Women have been raising babies since the beginning of time.
Mothers have been doing this for millions of years.
“Don’t worry, your baby will just know what to do,” they say.
So why am I so confused?
These were the resounding messages I heard during my pregnancy and I really believed them. Deep down I just knew that my body, my brain, and my baby would have an immediate and powerful connection that enabled everything to work smoothly. She would know how to breastfeed because that’s what she was born to do. She would eventually figure out how to sleep because that’s what she needs to do. We are an evolved species after all, aren’t we?
I rejected the notion of lactation consultants, support groups, sleep consultants, etc. because I just knew that my baby and I would figure it all out together. Our parents didn’t have all of these newfangled resources. Their parents didn’t have developmentally appropriate toys or consultants on call. And didn’t we all turn out OK ?
After spending the last few months sleep-deprived, frustrated, and riddled with guilt….I broke. We made the decision to hire a sleep consultant. I was convinced that she would just learn how to sleep on her own or that we would fall into a natural rhythm that made sense for her. But after months of multiple night wakings, cranky mornings, and anxious nights I just couldn’t see any other way out. I convinced myself that I had instilled bad habits and essentially created a sleep-averse monster. I was distraught that I couldn’t figure this out on my own. It seemed so unnatural to read countless books and articles to teach my baby how to sleep. Shouldn’t she and I just know how to do that?
Then I had a realization that has changed how I see motherhood.
Those women who knew how to do this millions of years ago were probably just as confused. The difference is that they had a literal village to show them how it’s done. Mothers, aunts, grandmothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, and neighbors, who could show them the ropes. We have moved away from communal living, joint families, and truly allowing a traditional village to raise our babies. No wonder I have no idea what I’m doing.
Watching babies being raised was never part of my everyday life. It was not something I saw on a regular basis. It didn’t even just happen in the background like I imagine it did when we lived more communally. Isn’t it ironic that the first time we really learn the details about being pregnant and having a baby is when we have entered that phase of life? There are countless things I had NO idea about (hello lochia, meconium, and the existence of my perineum). I didn’t know what a breast pump looked like, let alone how it worked (and now I have a very intimate, albeit troubled, relationship with my pump). Why is being pregnant and raising kids no longer part of our collective lives? It is hidden away under nursing covers,airplane shame, and the old adage “children should be seen and not heard.”
This article really helped me understand the cognitive dissonance I was feeling as a new mother. “When we see or hear something, mirror neurons record and remember it as if we are performing the action… until very recently women didn’t need to be taught how to breastfeed. Their mirror neurons already knew. When they gave birth, mothers in the past were familiar with how to nurse their babies because they saw it growing up.”
Essentially, it’s the “monkey see, monkey do” phenomenon. The problem is…we aren’t seeing much these days! My images of breastfeeding were acquired through….wait for it….a class at the hospital about breastfeeding. I have no memories of actually seeing women breastfeed. I feel the same way about sleep. Do other babies cry it out, wake up multiple times at night, only want to sleep in their parent’s bed? I know that each baby and family is different but when you have no real vision of what is out there, everything you are experiencing can seem “out of the ordinary.”
So, I have accepted that I need to work a little harder to create my village. This new village includes a doula who ushered me into motherhood, daycare teachers who love and care for my baby every day, lactation consultants who help me understand how to do this breastfeeding thing, sleep consultants who can show me the ropes, friends who have become family, and random strangers who smile at me and give me advice.
Here is what I promise to keep in mind as I go through this journey of motherhood:
—I will not keep holding myself to the ideals of my ancestors because things have fundamentally changed and that is ok. (And who is to say that this wasn’t hard for them either!)
—Just because we are doing things differently these days it doesn’t mean that it’s wrong or unnatural. Times are a changing.
I will continue to trust my instincts.
—I will not apologize or feel guilty for asking for help, in whatever form that may come.
**I chose to use the term “motherhood” in my writing because it’s what came naturally to me. I recognize and value all types of parents. We all face the same joys and challenges no matter who we are.
**I would be remiss not to mention how lucky/privileged I am to be able to avail myself of the resources I talk about. How do we enable more people to get the support they need?