25 July 2011

What Mothers Do

I wish I would have read Naomi's Standlen's What Mothers Do (Especially When It Looks Like Nothing) in the early days with Eva . . . or even during my pregnancy, although it may not have clicked before I had a newborn in my arms. Motherhood is something that escapes concrete explanation, and yet reading this made me feel as though someone really gets it, the way a good friend just knows you. It's not an "advice" or "how to" book but more of a therapeutic read. She writes from an AP perspective, and the quotes from mothers she includes had me nodding along the entire time.
For this post I will focus on the following ideas: preparation, interruption, comfort, efficiency, and transformation.
1. Preparation
When I was preggo with Agent E, Hubby and I went to an all-day "childbirth preparation" class offered at the hospital. Looking back now, it was pretty lame, but at the time I'm sure we were hanging on every word. We skipped formal classes altogether with Agent J. While preggo with Agent A, I went to another class, only because I was delivering at a different hospital and I wanted a tour. This class would have scared the bejesus out of me if I were a first-time parent-to-be. Luckily, I felt confident enough at that point to tune most of it out. 
Momma with Agent E at 7 months.
Mothers may be given a "warming up" period of a couple of weeks. After that, they are usually expected to be calm and capable. Would it not be much more realistic to expect new mothers to be unprepared, anxious, confused, and very emotional for the first six months? If we could accept that this beginning is the norm for most new mothers, we would be in a better position to be supportive and respectful. (from Chapter 2, Nothing Prepares You, page 46)
What did you do to "prepare" for parenting? 
Did any of it help?
2. Interruption
My life is simply a series of interruptions. This is why it is so important for me to strive for some quiet time each day. However, my own needs are no longer number one on the priority list. I don't expect this to change for quite a while. Parenting is a 24-hour-a-day gig; sometimes not terribly convenient, but always worth it.
Mothers sometimes fear that they will "spoil" their babies. They fear that their babies will manipulate them into coming "just for attention," and that they will grow into children who will expect their mothers to keep putting everything down for trifles. This doesn't seem to happen. If a baby is crying for attention, he seems to need it. If an older child has become manipulative, it is nearly always because he hasn't been able to get what he needs by more straightforward methods. Moreover, one can see how a baby who has been given attention when he cried for it develops into a generous child, who is sensitive to the feelings of other people. (from Chapter 4, Being Instantly Interruptible, page 69)
What is one daily activity you miss doing sans interruption? 
3. Comfort
The first hours with Agent J.
In those first weeks (months?) with Agent E, I remember thinking she can’t possibly want to nurse again. Again! Seriously, didn’t I just feed her? The second she dozed off (or stopped eating, or stopped crying) I made a beeline for the bassinet. I put her down. She protested. What in the H was I doing wrong? Weren’t infants supposed to just lie there quietly, either sleeping or cooing at the ceiling, unless you were tending to their immediate needs?
Then I discovered Something Very Important: The goal is not to put the baby down. The goal, as it turns out, is to know your baby. Once I accepted this little epiphany my mothering became much more intuitive and relaxed.
No one supports the mother while she is learning how to comfort or celebrates her when she is able to give comfort. People ask mothers: "Is he sleeping through the night yet?" "Have you started him on solids yet?" "Has he got any teeth?" No one seems to ask: "Have you discovered what comforts him?" Yet the ability to sleep through the night or to digest solid food or to grow teeth has little to do with mothering. (from Chapter 5, The Power of Comfort, page 76)
How did you learn to comfort your newborn? What worked best for you?
4. Efficiency
Often being a mother means the best laid plans go right out the window.
For instance, Agent A was sick this weekend, and he is still kind of sick now. (90% of the time spent composing this post I had a baby on top of me.) He's teething, so already miserable, and then came down with a cold on Friday. Because he likes to breath, he's been mostly sleeping on my shoulder or in the Papasan. With every cold, he tends to be a puker, so we've been dealing with that joy, too. 
Out and about with 2-month Agent A.
A "busy mother" is almost a cliche. The term suggests plenty of visible and useful actions. But life with a baby during his first six months outside the womb may not be active at all. Often it is slow. A mother can't touch a fast-forward button when her baby is breastfeeding, for example. He sucks, stops, gazes at her face for a while, continues sucking, closes his eyes and drowses off, still sucking, but wakes up in a flash to carry on sucking if she so much as stirs. Busy? Even her thoughts may seem sluggish and slow. Later, she may have to get busy cleaning up, tidying, and making phone calls. But these actions are more loosely connected to being a mother. They are about taking care of herself, the rest of her family, and the home. (from Chapter 6, I Get Nothing Done All Day, pages 104-105)
How "efficient" do you feel on an average day?
5. Transformation
I've written previously about my expectations before I became a parent. It would not be exaggerating to say that becoming a Momma has altered my entire soul. I will never be my "old" self again. And I see this as a very good thing.
People have described a mother's journey as a "letting go" process. But in a sense, she never completely lets go, and can never quite return to the woman she was. Once she opens herself to her child, something within her stays open. She has changed profoundly, and for her whole life. (from Chapter 10, I Was Surprised That I Still Had the Same Name, page 215)
How has becoming a mother changed you?

1 comment :

  1. I read a lot and talked to a lot of other mothers to prepare for parenting. I do feel that some of it helped. I was still a neurotic new mom with my first, but I think it could have been worse had I gone in completely blind.

    I have to say that the few daily tasks I miss doing without interruption have to be showering and using the bathroom. Hands down.

    Jessica G

    My daughter nursed for comfort over anything else. My son on the other hand, will not nurse unless he is hungry. He just won't. I can't tell you how strange this is to me since my daughter would nurse for hours and hours if/when I let her. He likes to lay on my chest while I gently pat his back or bounce him.

    Efficient? ME?? Ha!

    I am more patient and giving now that I am a mom. With the birth of my second child, I became even more relaxed (after that first few weeks of craziness due to hormone shifts) strangely enough. I am more likely to 'sleep when the baby sleeps' and let the dishes sit now that I have two kids. I am taking more advantage of my now-even-slower pace of life (or at least making more of an effort to do so).

    This was a great post, thanks Momma.