Being a mother wasn’t something that just came naturally to me. The first few weeks after my son was born I felt panicked. I was breastfeeding him almost every hour, and between that and how it seemed every minute he was awake and not eating he was crying, I felt like I didn’t have time to do anything-sleep, eat, go pee, shower. He was never a good sleeper-and didn’t sleep through the night until after his first birthday when I stopped breastfeeding him and he was exclusively on solid food. Those first couple months, sleep deprivation made me feel like a zombie, and almost like I was losing my mind. I couldn’t fathom how other women went on with their regular lives after having a baby-visiting friends, going out to eat, shopping, living life, when it felt like I had been plunged into a tank of ice-cold water trying to swim with weights attached to my ankles. Loving anything like I loved my new baby was terrifying and exhausting-the constant, gnawing worry that something would happen to him, no matter how small. I am an anxious person to begin with, but the more you care about something the more it matters what happens to it, so there I was, sleeping with the lamp on all hours of the night, checking on the baby in the porta-crib beside me if thirty minutes had gone by and he hadn’t woken for food yet. When I think back on it, I realize that I literally went months without a moment of peace because I couldn’t relax.
I was horrible at getting my own baby to sleep. I didn’t have the natural ease that I’ve seen my mother-in-law use to gently rock him to sleep. I didn’t know the soothing things to do to get him to drift off, I didn’t have the magic touch to get him to quiet down. It’s an ironic and cruel coincidence that my child didn’t start saying “mama” or any form of the word until right before his second birthday, though he is with me every waking hour of every day.
My struggle to find my inner mother was such a handicap but also such a blessing. Every day seemed so trying and hard, but because of that I found that I was truly proud of myself for the first time in my adult life. I knew that I was trying so hard and striving to be a good mother, and I was actually doing it. As tired as I would be getting up for the fourth time to breastfeed in the night, tallying up my total night’s sleep and realizing it came to about three and a half hours, I would feel so proud of myself. I never let my hungry baby cry in the night so I could get some extra sleep. I didn’t leave the responsibility of raising my child fall on other people so I could live more of the life other girls my age were living. The life of being a mother to a newborn baby was hard in so many more ways than I ever imagined, but I overcame.
It’s hard to explain, but somewhere around a year ago I finally eased into my role as a mother. It took me almost two years, but the panic subsided. No more do I wake up in the morning fearing that I can’t do this and I will fail. I feel comfortable in my ability to care for and raise a baby, and mother is now part of my identity. For those of you that received your firstborn into steady and knowing arms-I envy you. But for those of you who take each step into motherhood with shaky and unsure feet, keep walking. You will find your way.