Minimagpie turned six months old on the fifth and I have been reflecting for the past week on what it’s meant to be her mother–the great privilege of it all, and also, the great responsibility. In a book I recently read, Ariel Levy wrote that motherhood “impaired and intensified my vision. Nothing has looked entirely the same since.” This is true. And, this is also true: that motherhood has asked me to hold a mirror to myself, making me at once cognizant and proud of the elements of my personality that have stood me well in this journey. It has shown me who I have always been by calling into high relief my instincts, my neuroses, my habits.
I am the same and not the same at all.
If I could write a letter to myself on the eve of minimagpie’s birth, here’s what I’d have to say:
There are three things that you need to know right now:
- You are stronger than you think. But when you falter, lean on your loved ones. You are never, ever alone.
- Everything is a phase, and with an infant, these phases are remarkably short-lived.
- God is with you.
You are about endure two weeks of intensity–intense love, intense physical pain, intense confusion, intense exhaustion–followed by months of joy (OK, joy mottled with intensity and sleeplessness and confusion, but mainly joy).
For the bad bits: this, too, shall pass. The pastor at Church once shared a remarkable sermon about a woman coping with loss with the following refrain: “Life is bigger than this.” Life is bigger than these bleary days of recovery and hellish aftermath of a serious abdominal surgery. A few days in, when you feel like you’ll never recover, your friend Hartley will text you and write what you so desperately need to hear: “There was a day I don’t think I stopped crying all day. It gets better. Hang in there.” And, your mom will hold your hand and help you laugh and Mr. Magpie will let you cry on his shoulder and ask the doctor: “But I have a very important question–” and she’ll pause, concerned, solicitous, and he’ll continue: “When can she have a glass of champagne?” And it will all be OK.
For the good bits: God is good. Drink it up. Live in the present. Everyone will tell you to forget the laundry and housekeeping, and for goodness sake, just do it, because before you know it, mini will be out of her bassinet and out of her newborn clothing and you’ll be feeding her those first bites of solid food and you’ll wonder, in that very trite but not trite-feeling way, where the time goes. I don’t care how cliche I sound right now: these are all truths.
There are a few things I wish you would do differently.
- You have a little bit of a chip on your shoulder when it comes to reading baby books. Yes, it’s true that too much information stresses you out and gives you a sense of research whiplash (“let them sleep in your own room!” “don’t!” “never let them sleep in your bed!” “co-sleeping is the best thing you can possibly do!”) and leaves you feeling more disempowered than anything else (“how will I ever do anything right?!”), but there are two topics you should study up on–breastfeeding and sleeping–because I think you may be about to botch both.
- Buy more actual layette pieces. And by layette pieces, I don’t mean crisp cotton bubbles and precious linen rompers that need to be ironed. I mean 100% pima cotton coziness, because that’s all you want to put minimagpie in for the first three months of her life. Stock up on more 1212 onesies and sleepwear and save the heirlooms for a bit later.
- I have a lot of practical advice on how to recover from your c-section, but I forgot one crucial element: pull out that stepstool from the closet and position it by your bed. You’ll need it to get into and out of bed those first few weeks.
- Maybe don’t take minimagpie to that Cubs game when she’s two months old. The roar of the crowd will be deafening and you’ll spend the entire time freaking out about her delicate ears.
- Create changing stations upstairs, in your bedroom, at the foot of the bed, and downstairs, by the couch you’ll lay on for the first two weeks, so that Mr. Magpie doesn’t need to be a pack mule, carrying things up and down the stairs 23 times an hour.
- Slow down. Slow everything way down. Especially when you are frenetically rushing to give minimagpie a bath before dinner with out of town visitors and you take a corner a little too quickly and bump minimagpie’s head and she screams like you’ve never heard her scream before and you spend an hour sobbing to yourself before dialing your mom, wailing “how–GASP GASP–could I–HICCUP-have been so–SOB SOB–careless?!” and thoroughly freaking her out until she figures out what’s happened and reassures you that everything is OK. And everything is, in fact, OK. And she’ll tell you, after your sobs have abated, that: “I can assure you that will never happen again.” And it won’t. Because you will find yourself more generously gauging the space you have to get through a door, or between chairs, or into a car, angling yourself and mini to prevent any such head bashing, even now, many months later.
