to understand how to connect our internet so that it worked for more than 30 minutes after their service people left our house while searching, one handed, through boxes for needed household items.
For months, I held my baby and read books, held my baby and watched tv, held my baby and napped, held my baby and walked around my still-unpacked house; and thought, “This cannot be my life.”
Isolation, in long, uninvited stretches, is not good for anyone, but I think it’s especially harmful for new mamas who are, by nature, full of self-doubt, exhausted, and brimming with hormones. I have no empirical evidence to substantiate this claim, but my own experience screams this as the truth.
To be fair, I had wonderful friends and family who helped to relieve my loneliness; friends who cashed in their miles, rearranged family vacations, and carted small kids over state lines to come visit. Others called while eating breakfast and on lunch breaks from work to remind me that I had a support network.
And to all of them, I insisted I was fine. We were fine. Everything was fine.
And in reality, it was ok. Naya was healthy and happy and very, very loved. My husband was enjoying his new position. I found respite in a couple hours at the Y several times a week (free childcare during nursery hours AND a place to shower by myself!). I was just incredibly lonely and, despite all the great parenting literature on my bookshelves, felt like I was stumbling blindly through parenthood.
Many well intended friends without small children tried to advise me, suggesting I join a book club, sign up for a class at the local college, etc. And, while I am sure all of those things would have been awesome ways to meet fantastic, interesting people, the prospect of securing (and, to be honest, paying for) childcare in an unknown place was too daunting to imagine.
Then, one day while my mom was visiting, we happened upon another woman with a daughter Naya’s age, who told us about her mom/baby group. It sounded interesting, and I told her so, but as the time approached for the next weekly meeting I talked myself out of going. Luckily for me this newfound friend was persistent. The next week she called and reminded me of the meeting, even offering to meet me in the parking lot beforehand so that I wouldn’t have to walk into a strange room by myself.
So we went, Naya and I. And you know what? Naya fit perfectly into the spectrum of what all the other babies her age were doing, and my frustrations (mostly terrible, ridiculous sleep deprivation) were the same frustrations that most of the other mamas there were facing (or did face, or would be facing), and ridiculously, I was so relieved to be there that it was difficult not to start crying.
This new group of mama friends put me in touch with all kinds of local resources– classes, other groups, the best places to buy things, etc., and have been truly, truly one of the best things that has happened to us since moving here.
A year later, Naya and I no longer attend this particular group– mostly because Naya can walk and likes to help people (babies) find their eyes (“EYE!”). We still see these mamas and babies in other venues though, and it’s wonderful to keep in touch. Additionally, it’s gotten a lot easier to be a mama, to recognize that every stage is temporary, and that we will get through it. My husband’s schedule has also evened out remarkably (or, more likely, he’s managed to juggle it like the magician he is to make more family time despite a heavy load at work). As I tell all my friends who become parents after us, it really does just keep getting easier.
A huge part of that, however, is my mamahood. I don’t necessarily need anyone telling me how to raise my daughter, and no one does. But the simple, “Oh yea, that’s completely normal.” and the, “When my child did that, this is what worked for me.” and, “Have you tried this?” and the all important, “Yea, it was a rough night here last night too.” have been real sanity savers on multiple occasions.
I’m lucky, I know, to have a mamahood that comes from both my past and my present, but if I could give every expectant mother one piece of advice it would be to try to identify that support system as soon as possible.
This week, we’re having trouble deciding if Naya is ready to transition down to one nap per day, which is actually a bigger ordeal than I could have imagined. I’m looking forward to finding out what my friend has to say about it when she calls later.