thWhat Is the One Thing You Would Have Done Differently as a New Mom?

Each month we ask our readers a question… these are their answers…

Forgiven myself for making mistakes and not having all the answers. If I could go back to my daughter’s first few years, I would stop trying to do it all and just enjoy the moments more. I miss the moments.- A. Macedo

Asked for help and accepted help. Now I have three kids and people aren’t knocking on my door to help like they did with a newborn! – A. Connors

Given myself a break and allowed more time for self care. Being a mom does not mean you have to be a martyr. I think teaching realistic balance is the best thing we can model for our kids, but also the hardest. – C. Krist

Slept with my babies and not listened to anyone but my gut for parenting advice. – T. Scott

As a stay-at-home mom, I would have introduced a babysitter into the routine earlier on, so that my kid would naturally have gotten used to being looked after—not to mention being put to bed—by somebody other than me!  – Lauren Apfel, Brain, Child’s Debate Editor

Bought only one type of socks. – M. Darlene

Stay home longer, jobs can wait a year. – P. Medrano

Written a little something about myself or my baby every day. – S. Preston

I tried to do EVERYTHING myself. It was hard to ask for help. As a result, I was sleep-deprived and had shot nerves (with a bit of anxiety/short temper thrown in). I miss those first six months like crazy, and often feel as though I could have done things differently. – S. Farmer

Put my kids in the crib earlier than I did. – D. Balan

I should have napped every single time my husband told me to nap. – Hilary Levey Friedman, Brain, Child‘s Book Review Editor

I don’t know how I would do it but I would do bedtime differently (my children, currently six and nine, still do not go to bed, instead they creep into the bedroom at  night to kick me in the head.) – H. Fletcher

Chilled out a little more. – T. Driscoll

Stayed home more. – M. Hope

Not attempted to go back to work – D. Fine

Researched vaccines on my own before administration. – E. Bowdin

Relaxed. Not taken myself too seriously. – A. Strazza

I would have slept when my baby slept and been awake with the baby and hired someone to clean house for the first three weeks and told all visitors to go away and make an appointment – A. Ling

Worry less. – E. Tompkins

I would have had even more parties, to this day my now teenage children remember all their themed birthday parties — rainbow, flowers, pirates — and I loved every minute of the planning and playing. – Marcelle Soviero, Brain, Child’s Editor-in-Chief.

I would never have registered for – let alone tried to consistently use – the shopping cart insert. Too much effort, plus some germs are good! – Hilary Levey Friedman, Brain, Child‘s Book Review Editor

Spent more time reading to and singing to my babies. Held them longer, played with them more. Not worried about messes and dirty clothes. Let their friends come over more (I’m an introvert and only child, and didn’t feel comfortable with people in the house). – D. Page

Insisted people take lots of photos of me and my child. – T. Guerra

Skip the parenting books for the first two years. – S. Pilman

If I could do it all over, I wouldn’t have fussed so much about our kids wanting to sleep in our bed. – R. Johnson

Gave up on breastfeeding. It was never going to happen and I wasted so much time and emotional energy stressing about it. – K. Morgan

Learned to let others (spouse/mom) hold my babies more. – L. Jury

Trusted my instincts and ignored a lot of “advice.” – C. Vechio

Hold, hold, hold, and talk and sing and dance. — M. Holden

Nothing. I did the best I could with what I knew and what I had. – L. McBride

Take better care of myself. – A. Miley

Said “no visitors” in the hospital – B. Ardel

Delivered anywhere but where I did.- L. Mercantile

Napped when they napped. – K. Oates

Return to the October 2015 Issue


Welcome to the Club

Welcome to the Club

What is Motherhood? is a Brain, Child blog series, with original posts from our writers, and reposts from some of our most favorite websites and blogs, all answering the universal question—what does motherhood mean to you?

06_Eileen_6403 copyI unlatched the bucket baby carrier and heaved it out of the stroller. It was only three weeks since my C-section, and I swore under my breath as I felt a pinch. But the stroller wouldn’t fit into the community center’s tiny bathroom and I didn’t have much choice.

“Oh look at him! How old?” a voice exclaimed over Brennan, and then, “I can take him for you.”

