The 4 Most Important Lessons I Learned In My First Year As A Mom

I thought I had it all figured out before my son was even born. Boy, was I wrong.

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I’ll never forget the day my husband and I brought our son home from the hospital, feeling overwhelmed and anxious as the nurse showed us how to strap his tiny, six-pound body into his car seat. It seemed so complicated—snap here, pull there, secure tightly and release. “How are we ever going to do this on our own?” I asked my husband sheepishly as we exited the hospital doors into the snowy January afternoon. Things didn’t get much easier once we were home. My son was a colicky newborn who cried for hours. Within four months I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD) and it became clear to me that I had to start taking better care of myself. Finding my way out of the darkness of PPD became a journey of self-discovery during which I learned these valuable lessons:

1. There’s no one right way to do things.

As an anxious first-time mom, I spent my entire pregnancy trying to teach myself how to be a parent, and in doing so developed parenting plans based on advice from other moms I met online. I had decided—before I even met my baby—exactly how I wanted to do things. I was going to exclusively breastfeed, cloth diaper until potty training, respond to every cry, and wear my baby constantly. Well, my son challenged every preconceived notion I had about caring for a newborn, and while some of my “rules” stuck, most of them were just not a good fit. Breastfeeding, as veteran moms know, was far more difficult than I ever thought it would be. We managed to keep it going for 13 months, but it wasn’t easy. We cloth diapered for over a year until it became too hard with travel and daycare.

I was going to exclusively breastfeed, cloth diaper until potty training, respond to every cry, and wear my baby constantly.

On the other hand, responding to every cry sent my anxiety through the roof. Babywearing worked sometimes, although it seemed my son really preferred to be put down and, to be honest, I kind of liked it, too. In his first year, my son showed me that “best” is relative. What works for one family may not work for another, and that is okay.

2. Babies cry.

It’s obvious right? Babies do cry. Some more than others, and I was not at all prepared for my son’s long bouts of crying. What’s worse is that I had developed this idea that as his mom I should be able to soothe him, and if I couldn’t, then I was failing. In reality, babies cry, and even the best baby whisperers among us can’t always make it stop.  My son’s crying was a huge trigger for my depression, so to improve my mental health I had to re-evaluate how I handled it.   First, I had to accept that crying is how he communicates. Next, I stopped automatically responding to every sound he made and started truly listening to him. When I did, I found it was much easier to determine when he really needed me and when he might be expressing some other emotion like fatigue or frustration. Most importantly, I learned that crying would not harm him or sever our bond, which was a legitimate worry of mine in the beginning. Fostering his independence and letting him fuss every now and then actually made both of us a lot happier, and I learned he is far more resilient than I gave him credit for.

3. Self-care is not selfish.

My lowest points as a new mom were a direct result of putting myself last—not getting enough sleep, not eating well, and not nurturing my hobbies. It was my son’s pediatrician who insisted I get help after I broke down in tears at her office. She helped me see how my well-being is linked to my son’s, and it was the wake-up call I needed to start taking my health seriously.

My son’s crying was a huge trigger for my depression, so to improve my mental health I had to re-evaluate how I handled it.

I began to lean more on friends and family to help with my baby while I carved out the time to catch up on sleep, eat more nutritiously, and just be alone every now and then. As I slowly got better, I noticed my son seemed happier, too, and I realized that taking care of myself just might be the best thing I can do for him.

4. How to Trust And Love Myself

The biggest lesson my son taught me—and one that he continues to teach me—is that I am a good mom just the way I am and I don’t have to prove that to anyone else. It took time for me to realize there really isn’t a secret parenting manual and that I don’t need outside validation to determine what is best for my child. When I found the courage to tune everyone else’s voices out, I gained confidence in own unique parenting style and both my son and I began to thrive. These days I’m much better at letting unsolicited advice roll off my shoulders, and while I still stumble sometimes, and I always will, I know the bond I have with my son is strong enough to withstand anything that comes our way.

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