The Amateur Motherhood Hour is a new column on MankatoLIFE, exploring the world of being a first-time mom. New mom Katie Roiger will share what she is learning and also what has helped her along the way as she strives to encourage other new moms and connect them to resources in the greater Mankato area.
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the best way to receive free, unsolicited advice is to become a mother. Barely had the pregnancy test dried in the bathroom stall at work than I was being tenderly counseled by a mom of two whose desk was next to mine and had heard my joyful, hiccuping sobs all the way across the hall.
“This is the best thing that will ever happen to you!” she assured me. “Start taking prenatal vitamins right away.”
I like advice. When making a big decision, I tend to ask at least three people I trust for their thoughts before doing the thing I planned to do in the first place (sorry, husband). No matter what my final choice, I prefer to know all of the options. The librarians at my local branch suspected my news before I told my parents because I placed their entire parenting section on hold. I could recite the differences between the Ferber and the terrifyingly-named Extinction method of sleep training eight months prior to my baby’s arrival.
Watching his tiny eyelashes flutter as he slept, I felt both fiercely protective yet stunningly inadequate. I knew him better than anyone, yet I had no idea how to care for him.
It wasn’t until I finally held Little Guy in my arms that I started to find the deluge of advice, requested and unrequested, somewhat unwelcome.
Watching his tiny eyelashes flutter as he slept, I felt both fiercely protective yet stunningly inadequate. I knew him better than anyone, yet I had no idea how to care for him. Was I a terrible mother already? The well-meaning suggestions of grannies at supermarkets and friends with children began to grate. How could they know what he wanted when I, who nursed him and rocked him, and cleaned him up when he peed on his own head, did not?
Then came my brother-in-law’s wedding. I am very close to his then-fiancée, who had asked me prior to my pregnancy to be her personal attendant. Little Guy was just seven weeks old when my husband and I threw our Pack and Play in the car and drove to be with the family for a whole weekend of festivities. From the beginning, he was what our friends admiringly referred to as an “easy baby” – only waking up once or twice a night, and gladly snuggling with anyone who volunteered to hold him. How bad could it be?
It could actually be very, very bad. Even the easiest of babies, a concept which I personally believe is an oxymoron, might reasonably object to sitting still and behaving while his mother steamed dresses, ran errands, and corralled flower girls.
Little Guy made his feelings clear on the party bus to the wedding venue, to my great embarrassment. I had no one else to look after him at the time, and crying infants do not mix well with drinking groomsmen. He calmed down for the ceremony itself, but erupted into Vesuvius Baby during the bride’s father’s speech.
As helpful tips poured into one ear and Category 5 baby shrieks flooded the other, I realized something incredible: They didn’t know what to do either.
I excused myself and rushed him to the ladies’ room where he cried inconsolably. As women trickled in an out to freshen up, they bestowed jewels of wisdom upon me as they passed: “Poor little guy, he needs a nap!” “Is it time for a diaper?” “Have you tried burping him?” “You should feed him.”
They suggested, and I seethed – especially as none of the suggestions helped one bit. And then: Lightbulb! As helpful tips poured into one ear and Category 5 baby shrieks flooded the other, I realized something incredible:
They didn’t know what to do either.
It is true that all of the women giving me advice that day had much more experience in motherhood than I did. It is also true that their experience, which they were so kindly passing on to me, may have helped their own children, but would not necessarily help me since I and my baby are unique beings and form a unique unit.
This changed the way I viewed myself as a mother. Gone was the nagging insecurity, the shame that I didn’t know what I was doing. I still don’t quite know what I’m doing much of the time, but I no longer feel that Little Guy is a test for which everyone but me has the answer key. I’ve learned to view him more as a beautiful puzzle – a tiny soul to learn about and appreciate.
I no longer feel that Little Guy is a test for which everyone but me has the answer key. I’ve learned to view him more as a beautiful puzzle – a tiny soul to learn about and appreciate.
Other women may have had similar puzzles, but the things they’ve learned in their journeys to motherhood may sometimes apply to my own journey, sometimes not. They may frequently be helpful, but it is a mistake to assume that they will always know best. And when I am wrong – and I will certainly be wrong – I will have gained important knowledge, the kind that sticks with me because I gained it myself, about how to keep my child nurtured and protected.
Nurtured and protected: That’s my goal for Little Guy, swapped out for the goal of keeping him deliriously happy and unfussy all the time. To paraphrase James Breakwell in his delightful book Bare Minimum Parenting, children are often most happy when they are doing something dangerous or germy. If you prevent your toddler from splashing around in the toilet bowl, it will likely cause him distress, but are you a bad parent for stopping that kind of play? My 3-month-old doesn’t know what “happy” means yet, or how to achieve it. Sometimes giggling too hard makes him cry.
Which leads us to an event of a few days ago, when after a hearty half-hour of nursing, Little Guy suddenly burst into tears and screamed with the fervor of a noon whistle for 45 minutes while I desperately tried to calm him down. I flipped through my mental Rolodex of advice, picking up speed as his wails increased in decibels: Was he still hungry? No. Was he wet? No. Was he tired? Maybe, but he’s screaming to hard to sleep. Is he suddenly possessed? Possibly, but if I call my priest to ask for an exorcism, he won’t be able to hear my request over the shrieking.
Nothing helped. Finally, after a second fruitless diaper change, I realized that his short-sleeved cotton onesie had spit-up on the collar and wearily grabbed a fleece outfit with footies at random. No sooner had I zipped him up than the cries ceased, he opened his eyes, and cooed. I’m back, Mom!
I’m a mom… A mom with a heart ready to love, a will ready to serve, and plenty of unsolicited advice to back her up.
He was cold! No one told me babies could be cold! I’d been warned against overheating and instructed that under No Circumstance should I allow Little Guy to sleep with a blanket before he could roll over on his own. I had subconsciously assumed that babies could spontaneously combust if dressed too snugly. But no – my little screamer just wanted me to know that if I was wearing a sweatshirt while the house was 66 degrees, then he wanted long sleeves too.
Why didn’t I think of that sooner? Because I am
an idiot a mom. A mom: Not a psychic, not a child whisperer, not the all-knowing God. A mom with a heart ready to love, a will ready to serve, and plenty of unsolicited advice to back her up.
The Amateur Motherhood Hour is a regular column by Katie Roiger in which she shares her perspective on the joys and struggles of first-time parenting.