what i’ve learned as a new mom

Hi everyone, and happy 2019! I am thrilled to introduce you to my daughter Maya Woodburn McAuley. She was born on December 4th at 10:57pm. She is the most beautiful thing we have ever seen and my husband and I are completely, totally, head-over-heels in-love with her.

Becoming a parent is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. With the sleep deprivation, exhaustion, demands of breastfeeding, and constant neediness a newborn baby brings, there have definitely been days when I have felt completely overwhelmed. But that is coupled with a profound love and gratitude for this itty-bitty baby we are blessed enough to get to care for. Rarely in my life have I been through a season that is both indescribably good and indescribably hard — but parenthood is both. It has broken me down into the core of my being and transformed me into a new level of my being.

My mom brain is tired and my thoughts are scattered, so I’m going to organize this as a list post. Here are, in no particular order, some things I’ve discovered as a new mom.

1. The human body is truly astounding. Pregnancy was miraculous enough — watching my body change and my belly grow, week by week, as I created a new human being inside me. Giving birth took my awe to a whole new level. I never want to forget how amazing my body is and what it can do.

In daily life, it is easy to get caught up in viewing our bodies through a lens of shallow perfectionism. Especially as women, we are surrounded by messages of what we “need” to tweak, change, shave, shine, primp, tighten {etc etc} about our bodies in order to make them beautiful, sexy, worthy. But pregnancy and giving birth has reminded me — has dug the knowledge deep within my bones — that my body is worthy and strong and good and enough exactly as it is. I do not need to change a thing. Whenever I feel otherwise, I need to lean into the truth of my body’s resilience and strength and be grateful for all that my body does for me each and every day. My body has climbed mountains. My body has explored cities. My body has birthed a tiny human being. My body lets me run and jump and stretch and hug and carry my daughter as we dance around and around the room. My body deserves to be cherished.

2. Sometimes confidence needs to be faked before it is felt. That first night in the hospital, as Maya cried and cried, my husband and I looked at each other with wide eyes. Our expressions said, “Now what do we do?” We had been up for more than 24 hours after a long labor. As excited as I was to be a mom, in truth Maya didn’t quite feel like *mine* right away. She felt like this random baby we were tasked with caring for — with no instruction manual. I kept catching my brain wondering where this baby’s parents were and when they would come teach us what to do.

I spent nine months being a pregnant woman. Then, within a day, I became a mom. But I didn’t feel like a mom yet. In truth, I was terrified.

Maya didn’t know any of that. All she knew was that she was hungry and I fed her. She was wet and Daddy changed her diaper. She was tired and we rocked her to sleep. To her, we were “real” parents from the very beginning. Of course we knew what we were doing.

As the days and weeks passed, I began to relax more into my new identity. Gradually, I’ve gotten to know Maya better — and she has gotten to know me. Looking back now, it is amazing how much more confident I feel as a mother. Yes, there will still be times when Maya is screaming her head off and I’m trying in vain to soothe her and I wish there was an instruction manual or “expert” I could pass her off to. But for the most part, the confident smile I used to summon all my energy to plaster onto my tired face is a genuine smile of confidence these days.

3. You can prepare and prepare and prepare… but there are some things in life you simply cannot fully prepare for. Allyn and I took all the prenatal classes. We read so many books. We watched videos. We downloaded podcasts. We practiced tasks on a baby doll: putting on a diaper, swaddling, burping, sponge-bathing. We listened to advice from other people.

The week before Maya was born, everything was all ready for her arrival. The baby furniture was set up. The baby clothes were washed and organized. Our hospital bags were packed. Our freezer was stocked with easy meals to reheat and our pantry was stocked with snacks.

We did everything we could think of to prepare. And yet… when the time came to bring her home from the hospital, I felt very unprepared. In truth, nothing could have prepared us for the realities of life with a newborn baby. No amount of other people’s stories about sleep-deprivation teach you what it feels like to go weeks upon weeks waking up every two hours to feed a baby.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for things as best you can. I’m so grateful we came home to an organized nursery and lots of food in the freezer. I’m so glad we took all those baby classes. But I’ve learned to give myself grace and to accept the messiness of life’s new challenges. I will make mistakes. I will not be perfect. And that is part of the beauty of the journey. Some things, you only learn by experiencing them yourself.

4. A community of support is invaluable. We are so, so lucky to have a ton of family and friends who surrounded us with love and care when Maya was born — and continue to do so, offering help and hugs and listening ears. My parents drove up from Southern California and stayed with us for a few days to help us get our bearings. My mom came up again when Allyn went back to work so I would feel less overwhelmed with the transition of caring for a baby by myself all day. My sister-in-law Allyson cleaned our entire house while we were in the hospital so we would come home to a clean house, and also organized a meal train for the first few weeks we were home. Family and friends came to meet Maya — and also to bring us food and do our dishes. I can’t count how many people have brought us groceries. My mother-in-law comes over frequently to hold Maya so I can take a shower or take a nap. People sent cards and gifts and flowers and prayers. I still receive text messages nearly every day from friends — checking up on me, asking how things are going, letting me know they care.

