New Motherhood is a Bitch

by Bethany Hiitola

And I don't mean that in a bad way--it's just hard. When I had my first child (my son), I had no idea what to really expect. I mean, sure I read all of the books, talked to friends who had kids, and thought I knew what to expect. But then comes baby, and nursing every 2 hours at 40 minutes a shot, and exhaustion, and phone calls every 20 minutes from family with congratulations when all you really want to do is sleep, the laundry, diaper blow outs, the newborn hiccup sounds the jerk you awake in panic, exploding breasts, oh and the myriad of other new motherhood things that no one ever prepares you for. But really, how can they? Motherhood (like labor) is different for all of us.

However, during it all, I just really wanted someone to talk to. Someone who was also new to motherhood, who understood, and could tell me that walking into parenting isn't always an easy process. That most days you will be a walking zombie. You'd be judged and guilt ridden. And completely winging it most (and every) days. Then there is the idea that you really do want to find yourself AFTER becoming a mom--because becoming a mom, really does do something to your self-image. And I am not talking about the physical part. Suddenly you are responsible for a being--a child--your child, and how the hell are you supposed to go back to normal?

Unfortunately, when I was going through that part of adjusting to motherhood--no one was around. Really, it was a location thing. I was in northern Illinois and my closest friends were over 450 miles away in Michigan. Sure, there were mothers everywhere in my neighborhood. It sounds easy to reach out to them, doesn't it? As a new mom, well, it is damn hard. In fact, with already pre-formed play-groups based on children's ages and mother's likes and friendships, well it was a complex relationship that intimidated me. Being sleepless and not-so-myself compounded the issue too, I was far to disheveled to want to be extroverted and sociable.

How did I survive? E-mail. Chatting online. Text messaging. Blogging. Having friends miles away meant getting creative in how I dealt with the stressfulness of being a new mom. And being a writer, well it was natural to move to the written word. Only this time, I shared all of my writing. In fact, I threw it in front of them--in their inboxes, sending instant messages, and making their cell phones chirp with messages from me. Whether I was whining, crying, screaming, or just venting--well I let them know. And I even published some of this information on my blog--then if I wasn't actively screaming at them personally, they could check in on me. Even when I wasn't pro-actively trying to get them to listen.

Ah, my girlfriends! What they put up with for me! And they did gracefully. So much so, that when a "newer" friend of mine just had a baby--her first--I knew I needed to pay my friends' kindness forward. Knowing she didn't have a lot of family or friends in the area, it was almost a given that she'd find herself a bit alone, challenged, and maybe even frustrated with motherhood. So, I needed to reach out. And it was easy--we were both expecting babies within 3 weeks of each other. And luckily, her baby came first!

At the moment she sent a text message announcing her beautiful daughter's birth, I sent encouraging messages to her in return. I checked in (via text message) at day 3 and 4. I sent nice e-mails and small pick me up gifts. And I gave her the opportunity to vent to me, to ask questions, to just talk. I didn't want to bother her incessantly with phone calls (God knows you get enough of those from well-intentioned family members that don't realize they are either waking you or the baby). So I stuck with electronic means. When she did call me, you know what I did? LISTENED. If she asked for advice (and she did. Particularly about breastfeeding), I offered any help I could offer. When she e-mailed to ask about child care and how I manage it with work--I offered my experiences as something to think about. And when it came time for her to go back to work, I cried with her via e-mail when she shared her heart and feelings with me.

All this mothering is hard. Damn hard. The last thing I would want for someone I call a friend is for them to do it alone. If you are like me, sometimes you think you can do it alone. And most of the time, we can. But sometimes, it just makes it a bit easier to have a friend to help you along. Don't take a smile and nod to mean that all is well in the world of your friend's new venture into motherhood (we do this all the time--or at least I did, and all it meant is that at that moment, I didn't want to talk about it). Give her an opportunity to talk if she needs to. Even if it is electronically.

Now my hope is that my friend, someday will look back and appreciate my openings for her to talk. Whether she knows it or not, she's already helped me. Remember we were pregnant together right? Yep, you guessed it. Just after the birth of my daughter, I got a text message from her, asking how I was and of course, opening the door for us to get together virtually or in person to talk. That my friends, is a form of paying it forward--motherhood style.

Bethany Hiitola is the author of Potpartum Euphoria and the blog, Mommy Writer.