But, there are many more things that you will do well.
- You will shower, get dressed, and wear makeup every day. People will tell you to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” a useful aspirational reminder, but one to which you will rarely adhere. (Sort of like the specious advice several nurses will extend: “try to let your incision air dry.” Um, OK. What new mom has hours to lay on her bed, eating bon bons and air-drying? Setting aside the time component, things are…leaky those first few weeks. Am I the only woman who needed cushion-size pads and industrial strength nipple pads for weeks?) You know yourself, though, and having a hot, quiet shower for 10 minutes a day will feel like heaven and leave you feeling 10x more refreshed than a cat nap.
- You will listen to minimagpie and tune everything else out–all the well-intentioned advice, the occasional articles you’ve read, the examples of others around you. You are mini’s mother and listening to her will give you all the cues you need: when to transition her out of the swaddle (later than most babies), when to take a brief intermission from feeding her solid foods (oats will really mess with her digestion, so you will take a little break and go back to simple purees and things will be better after), when her cries signal hunger (I will sound like an insane person, but I swear that she has a different cry when she’s hungry that sounds more like a “muh” or “nuh” sound; when she’s gassy or tired, it’s more “wah” or grunt-y).
- When things feel inscrutable, you will ask your mom, and she will always be right.
- You will not care about the milestones she “should” be hitting. So many people will ask you: “When will she [start rolling over / start crawling / start sleeping through the night]?” and you will look like a total dingbat when you honestly reply: “I have no idea. I don’t even know what’s normal.” But dispensing of this concern — not worrying about whether she’s doing something too early or too late, relying on the pediatrician to let you know if something is awry — will mean that her milestones will arrive as genuine surprises that you will delight in. This is, of course, not an indictment of those that chart these developments more carefully; I have observed that most moms–great moms!–fall into one of two camps: they either want to be armed with as much information as possible, or too much information leaves them anxious and unsettled. I am in the latter camp. But both are entirely logical forms of self-empowerment, and I know many excellent mothers that fall at both ends of the spectrum. You will do what you need to do to feel confident and comfortable. You will trust yourself.
- You will overcommunicate with Landon. You will spend countless nights musing over her sleeping habits, fretting over that time she had horrible reflux and milk shot through her nose and it seemed that she didn’t breathe for a good five seconds, strategizing about feeding and weaning and pumping and all the joy and angst that goes into breastfeeding. You will feel intense relief having a companion in these inquisitions.
- You will pray, daily–for help, for patience, for strength–and also out of intense gratitude and relief that she is here and she is perfect and she is yours.
- You will keep a list of her milestones on your iPhone, jotting new developments down as soon as they happen, because otherwise, you will entirely forget when you fed her that inaugural taste of banana and when it was, exactly, that she first rolled over on her own.
- You will push yourself to get out the door and do things with minimagpie, even if it’s just a walk down to the end of the block, and even when she is very little and such minor excursions feel borderline impossible and entirely deplete you of all of your energy for the remainder of the day.
- You will learn to turn off everything else — your phone, your desire to finish that one last blog post or get that one last email out, your overlong list of errands — for portions of each day so that you can gaze at your daughter in awe and remark, at least a dozen times a week, occasionally to no one at all: “How did we make her?”
- You will get a nanny, and this will change your life for the better and make you a far better mother.
- You will read a lot, both to her, and to yourself. You will read to her, multiple times a day, even when you think you can’t stand hearing “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” one more time or find yourself punctuating random statements with lines from her books (Mr. Magpie: “Who’s at the door?” Me: “Lift the flap and see!”). You will come to find her nighttime books soothe you. You will also read more than you ever have in your entire life once Mr. Magpie buys you a Kindle: breastfeeding 6-8 times a day now means you read a book or two each week, and these books will nourish you and create a new little space for you to reflect, think, feel.