One of my favorite experiences of my entire life has been seeing the people I love shower love onto my daughter. It is so special to witness such a tangible outpouring of their love as they hold her, rock her, and cuddle her close.

5. You can hold gratitude and sadness in your heart at the same time. Before Maya was born, I read about the “baby blues” and postpartum depression, but I never expected to feel those things myself. After all, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted to be a mother. Even as a little girl, I dreamed of one day having a child of my own. And after the heartbreaking experience of an ectopic pregnancy the year before, I understood deep in my heart what a gift it is to be granted a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

But sometimes, in the early weeks of life with our newborn daughter, I found myself bursting into tears and sobbing into my hands. I would feel a pit of despair well up within me for no discernible reason. I mourned my old life — the sense of control I used to feel over myself, my body, and my time. At the prospect of another sleepless night, I would find myself thinking, “I can’t do this. I don’t know if I can do this.”

Then I would feel wracked with guilt. Because of course I knew what a blessing it was to be able to do this. I told myself that I shouldn’t feel sad or tired or frustrated — I should only feel grateful. I should feel grateful all the time.

What I’ve learned through becoming a mother is that it is possible to want something very much, and to feel astoundingly grateful to have something, and also to feel sad and overwhelmed and annoyed and exhausted. Our feelings are not mutually exclusive. Feeling one thing does not preclude the other. Trying to push away my sadness — or compounding it with guilt — only made it worse. By acknowledging the breadth of my feelings and giving myself grace to feel them all, I was able to move through the sadness much easier. Talking to Allyn about how I was feeling, and having him listen to me patiently without judging me at all, was a huge step in my journey of embracing the whole package of motherhood — not just the Hollywood highlight reel, but the beautiful daily grind of it.

6. Self-care does not have to be complicated. Sometimes, self-care is as simple as brushing your teeth, washing your face, drinking a glass of water. When I get to take a shower, it is glorious. Instead of mindlessly going through the motions, I savor the sensations of the water beating down my back and the smooth soap on my skin. A good nap makes me feel newly alive again. Even going to the grocery store can be an act of vibrant self-care! I went out by myself for the first time last weekend {leaving Allyn at home with a sleeping Maya and a bottle of breastmilk just in case she woke up hungry} and slowly pushing my cart down the aisles felt like such a glorious luxury.

7. Stories save us. Whether it is listening to my mom’s stories about how overwhelmed she felt when my brother and I were first born {something that is impossible to imagine now — my confident, capable mother ever feeling overwhelmed} or texting with a fellow new mom friend about the trials of breastfeeding, or reading blog posts written by new moms about their joys and struggles with motherhood… stories have become my lifeline in an entirely new way during this season of my life. Stories make me feel understood and less alone. They give me hope and connection. They make me laugh. If ever I have doubts about the power stories hold — because it can be a less tangible power than other things, perhaps — the experiences in my life that bring me to my knees always remind me tenfold why I have devoted my life to storytelling.

In a nutshell, I believe that stories are love. Telling our stories is sharing our own unique and sacred love with the world.

8. The only constant in this life is change. As I write this, Maya is seven weeks and three days old. She has already gone through so many changes since we brought her home from the hospital. Her umbilical cord dried up and fell off. She gained back the weight she lost after birth and she continues to steadily gain weight each week. Already, she has grown out of her newborn clothes. Her cheeks have filled out and her little arms and legs are delightfully pudgy. Her eyes have grown more alert. She sleeps for longer stretches during the night (hallelujah!) and is awake for longer stretches during the day. She makes little noises as if she is trying to talk to us. She has started to smile real smiles of happiness, not just gas. Every day, it seems, she is doing something new.

I have always loved the song “It Won’t Be Like This For Long” by Darius Rucker, and becoming a mom has made me love this song in a whole new light. Now when I listen to this song, it makes me cry. I think of this song when Maya has a diaper blowout five minutes after I changed her last diaper. I think of this song when she wants to eat again for the umpteenth time and doesn’t care one iota about my sore nipples. I think of this song when she is being fussy and I feel like I’ve done nothing all day except dance with her around the kitchen, holding her in different positions, trying to get her settled and sleepy. In moments of frustration or weariness, I remind myself that it won’t be like this for long. This too shall pass. Things will change, as they always do.

One day — in what I am sure will feel like the blink of an eye — this itty bitty baby will be crawling, and then walking, and then going to school, and riding her bike, and going to sleepovers, and learning to drive, and heading off into her own life all grown up. And I will think back to when she was a fussy little seven-week-and-three-day-old baby, and I will wish more than anything to spend a day dancing with her around the kitchen as she cries and wails and finally snuggles to sleep against my chest.

2 thoughts on “what i’ve learned as a new mom

  1. What a beautiful, raw honest diary of you first experience of being a mom. You are a lovely accessible writer Dallas & though I’ve never experienced myself being a mom I really ‘understood’ what you were conveying. I’m actually in awe at the fact you had the time to write as much as you did! I look forward to hearing more if this exciting scary journey of parenthood!x

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