When I nurse my baby, I hear my mother's voice telling me how, as a baby, I always had to make eye contact with her when nursing. How I never slept more than two hours for the first six months. How needy and demanding and sensitive I was. She loves me very dearly, but these things were always presented as facts about who I am, how different I am than my brother, and how much self-sacrifice it took to have me. Later in my childhood, I was alone a lot, and looking back as an adult I often quietly assumed that was excusable given how much of a pain I was, how much time I took, when I was a baby.
But now that I have my own baby, I can't even hold her in a way so as to make eye contact while breastfeeding. I can't figure out the logistics of how my mom must have held me. So, if she's demanding it, I don't even know. She goes through growth spurts of not sleeping more than two consecutive hours over many days, and that's tough, but sometimes she sleeps longer. Is she a better baby than I was? I found myself telling a friend yesterday that yes, she is a better baby. But I also already plan to be careful about constructing the narrative of her babyhood for her someday. I want to tell her about how loved she is, how many places she goes, and how awesome we think she is. Even when it's hard, I don't want to tell her how hard it is. I want it to be less about who she is innately, and more about what we experienced. As an adult I have often used the anecdotes of my baby-neediness to prove how demanding I can be, and now that I have my own baby, I think that's a shame. Those are the parts of me that were told to me, and they may or may not be all my own fault. What if I had a mom who really wanted to make eye contact with me and made sure that she could? What if the idea of self-sacrifice makes her feel good even when it makes me feel bad? Where do these things come from?
I'm not actually saying that I was an easy baby---I bet I wasn't. But pregnancy and infancy are experiences made up of so much more than what's actually happening in the moment. Recently I have heard my husband's mom's voice in his baby-nurturing voice, the voice he uses to soothe Peony. It made me wonder if my nurturing voice echoed my own mom, so I listened...and yep, it sure did. That's OK; that's how we learned the concept of nurturing! How incredibly lucky we both are to have been so carefully and lovingly cared for in our first years of life.
I also hear a lot of other voices from the moms around me, young and old, as I care for my little family. Here is advice I got from other moms that I have found holds true in baby-care. Not all of it was what I wanted to hear at the time, of course.
- While on maternity leave, be sure to take a shower every day, just so you feel human.
- Get outside every day with your infant, even if it's you running into Starbucks while your husband waits in the car.
- The sleep deprivation is insane. Sleep whenever you can.
- Pump breastmilk whenever you can---save up those ounces to give her a bottle and yourself a break now and then.
- Unfortunately, make sure you have both Preparation H and stool softener when you come home from the hospital.
- Wouldn't you rather be held than put down? Give her time to get used to the crib.
- Forgive everything with your husband in the first couple months---you guys are just going to be tired and stressed.
- Don't sit down to breastfeed without something to drink, even if it's tap water you grab while the baby is fussing.
- The first couple months are rough. But it really does get better.