Every new mother falls victim to the overwhelming urge to “do it all”. Breastfeed, make sure your baby gets adequate tummy time, don’t develop any bad habits. Read to them from (or before) birth! Develop a night-time routine. Keep the house clean and all inhabitants fed and in clean clothes (bonus points for folded and put away!). Possibly even work, in or out of the home, in addition to childrearing and homemaking. Often, I believe, we find that our spouses are willing to cut us some slack and don’t mind too much if the house isn’t spotless or a week’s worth of meals haven’t been planned and prepped and shopped for by Sunday evening. I know my husband is particularly forgiving on this front- he cares much more about coming home to a happy wife and child than a magazine-worthy living room and a three course meal. And yet the pressure remains, partly from within, partly as a perception of what other moms are doing.
When I was in the hospital after giving birth, it seems that every nurse and pediatrician who came into the room reminded me to “sleep when the baby sleeps”, let other people worry about the laundry and dishes and cooking, and be easy on myself until I had fully healed and established a good routine. Even though I had my mother for a week and my husband off work for a month, I still failed rather miserably and ended up with a uterine infection 8 days after birth that necessitated a trip to the ER with a 103 F temperature and a whole lot of slimy, snotty tears on the way because I felt stupid and annoyed that I couldn’t do it all and now I was probably dying and what would my baby do without me?
It turns out I lived (I know you were on the edge of your seat) after several hours in the ER- which, I discovered quickly, is not nearly as exciting and cheerful a place as the Labor & Delivery Ward, and if I ever have to go back it will be too soon. Also I lactated all over the hospital gown, and maybe it was the stress of the whole situation or the hours of freezing cold IV fluids and the fact that they had to collect a urine sample via catheter just 8 days after I had a baby (yes, I am absolutely looking for sympathy here), but I found that whole incident hilarious, and the nurse assured me that breastmilk was probably the most innocuous thing that had been leaked all over a hospital gown lately. I was able to go home that same evening and was feeling significantly better the next day, and the lesson I tried very hard to learn was that maybe I truly can’t do it all. It’s a rude awakening for someone like me, whose primary struggle is a case of severe pride. I mean, I’m prideful about the fact that I’m not too prideful to admit how prideful I can be. But unless I wanted to run myself into the ground, I knew that I needed to learn this lesson and seriously prioritize my life.
So, no Supermom for me. I don’t aspire to it. At least not in the sense that we traditionally envision- the mama who can care for her child and her home and bring home the bacon and cook said bacon and look amazing and recently-showered the whole time. I aspire to be the very best MOM I can be to my Charles. But I had to decide for myself what would be included in that job description. At least for our family, it doesn’t include mopping on a weekly basis or sending thank-you cards perfectly on time or having well-manicured nails. I have been meaning to paint my nails for about three weeks now, yet it fails to happen.
Right now I’m bouncing on a yoga ball with my 13.5 lb baby in a wrap, pressed close to my body for comfort because he just had his first round of immunizations today and he is miserable. I was anticipating a rough day, but it was compounded by the fact that I went to bed last night with searing stomach pain and woke up for each night time feeding with nausea and diarrhea (sorry, but we’re all adults here, right?) that progressed throughout the course of the day to include body aches and chills. I am actually beginning to feel a bit better now as evening approaches. I got a little food and a lot of water into my system (my worst fear was becoming dehydrated and damaging my milk supply) and even felt well enough to drink a small cup of coffee, which did magical wonders for my headache and my mood. The challenge of feeling quite ill on a day when my baby needed me even more than usual presented to me the challenge of deciding what was most important. Was I going to don the cloak of the Mommy Martyr and try to clean the house, cook a meal, and go about all of my regular business while feeling like garbage and comforting a baby who screams every time he wakes up? Or was I going to send an email to my boss (I put in a few hours a week as a virtual assistant writing blog posts and taking care of customer service for an entrepreneur with a few online shops) to let him know that I was laid up on the couch and haven’t been near my laptop all day, forget about the dishes that need doing, text my husband to let him know exactly what is going on and what I need from him instead of expecting him to just magically know and then becoming resentful when it turns out he was a human all along, and spend the day taking care of myself and snuggling my baby?
It’s probably obvious which choice I made, with some deliberation. It was hard at first because there is that prideful part of myself that insists that I CAN do it all. But the look on Charlie’s face when I put him down in the pack n’ play for just a moment to change his diaper (and the ensuing heartbreaking cries) was enough to remind me that my main priority here is first my oxygen mask, and then my child’s. So it’s Tylenol and pretzels and water for me, and copious snuggles for the baby, and no plans to make dinner, and the dishes can just languish in filth for all I care. My husband will come home to a somewhat messy house, but my outlook has improved with the reduction of expectations placed on myself, and I know that he cares much more about coming home to a smiling wife than to dinner on the table.
I do plan to actually do some of my virtual assistant work now that I’ve got access to my laptop, thanks to the magic of the infant-pacifying bouncy yoga ball. But it’s a choice based on actually feeling like I can handle it, and not just that I should. The voice that says what kind of mom I should be can go suck a nasty rotten egg, because from now on I am going to be too busy listening to this voice: