‘What do new mothers do all day?’
Our culture doesn't have a good way to measure the amazing things you are accomplishing.
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A new mother looked at me recently during a conversation we were having about sleep deprivation during the beginning of baby’s life.
As a postpartum advisor and doula, I talk to a lot of new mamas.
But I hear all the time from women in the midst of transition to motherhood who are struggling to get their little ones to sleep and to respond to the demands of infant life.
This mama looked at me in desperation and asked, “So do you just not get anything done then??”
Mamas, I want to tell you the truth. Here it is:
You will not get anything done when you are home with a baby.
And anyone who told you otherwise is not being very forthcoming (or perhaps they just have a lousy memory).
You might get yourself fed.
You might get yourself dressed (then again, you might not).
You might take a walk (it makes baby happy).
You might have a short phone conversation or start a load of laundry, neither of which you will finish.
This is your new-mom normal.
So what are you doing all day?
Not much that can be measured, really.
You’re simply responding appropriately and with patience (through fatigue) to smiles, to tears, to hunger cues and to drowsiness, teaching your baby how to navigate this complex and (to a baby) highly emotional and raw world.
You are keeping your baby clean, which on some days involves more costume changes (for both of you) than any non-mother can begin to fathom.
You are teaching a tiny, helpless person all about the world—at least the important parts, like how we treat each other and what it means to be connected to a family.
You are creating a foundation of love and trust between you and your baby, one that will help you set your parenting compass, inform your future interactions, and provide a basis for the way your child relates to the larger world.
You may be breastfeeding your baby—another time-consuming task (though once established, it takes less time than bottle feeding) that reaches forward through time to heal and protect your child, and simultaneously reduces your risk of disease.
Oh, and you’re becoming a mother.
It started the day your baby was conceived, and it continues beyond birth.
Your baby is stretching and growing into this new body, and you are too.
But that’s about it, really. That’s your day.
Our culture doesn’t have a good way to measure what you are accomplishing.
Your baby will grow and meet milestones: check.
To the untrained eye, most of this work, at the end of the day, will look like nothing.
But we know better.
There is no greater task than the “nothing” you did yesterday, the “nothing” you are doing today and the “nothing” you will do tomorrow.
Caring for a baby is all about the immediate experience, yet the first two years are all about investment.
It’s give, give, give and give some more.
These are hard-fought, rough-and-tumble years that can cut us down to our core and take us soaring high above the clouds, all in the space of five minutes.
And yes, as you do the hardest work of your life, it will seem like you’re not getting anything done at all. Crazy, huh?
But here’s where it gets interesting…
As much as you need and want a break now (and you should take one whenever you can), no mother has ever looked back on this time and thought, I wish I had held my baby less.
You will not remember the dishes that didn’t get done, the vacuuming that you just couldn’t make happen or the dirty clothes you wore more often than you’d like to admit.
You will remember the first smile, the first belly laugh, the first words, the first steps.
You will remember the way you looked at your baby and the way your baby looked at you.
So the next time you find yourself wondering how another day is gone and nothing is done, stop.
Hold your baby—feel the way that tiny body strains to contain this giant soul—complete and full of potential all at the same time.
Take a deep, slow breath.
Close your eyes and measure your day not as tasks, but as feelings, as sounds, as colors.
Exhaustion is part of it.
And it’s true, you will get “nothing” done.
But the hard parts will fade.
The intense, burning love is what remains, and it is yours to keep forever.