- You will realize that, all things considered, including the fact that you may have messed up breastfeeding in the hospital which has led to a chronic undersupply of milk and countless hours of pumping and supplementing with formula — you’re doing pretty well. You have a healthy, thriving daughter whose face radiates with joy when you approach her in the mornings, occasionally so ecstatically that she extends her arms and legs taut and shrieks with happiness.
As Dad will tell you a few weeks in: “Motherhood suits you.” And it does.
As you will tell your sister a few weeks later: “Being Emory’s mom makes me feel complete.” And it does.
And you will always remind yourself: “Don’t take any of this for granted. Thank God for the gift of the here and now. Because even though the bad things will pass, the good things will pass, too.” And they will.
But not just yet. Not right now, as you sit in the midst of her infancy, soaking up her perfect six-month-old self, one who likes peaches and acai and banana and shrieks with glee when your dog licks her toes and bursts into contagious laughter when you yank your finger out of her grip while making a fart noise. One who wants desperately to put everything in her mouth — that enormous bowl, your hair, your glass of wine, the blouse of that old woman sitting next to you in Church. One who likes the rubber duck in her bath and coos, animatedly, passionately, at her toys in Mass, and brings you hours and hours of laughter and joy. Not just yet.
Post-Script: My Favorite Baby Gear at 6 Months
+The Skip-Hop activity center. We call this “her office,” and it buys us a good twenty to thirty minutes of time to clean the kitchen, prepare dinner, or just give our arms a break. She loves it.
+This teether. I will occasionally clip it to her shirt using this pacifier clip and it will entertain her for long stretches of time. She’s actually equally as enthralled by the pacifier clip as she is with the teether.
+I wrote a post on all of mini’s bathtime gear, but would you guess that her favorite toy is a rubber duck? But seriously, I love her new bathtub. It’s easy to drain (has a little plug in the bottom) and thus easy to clean and it has an adjustable seat so it grows with her.
+My favorite bedtime book for mini and her swiveling, rocking armchair. It’s actually not technically a rocking chair, but it is SO comfortable and cush-y and I’m so glad we have it as mini gets older. I anticipate many hours spent reading in this chair with her on my lap.
+My favorite jammies of hers right now, which I extravagantly had monogrammed, and which I layer underneath her silky, breathable sleepsack now that she’s out of the swaddle. (Much less challenging than I had thought — we transitioned her by swaddling her with one arm out, then two arms out, then started using the sleepsack. I think she woke herself early the first few times she wasn’t swaddled, but quickly adjusted.) I am currently looking for a heavier-weight sleepsack for the winter months — contemplating this or this. I would really love to splurge on a monogrammed one of these, but I can’t quite get over the sticker shock.
+This baby seat. We place it right on our countertop so we can feed her and it takes up so much less space than a formal high chair. We may eventually buy one of those for some reason I’ve not yet thought of, but, for now, it’s super easy to clean and store and mini loves to sit in it while tasting new foods. More of our favorite feeding gear here.
+These personalized burp cloths my sister gave us. I love their thickness — they’re super absorbent! — and they also look cute. I still use them daily.
Post-Post-Script: My Baby Gear Wishlist at 6 Months
+I’d like to get some repositionable foam playmat squares that are easy to put away when we have guests over but that will let me rest easy while she’s learning to scoot and crawl and in particular when she tends to get tired after awhile of tummy time and just sort of drops her head to the ground. I’ve heard great things about Little Nomad’s mats because they look so pretty. However, this one in the pink floral print rolls up and might be easy to just throw down and stow.
+OMG. This personalizable walking toy with those chomping alligators! Too precious.
+I think we’ll need an umbrella stroller at some point in the future…and I don’t think I can justify its purchase since we already have an obscenely expensive “full feature” stroller (the Bugaboo Cameleon), but I am geeking out over the BabyZen Yoyo, which is one the most lightweight, compact, cool-looking stroller out there — it even fits in the overhead bin of an airplane!
+Soon we’ll be buying mini two-piece jammie sets like these!