It is 3 am and you are changing your newborn’s diaper and looking at the glob of scab that will ultimately become her belly-button and suddenly, you are possessed of a certainty that you are supposed to *do* something to it, but you can’t remember what. Wash it? Swab with a q-tip? Ointment? Rubbing alcohol?
Depending on how tired you are, this resolves one of two ways:
1. Say to self, “well, I’ll look it up in the morning, but whatever the right thing is, there is no way this baby is dying even if I get it wrong in the middle of the night.”
2. New-mom-meltdown where you become more and more anxious, not just about what the right answer is, but about the fact that you don’t know it, and whether this is a sign that you are basically a shitty mother. I so hope this isn’t where it goes, but I know that for all of us, sometimes this is exactly where it goes.
Also, if you took a good prenatal class, this thought process is generally also accompanied by:
"Crap, we talked about it in that newborn care class, but I can’t remember what she said to do???"
Look, most of these late-night (and mid-day, and morning, and afternoon) freakouts are just the ordinary course of new parent development, and if you’ve got lots of loving people around you who take good care of you, they’ll help you figure out what to do. Even more important, they’ll help you remember that freakouts are almost always over things that are low stakes and the “answer” doesn’t matter that much. (And if those people don’t do that stuff, you need some other people in your life to help you get that!)
Still, in a pinch, it’s so helpful to have someone who can tell you the detailed answer, right?
You can email me, of course, but I am generally asleep at 3 am (and one day you will be, too, I promise), so you won’t get a response till morning.
So, at those moments, your best bet is an awesome resource called www.birth360.com The website is a series of great, short videos by renowned educator and author Erica Lyon (author of The Big Book of Birth). You click on a topic (like, umbilical cord care! ) and there she is, reminding you exactly what you learned in your newborn care class.
It’s more than that, though. Great prenatal classes don’t just teach you “how”; they address the way that having a baby is a life experience that involves your body, your mind, your identity. Having a baby isn’t just learning to change diapers and give a bath, it’s adjusting to the way that living with a newborn is weird and new. It’s coping with uncertainty and doubt as you grow into the role. It’s learning how to communicate with someone who can’t talk, and learning who you turn out to be now that you’re a mother.
What helps you grow into all this is community and support, so that you are free to voice your fears and ideas and explorations in a safe environment, as you get the hang of it. But when it’s 3 am and your Moms’ Group isn’t till tomorrow afternoon, you may also find yourself hanging on Erica’s words in some of the other birth360 videos, where she talks about maternal sanity, or doing “just one thing per day.”
One of my favorites is this clip, called "Where are the Professionals?!" about how many new parents feel, initially, when they’re booted from the hospital, baby in tow, feeling like imposters. She injects a much-needed bit of humor into all this stuff, which dispels some of the horrible solemnity we can all slide into when we do something new.
I have known Erica for many years, and her classes are some of the best out there. She’s an awesome resource and the site is a great help for many new parents; check it out.
So, OK, but one more thing. Erica says, at the end of that last clip, “it takes a little while for the part of you who is a mom to feel like a mom.” I can’t overstate how true this is. And so, when you’re freaking out in the middle of the night, as you’re clicking over to birth360, try to remember that one sentence, OK? Because a lot of the anxiety and self doubt comes from just not being used to the role yet. It will come, it just doesn’t come, for everyone, right away. It comes in spurts, I think, and some people “feel the part” within the first few weeks, and others not for many months to come, or even over a year.
It’s a big transition. Be gentle with yourself.