I remember the wave of nausea that overpowered me when my baby's cry pierced the darkness on our first night home from the hospital. I remember how breastfeeding felt like death by a thousand tiny knives and how I was terrified of my own healing body. But I also remember the smell of my daughter's hair and the impossible softness of her cheeks. I can still conjure up what it felt like to hold her in my arms and be utterly astounded that I grew her.
When you have a newborn, the days are hard, the nights are long, and the exhaustion is unbearable. I won't deny any of that. But I’ll also admit that I loved the newborn weeks with my baby girl, and I’m slightly eager to do them again (very, very slightly).
To tell you the truth, I felt more rested and peaceful than I expected to in those first few weeks of my daughter's life, and it’s not because she was a particularly easy baby (she wasn't) or because my recovery was particularly easy (it wasn't). Yes, I was overwhelmed. Yes, I was terrified of breaking my daughter. Yes, I wondered if I’d ever feel normal again.
But I knew that this season would be heartbreakingly short, and I was determined to enjoy as many moments as I could — and I did.
Before my daughter was born, I spent a lot of time and mental space preparing for what those first few weeks would be like, and I set my expectations pretty low. I expected to be in a lot of pain. I expected to be sleep deprived. I expected to cry a lot. I expected to deal with the baby blues and maybe even postpartum depression.
So I decided in advance to also set my expectations low for myself.
I decided I wouldn’t do the things I normally do — not just physical things like doing dishes, cooking meals, cleaning, working, and blogging, but also the emotional things like tearing myself down when I look in the mirror, putting pressure on myself to get one more thing done, and guilting myself into believing that I’m lazy for choosing rest.
My only expectation for myself during those first few weeks of being a mom was this: learn how to love my baby.
This one expectation changed everything and allowed me to fill my days with actions that put the two of us first.
I committed myself to memorizing the smell of the space where her cheeks meet her mouth, the wrinkles on her tiny fingers, and the curve of her upper lip.
I laid on the couch for most of the day, binge watching Friday Night Lights while she slept on my chest, and I kissed the top of her head and breathed in that fleeting newborn smell.
I let my husband rock her in the middle of the night so I could get as much sleep as possible before the next feeding.
I whispered words of love and encouragement while I helped her latch on, even when it hurt so badly I could hardly stand it.
I let the tears run freely down my cheeks when I felt like I couldn’t keep going.
I said yes to every person who offered to bring a meal, clean my house, or fold my laundry.
I reached out for help from my mom friends in the crisis moments, begging them to tell me that what I was experiencing was normal.
I let other people hold my baby while I showered, ate, and took care of my hurting body.
I told myself that whatever hard thing was happening would be over in a few days or weeks.
I reminded myself that these newborn days would be over in a blink, and I’d want them back.
I let my baby be a baby, I let myself be a mess, and I gave us both grace as we learned how to become mother and daughter.
Recognizing that the transition from womb to world was probably more traumatic for my daughter than it was for me allowed me to treat us both with the gentleness we so desperately needed in our first weeks together. I held her as often as I could, cradling her tiny body close to my skin. I wept with her when I needed to and allowed her to comfort herself with my body as often as she needed it.
And here I am, slowly becoming myself again. For nearly two years, my daughter and I were one person, sharing one body during pregnancy and even as I breastfed her. It’s equal parts freeing and heartbreaking to watch her as she becomes independent and to feel myself enjoying the independence too.
But those newborn days will live in my memory as some of the sweetest, hardest, most emotional days of my life, and I will always think of them as the days when I became more fully myself by giving myself completely to another person.
The deepest relationships in life, our strongest bonds, are formed when we give ourselves completely away.
This doesn’t mean I’m not still myself. I need to explore my own desires, be my own person, and not lose myself in motherhood.
It simply means that I’m learning to love this new version of myself, one that comes with fewer expectations, less guilt, more joy, and more forgiveness. A new version of myself whose sharp edges are softening, whose stretch marks are slowly fading, whose heart is stretching and tearing and deepening its capacity for love.