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My Top 5 Lessons from the First Year of Motherhood

New Year’s Eve 2018

Exactly one year ago today, we brought a brand new baby home from the hospital. Jack and I joked that as new parents we’d be in bed by 8pm on New Year’s Eve… Little did we know that Lottie had other plans. 

It was one of the most challenging nights of motherhood I’ve had so far. We found out the next day that Lottie wasn’t getting any milk, she was losing too much weight, and her jaundice was getting worse. We didn’t sleep at all, and I’m pretty sure all three of us cried at least once that night. 

With some much-needed and just-in-time help from a lactation consultant, a new feeding plan, and a few hours of sleep, we worked it out. I’ll tell the full story another day, I’m sure, but since self-reflection is one of my favorite activities, and it’s January 31st, I couldn’t resist taking some time to think back on how much has changed in 2019 for me personally.

I had a baby (okay, December 29, 2018 but it still counts), managed a political campaign, bought a house, moved, and launched my own business. I achieved my certification as a birth doula and professional coach. And I did my best to be present for my daughter, husband, extended family, and friends. I accomplished A LOT. 

While the high achiever in me still gets a kick out of checking things off a list, I was having a conversation with my coach last week, and she said something that caught me off guard: 

“The person you are is not the person you were one year ago.”

It had such an impact on me because it quickly reframed my perception of what I was DOING to who I was BEING. When I was pregnant, I was so worried about losing my identity – I didn’t want to lose my relationships or my goals, and I’ve always been motivated to do big things. I was scared motherhood would take that away.

I’ve spent so much energy trying to convince myself that being a mom is just one part of my identity that the suggestion that I’m an entirely different person felt like it was piercing a facade. 

Motherhood is not just one part of my identity. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve lost those other pieces. It just means that being a mom is an overlay that informs every other piece of who I am.  Sure, I’ve had to make some sacrifices, but I haven’t lost myself. In the context of my career, which is what I was most worried about, I’d say that my drive has only been enhanced by having Lottie in my life because I want to show her what’s possible.

Including her doesn’t erase my individuality or my needs – it actually meets one of my deepest needs which is to stay connected to my daughter. Trying to put that aside isn’t honest or authentic to who I am.

I am a different person. I’m a better person. 

 

 5 Lessons from the First Year of Motherhood

 

Lesson 1: I can cut myself some slack.

Remember all those things I did? It’s fun to list them all off, but the truth is, I probably didn’t do any of them to the level I’m fully capable of because I simply didn’t have the time or energy to juggle it all. If I had to measure up my performance through the lens of Jillian a year ago, I’d give myself … C-? But you know what? 2018 Jillian was pretty judgmental, especially toward herself. While I still struggle with perfectionist tendencies every once in a while, I have gotten really good at seeing those self-judgments for what they are, calling them out, and choosing a kinder approach. 

Lesson 2: Asking for help is my new favorite thing.

Remember the 2018 New Year’s Eve of no sleep and lots of tears? Even though I was on the struggle bus so hard, I didn’t want to reach out for help. The lactation consultant who worked with my midwives texted me to check in on New Year’s Day, and I tried to play the whole thing off like it was no big deal. Babies cry… that’s what they do (I thought).

But she picked up on it, and she insisted on coming over that day to see us in person. That’s where we learned that we were in a dangerous situation, but she was able to help us stabilize Lottie without going into the ER and helped us find ways to prolong breastfeeding as long as possible, which was my desire. 

We hear so many stories about over-anxious parents that it can be easy to internalize the thought that others will judge us if we reach out. The truth is, every person I’ve encountered working in the world of birth would MUCH rather you reach out and ask for help 1000 times when nothing was wrong than to not reach out the 1 time you do need help. 

Being a parent is hard! Ask for help. This is something I’ve internalized and it’s manifested itself in many ways. As much as I want to do it all, the truth is I can’t, and asking for help is the only way others are going to know what I need.

Lesson 3: Creative solutions ‘til I die:

I have no time for small problems. Oh, daycare is closed and we both have to work? Let’s find a creative solution. We forgot to go to the grocery store and we’re getting hangry? Creative solution. My brain is so full that I forgot the car seat at home but have to get the baby? Creative solution (in the form of how to get it, chill safety police). 

My tolerance for complaining or feeling helpless in these scenarios is zero. The only other option is to choose to let it go and cut myself some slack (see lesson #1)

Side note: This doesn’t apply to big challenges, feelings, or conflict. Just the little stuff.

Lesson 4: Energy is everything

I’ve tried to tell Lottie she needs to use her words more times than I’d like to admit. She just turned one…. But spending so much time with another human who can’t use her words to tell me what she needs or why she’s upset has taught me the importance of energy and presence. 

To connect with her, I need to physically get on her level, look her in the eye, and over-exaggerate everything. The look on my face, the tone of my voice, or even just quietly watching over her tells her that she is safe and free to be happy and joyful. 

Sometimes for an introvert like me, that means I have zero energy to put into any other human interaction for the rest of the day, but it also heightens my awareness of how I’m showing up in other spaces. What am I conveying with my facial expressions, body language, and presence? It’s more than nonverbal communication – it’s a way of being, and others know how to pick up on it because turns out, they were once babies, too.  

Lesson 5: Mom friends are necessary.

Apologies in advance to my mom friends… but I was SO resistant to being friends with other moms. It goes hand in hand with not wanting the role of “mom” to take over my entire identity. However, turns out – other moms have other parts of their identity, too. They just have a deeper understanding of how hard and how rewarding it is to juggle all the things with a tiny human attached to you. 

Basically, I became a Mom.

Yep. It’s one part of who I am, and it’s all parts of who I am. But the other stuff that matters? It didn’t go away.

Becoming a mom is a process – it doesn’t all click the moment you give birth, even when you love and connect with your baby immediately  (sometimes even that takes a while, so if that’s you – cut yourself some slack. It’s okay. Ask for help),

Now I’ve got to wrap this up…. I have New Year’s plans with my Mom friends!

Oh by the way! Want to stay in touch? Let’s be friends.

jillianadmin

I’m Jillian - a certified doula, pregnancy coach, and birth educator. I’m also a new mama who was just in your shoes, and I approach this work with deep empathy, fierce compassion, and lots and lots of love. I’m so glad we’ve found each other! The work we’ll do together will hold and support you in achieving the birth you desire AND it’s necessary for advancing reproductive justice, birth equity, and social change. How cool is that?! Learn More >>