“A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” — Carl Sandburg
I wish I was sitting with you now, at your kitchen table. I would listen to your birth story. I would rub your strong shoulders and ask to hold your baby. I wish this because I admire your courage. Thank you for bringing a new baby Earth-side. You are a heroine. Some Native American tribes believe that the mother must journey to the land of the souls to bring back a child for her people. This is labor. Your own re-birth and the birth of this baby is the most significant journey, both spiritual and physical, that a human being can make. You return a mother, having completed the world’s most dangerous and blessed life event. If you do not believe that childbirth, in all its manifestations, is a heroic undertaking, consider the statistics: every day on planet Earth approximately 1370 women die due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth. Today as you read this, let me celebrate your bravery. Whatever the details of your birth story, you faced your individual childbirth challenges and worked to give this world a newborn person.
Perhaps your birth did not go as planned. Many do not, and so you will cry and with the help of friends, family and the good Lord, you must heal. Please do not diminish the wonder of the job you have done only because it was not perfect in our limited human opinion.
While we are of flesh and bone we cannot hope to fully know what “perfect“ is. Our best made plans will be broken a million times in the years of parenting ahead. As mothers we must learn to be flexible, for the ridged tree breaks in the windstorms of life. In birth we are utterly taken apart. In this way God guarantees that we emerge anew. This is how Mother Nature builds a new mother, by first burning down our preexisting lives. The survival of this precious being you hold close today depends upon your undoing.
“New parents quickly learn that raising children is a kind of desperate improvisation.” –Bill Cosby
Postpartum is the process of discovering who has been made. What you will now emerge? Heroic, vulnerable, afraid of being a parent. This is natural. For centuries “old wives“ like me have called this shattering and regrowing, “the baby blues.” Your tears are rain, your laughter fertilizer, your baby is the noonday sun, shining on your life’s garden.
“Motherhood means being instantly interruptable, responsive, responsible.“ –Tillie Olsen
Perhaps if I were sitting with you at your kitchen table today, folding diapers, you would ask me, “How can I best care for this baby of mine?” My answer would be, “By taking care of yourself.” Rest. Take naps when your baby sleeps. Let yourself be pampered by family and friends. A human child is so thoroughly dependent upon his or her mother that your well being is truly essential to the baby’s health and well being.
By all means, breastfeed. My daughter sat at a La Leche League meeting the night before she went into labor, a mere twenty years of age, facing motherhood for her first time. When asked why she had an interest in breastfeeding her baby she said, “I’m going to breastfeed because I was breastfed for five years, and I loved it.” Naturally I was so puffed up by this that I nearly floated away! Looking back on the very difficult, painful time I experienced learning to breastfeed her, my first baby, I can tell you it was well worth it. (Not all women experience pain when establishing breastfeeding. The best advice I can offer is, get good support from La Leche League and/or a lactation consultant. Don’t give up if it is rough; there are caring people who will help you, and you must reach out for them.)
Well, my daughter Déjà had a very challenging birth and her resolve was further tested by a terribly painful experience of early breastfeeding. For the first 10 days, despite correct positioning and doing all the right things, her nipples cracked, bled and began to resemble ground meat. Finally, upon the advice of a midwife/friend/lactation consultant/La Leche League leader, Déjà stopped wearing a bra and pads, simply letting the air dry out her wounded nipples. Within 24 hours she was healed. At no time during this ordeal did my young daughter stop breastfeeding. She did not supplement with bottles. She taught me so much about the power of a mother’s love. “Well,” said her auntie, “you may have written the book on it, but she was your first teacher and always will be.”
Teachers—that is what I feel our children are. If we let them guide us, our lives will be more gentle. The lesson plan of the Lord is astonishing. You only gain access to it by becoming a link in the unbroken chain of humanity, parent to child, each generation guiding the last.
“The souls of pure teachers are arriving like rays of sunlight from so far up to the ground-huggers.” –Rumi
As your life as a mother unfolds you will find that many “experts” are out there, people who claim to know what is best for your baby. Remember, you parents are the only real experts when it comes to your baby. Follow your heart. If your heart prefers sleeping with your baby rather than putting him or her in a crib in a separate room, then choose to keep a family bed. I feel strongly that it is impossible to “spoil” a new baby with too much love and attention. Yet the “experts” recommend a more hands-off approach to mothering. I am not an expert, I am a mother. I do know that many of the “experts” are actually front men for businesses, trying to make money by capitalizing on babies. By claiming it is best to make our babies sleep separately from us these business people stand to sell us cribs, crib mobiles, crib sheets, crib toys, crib lights, heart-beat simulators (to trick the baby into thinking you are right beside her), crib monitors, and don’t forget . . . bumper pads to make the crib bars safe. I rest my case.
“But the hearts of small children are delicate organs. A cruel beginning in this world can twist them into curious shapes.” –Carson McCullers
May I suggest that your chances of finding peace in your role as mother will be greatly increased as you “let go.” Putting everything after mothering will instantly prioritize your life, freeing you to be happy in service to your baby.
If you have chosen to parent without holding back, giving limitless love and attention to your baby, you will need to be brave. It is a decision you will necessarily make every day, many times a day. Each time a well meaning friend advises you to “get a sitter, take a break” (though you and baby are far from being ready for separation), you will have to justify your parenting style. Please don’t give up. The time you spend, the attention you give, building a foundation of self-esteem and love for your child, will reap a harvest of world peace, one family at a time.
Thank You — I love you…