He’s beautiful. He’s just perfect, mama. You did such a great job. I’m so proud of you for enduring pregnancy and childbirth and bringing this perfect little being into the world.
But, oh mama, be gentle with you this holiday.
You’re going to hear a lot of things from a lot of people. They’re going to crowd around you when you walk in the door, peeling back the car seat cover as cold air whooshes around you. Before you get all the way into the house, they’ll take the car seat and the baby to “help” you. Maybe your breath will catch and fear strangles your throat. He’s never been more than 15 feet from you, but there he goes with grandma and the aunts.
You’ll hustle over, but he’s already in the arms of someone else. They’re oohing and ahhing, and you comfort yourself with platitudes. “It’s so good that he’s loved like this already.” But mama, it’s okay to want to be near your baby right now, to be the one who holds him the most, the one who lifts him from his car seat oh-so-carefully. Don’t be too hard on yourself for wanting to be with your baby.
Likewise, don’t berate yourself if you feel nothing but relief for empty arms, even if just for 15 minutes as he’s passed from relative to relative. It’s okay to feel as though you’ve been waiting for this moment since you got home from the hospital—no one is touching you right now and it feels like a dream.
When you go to feed your precious baby at some point during the day, someone will comment. Whether you breastfeed or bottle feed, someone will share an opinion, a “fact” they read on the internet, a story from 1959, a scare tactic which leaves you shaking in your boots. Try not to listen, mama. Know that feeding your baby is good. You’re doing the best you can. Your baby is doing the best he can. You’re both going to be okay.
Other comments will trickle in throughout the day. You hold him too much. You don’t hold him enough. He’s too small, too big. You’re too small, too big. Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the signs? They’ll compare your new baby to your sister-in-law’s baby, to your husband, to you, to their coworker’s cousin’s baby. They’ll make comments that make no sense, and you’ll turn your head to the side like a dog when she hears something new. You’ll want to argue, but you’re too exhausted because you have a newborn. And it’s Christmas.
And then someone will say it: “He’s the perfect Christmas gift. Aren’t you so lucky?”
You might smile and nod, agree for the sake of agreeing. But inside you might cringe.
“It doesn’t feel like the perfect gift,” you think. In fact, the perfect Christmas gift right now feels like a night of uninterrupted sleep. Or clothes that wash themselves when he spits up on you for the twelfth time today. Or someone to come hold the baby while you shower, and not just a short hop in, but a long, luxurious shower—the kind where you just stand and let the water wash away the tension, the tired, the anxiety.
Maybe you think the perfect gift would be to have your old life back. To not be overwhelmed with this new responsibility. To feel free to do as you please, sleep in when you want or need to, and to wear cute clothes with freshly washed hair. Maybe you don’t feel like you’re getting this mom thing down. You’re doubting your ability. You think you made a mistake. No, you’re pretty sure you made a mistake.
Deep breath, mama.
It’s okay to not feel grateful right now. It’s okay. If your baby is younger than two weeks old, you’re going through the hormonal shift that happens after pregnancy. Night sweats and hair loss are some of the physical symptoms of your body shifting back to its norm. The period of Baby Blues happens during those two weeks too and can leave a new mom feeling sad, overwhelmed, and generally out of sorts. It’s normal.
But if your baby is a little bit older and you’re still stuck with the feeling that you can’t do this, that you never should have done this, that he’s not the worst gift ever but you are, you might be experiencing postpartum depression. Or if you can’t walk down the stairs with him or let him out of your sight or fear he’ll stop breathing if you look away, you might be experiencing postpartum anxiety.
There’s good news, mama. The best gift you can give yourself if you’re experiencing the symptoms of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety and OCD is this: Get help. If you haven’t yet told your partner what you’re feeling and experiencing, take that first step. If your partner doesn’t seem receptive or if you’re parenting alone, tell someone else. Keep telling trusted people until you find someone who listens, empathizes, and will sit down with you to make a plan. Make that plan. Call the doctor on Monday. Actually go; we know that’s the hardest part. Make a plan then with your doctor.
But first, take a deep breath and know this, mama: You are not a bad mom for feeling this way. Even on Christmas as everyone tells you that he’s the perfect gift. You will get through this difficult time. You are the perfect gift of a mom for your baby. We promise. You’re going to be okay.
Now go ahead and take that first step. We’ll be here for you every step of the way.