A blonde-haired woman with chic glasses smiled at me. She looked … not crazy. Looked, in fact, much saner than I must have in the moment as I stood there sweating with the adrenaline, exhilaration and exhaustion of brand-new motherhood. She had with her a baby of her own, a girl of about six months old. I left Brennan with her and darted into the bathroom. And I thought about how impossible it seemed that I had just handed my newborn over to someone whose name I didn’t even know.

Days before, my mom had climbed out of my car at the airport terminal for her flight back home, both of us weeping. I had no family nearby, or even close friends with children, and my husband’s two weeks of paternity leave were up. I was looking at a week of ten-hour days, all on my own.

A coworker had given me information on a new moms group months before and I had tucked it away. I’d never thought of myself as the support group type, whatever that means. But when I faced down those first long days alone with Brennan, I looked up the meeting location and set the goal of getting us there.

The blonde woman, Kathleen, led me through a door to where the meeting had already started. Moms and babies were spread out across a sun-lit room with wide windows. Some were cooing, others crying (babies but also, probably, a mom or two.) The smaller babies lay on their backs kicking while others crawled across the rug or even practiced standing; compared to tiny Brennan, the older ones looked like giants. Many of the moms looked more or less like I felt, as though they were seeing the world through the fuzzy veil of sleep-deprivation. But they also looked relaxed.

The group facilitator welcomed me and then said, pointedly, “We usually start at ten,” — it was a few minutes past — and I wanted to punch her in the face, or just leave. But I found a spot and sat down (I was too tired to leave again, anyway). Following the lead of the moms around me, I unfolded a flannel blanket and set Brennan down on the floor.

In the meeting, we simply went around the room and said how things were going for each of us. If someone had a question, the facilitator (who was actually great, despite her initial brusqueness) would respond, and then others might chime in. People had a whole range of ideas and approaches, ways of parenting that worked for them. But we shared a lot of the same worries, big and small. We were on the same learning curve. And we were kind to one other.

You could ask paranoid-seeming questions about eczema or poop frequency or cradle cap or how many layers for sleeping, and no one would roll her eyes and think, First-time mom. You could say, “Will I ever freakin’ sleep again?” “Does yours cry this much?” or, “I think I am losing my mind.” And people would nod sympathetically. No one would judge.

It’s hard for me to describe how these simple discussions and interactions impacted me. If the world opened up when I had a baby, so did my fears, self-doubts and insecurities. That day, the nagging feeling that I wouldn’t get it right — that there was a “right” way to be, as a parent — began to quiet, both during the course of the meeting, and after.

As I was packing my bag up, Kathleen came over.

“Hey,” she said. “We usually go to lunch afterward. You should come.” I hesitated. This was already a big outing for me. Up to then, my boldest destinations were the coffee shop and the CVS near my house.

“Really, it’s the best part,” Kathleen said, convincing me.

At the restaurant a few doors down, the staff exclaimed over us as we came in. “They’re so great here,” someone said. “They’ll even play with your baby while you eat.”

People began to put their baby carriers on the floor or onto chairs wedged solidly between the wall and table. I watched, enthralled. Fidgety babies were nursed or given a bottle or a toy. Menus appeared. Favorite dishes were discussed. And then —then — a couple of moms ordered Diet Cokes. It was like we were regular people.

That day that I had dreaded was the beginning of knowing that I would figure it out. And that I wasn’t, in fact, alone. Those women would go on to be my first real mom friends, and their babies would become Brennan’s first playmates. Most importantly, I realized that we could play both roles — caring, thoughtful, attentive parents, and women who just needed to set their babies down for a while and laugh over a Diet Coke.

Photo by Megan Dempsey

In The Mix: A Tale From The Trail

In The Mix: A Tale From The Trail

By Kris Woll

0-5My neighbor looked at me with amazement as I presented her with the large plastic vat of trail mix.

You know, I said, trying to poetically explain the rationale behind my rather unconventional gift, for the journey.

I didn’t always give M&M’s, raisins, and mixed nuts as a baby gift. I used to give things like cute and tiny onesies and plush stuffed teddy bears.

