About halfway through my labor, right when the contractions were really starting to pick up and I was beginning to understand why they call the thing “labor,” I started to panic. I thought I was prepared for childbirth; I’d read books and birth stories, educated myself about the various options, and had been mentally preparing for the natural birth I wanted for months – what could go wrong? But despite all my preparation, I was filled with a queasy sense of inadequacy and uncertainty about my ability to give birth. Never have I felt such a mix of elation and relief as I did the moment Callum finally came gushing out – doubt and worry vanished with the pain (at least temporarily!) and were replaced with a renewed confidence and joy.
In retrospect, I wonder if my panic was as much about realizing that my life was about to radically change as much as it was about my physical ability to give birth. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to become a mama, and I had spent months imagining just what sort of mama I would be. All of that paled when confronted with the imminent arrival of a new, tiny person – a new, tiny person who hadn’t read all those books and websites about child rearing and parenting techniques and who may or may not decide to conform to my imagined baby. While I could become well informed on a variety of parenting issues, I couldn’t predict and control everything.
As I gazed enthralled at the wriggly, wrinkly little being we had just welcomed into the world, I realized that in becoming a mama I would have to learn to let go of certainty and planning and listen – both to my own instincts and to the small, new voice of my son.
Like many new parents, I remember those early weeks as bit of a blur. I spent most of my time hunkered down in the bedroom, a fort of nursing pillows around me, while my generous family handled the rest. Aside from some typical newborn sleepiness, Callum was a good nurser from the start. At first, I kept a detailed log of every nursing session – start time, end time, side used, time per side – neat columns of numbers intended to provide assurance that I was doing something right. After a week or two of scrambling to find the notepad and pen at 3am, I realized that not only was watching the clock doing nothing for my sleep deprivation, I didn’t need to do it. I didn’t need to know exactly how long Callum had nursed; I needed to listen and learn his cues, to be ok with sometimes nursing an hour and sometimes just 10 minutes. The assurance I needed came from his sleepy-newborn-milky-grin and his contented sighs.
This lesson has repeated countless times over the past sixteen months. I still have to remind myself from time to time (and fortunately I have a husband who is naturally quite good at this!) to let go of what “they” say and pay attention to what Callum is communicating and what my “mama-instinct” says instead. This is not to say that good research and the advice of other parents or “experts” doesn’t have a place; parents who completely ignore these voices would be remiss as we have much to learn from those who have gone before. But those voices should never overshadow our own and those of our children. Instead, they should be considered together to find just the right harmony for our family and our situation.
I’ve continued to read about parenting and to settle more firmly into a harmonious parenting philosophy (as firm as one can be about these things anyway!). I had read a bit about Attachment Parenting while I was pregnant. I knew that I wanted to breastfeed and babywear and I planned to co-sleep, but I did not realize how much these things would come to symbolize my relationship with my son. Nor would I have guessed I’d still be doing those things with my toddler today. But this is where Callum’s small voice and my own instincts have led me – it’s nice to know there are others who have chosen the same path.
After sixteen months of practice, I feel like I’m starting to get in a groove with being a mama, but I don’t claim to have it all figured out. I continue to rely on the support and wisdom of other mamas and to enjoy reading news and research related to parenting. I’ve found myself becoming an advocate for Attachment Parenting practices, in particular babywearing and breastfeeding. I still struggle with balance as a full-time mama, full-time graduate student, and full-time partner to my husband. Mostly, I love waking up everyday wondering what amazing new thing Callum will learn or do.
The internet makes it possible for mamas to connect to each other and to information in new and exciting ways; Holly and I met in an online community and hope to create another resource for connection and information with this blog. We look forward to a respectful and honest dialogue about the challenges and joys of becoming a mama in a complex world.Like what you read? Buy me a coffee! Thanks for your support!