But then something changed: I had kids. And kind, well-meaning, and totally uninformed (either they forgot, or they didn’t yet know) people around me started bringing cute size 0-3 onesies and puffy bunnies and soft sheep to my house—my house that I could no longer clean, given that I had at best 15 minutes each day with both hands free; my house that was coated in last week’s laundry still to be folded but never to be put away; my house that was always a little light but had become so much so with the arrival of yet another resident, even one that small. Yes, they brought onesies and snuggly bears to my house and left them there, wrapped in three layers of tissue paper and placed inside a perky little bag with ribbon handles, for me to find a place for.  To find a place for somewhere in the “baby’s room,” that crowded former office space that now served as storage for diapers, wipes, onesies, and stuffed animals. And as the guest bedroom. And also the coat closet. (The baby was nearly the only thing not stored in the room; she slept near us.)

In other words, motherhood taught me to rethink my approach to post-baby gift giving, taught me to think about real wants and needs …

Like M&M’s! And a cashew or two! Mixed with—because, let’s face it, those early bowel movements are not a piece of cake—raisins!

I first gave trail mix as a gift to a mom down the street, a neighbor I knew only casually from front-yard conversations on warm summer nights. I gifted the trail mix to her just a few days after she arrived home with baby number two; the pink balloon still danced, though a little deflated, in the front window when I arrived. It was just a few months after I had my second child, the blur of the earliest days only starting to lift, and I gave the fruit and nuts and chocolate with a straight face, believing wholeheartedly that not only was it a totally appropriate present, but that it would be sort of a dream gift.

I expected my neighbor to open the door with her one free hand as she cradled her newborn to her breast with the other, and to tear up my thoughtfulness. I’m so hungry! she’d shout, and I only have one hand free! And the microwave buttons beep so loudly that they wake the baby! And the pretzel bag crinkles too loudly, too! And I want to save the leftover frozen pizza from last night’s dinner for tonight’s dinner because the thought of even unwrapping cellophane at 5pm is just more than I can handle, and, like the microwave buttons and pretzel bag, that cellophane is just so damn loud! 

But trail mix! she’d exclaim, now there’s something I can eat! With one hand! With no dishes! Oh, how did you know?

This is not what she said.

At first, as I held the plastic tub her way, she thought I was asking her to hold our snack while I adjusted the baby in the carrier on my chest. I motioned toward her as she tried to hand it back, adding, no, no, it’s for you!  She laughed but quickly caught herself, too polite (we live in Minnesota) to offend. Oh, wow!  she responded. Wow, well … (awkward pause, while she looked at me like I was the real nut in the doorway) … thanks! 

I stared past the door she opened to me and my baby. Admittedly, her life beyond our shared sidewalk was a mystery. And what a glorious mystery it was—behind her was a sparklingly-clean home with space far beyond that of my unexpanded version of her cape. Not a toy in site, even though her preschool-age daughter peeked through the stairway railing. She had brushed hair, and the top she was wearing not only lacked drippy stains but also coordinated well with the pants she had on. She wore lipstick and even a bracelet. I knew as I stared at the charms that adorned the one of her two free hands—the baby was asleep, presumably in its own room—that perhaps my trail mix was a miss. That maybe I should have re-gifted one of the cute size 0-3 onesies still stacked—unworn, unwashed, tags in place—on a shelf in my “baby room” back home.

I tucked my hands and bare wrists into the carrier and swayed with my baby to try to cover my embarrassment. I wished her well, and turned toward home.

I have not reverted back to giving onesies (even the cute ones at the co-op with “locally grown” stamped on the chest), nor have I given any stuffed bunnies or bears since that particular day, but I’ve not tried the trail mix again, either. Lately I opt for diapers or a gift certificate for a pedicure.

Yet I can’t help but think it’s the new mother’s loss. Those microwave buttons can be really loud. And frozen pizza is so hard to unwrap with one hand.

At least for some of us, those early weeks can be an arduous—blissful, yes, and rosy in mind now, but arduous at the time—climb. When I think back my first weeks with a new baby, I remember now all those hours spent rocking, rocking, rocking, and rocking, how hard it was to get up from the chair, and how hungry I got, and how good that trail mix tasted along the way.

Kris Woll is Minneapolis-based writer.  

Illustration by Christine Juneau

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