A few months ago, I became a mother of the most adorable, happy, delightful little girl imaginable. I cannot say enough about how much I love her and motherhood and the relationship we are developing. It is incredible.
About a month ago, Miri posted this on facebook:
Everyone tells you that you always know all of the answers until you actually have a child. You look at other parents and you know exactly what they're doing wrong, and you know exactly how you would do it better. When you become a parent, you suddenly realize that no matter how much you've read about parenting, observed parenting, made firm vows that you will never do that as a parent, you can never have all of the answers - especially for someone else's child. I believe there are two reasons for this:
1) Of course, the first reason is that every child is different, because every child is born his or her own person with a unique personality.You can't even parent every one of your children the same way, so how on earth would you parent other people's children the same way?
2) The second reason is something that I didn't realize until I actually became a mother (although I suppose it should have been obvious) and that is that every mother is different and needs to do things differently. I have read a lot of parenting books, articles, blogs, and so forth, and the main conclusion I have come to is that there are lots of right ways to raise a child, and not all of them would work for me. And that's completely okay. I can be a good mother without doing things the same way as another mother, and we can both be doing a great job raising our babies.
My sister-in-law had a baby 11 days before I did. We compare notes constantly because we are both poking around in the dark and figuring out what works for us - and we have made a lot of very different decisions based on our very different daughters and our own very different personalities. Here are some of the ways our experience has been different so far:
- She had a relatively difficult pregnancy and delivery, including a long period of bed rest and an emergency C-section. I had a lot of nausea at the beginning, but I was able to be active through the end of my pregnancy and had a fairly quick delivery. Neither of us did things exactly the way we'd planned. We were both fine.
- She really wanted to breastfeed and had done a TON of research on it and then her milk didn't come in, so she had to supplement and eventually switch to formula completely. I wanted to breastfeed but didn't know that much about it, and then my baby was better at it than I was and is still breastfed at 7 months. (Another friend of mine wanted to breastfeed and then decided after about a month that it just wasn't working for her, so she gave it up and her baby happily switched to formula and slept better on it. This was also completely fine. My cousin is a helicopter pilot and just switched her baby to formula after two months of successful breastfeeding because there is no way for her to pump at her job. She was sad about it and is still working to find the right formula for her baby, but it will also work out. So many possibilities, so many mothers and babies.)
- She bought a co-sleeper and had her baby in her room with her until she turned about 6 months old. I put my baby in her own room from the day we got home from the hospital because otherwise I was panicked every time she sniffed and I would never have gotten any sleep. Both of our babies have been great night sleepers so far. We have decided this is due to their fathers' genes.
- Her baby fell asleep playing, swinging, and everywhere else. I had to work to get my baby to nap by the time she was 2 months old and had to do some sleep training at 4 months because I was afraid she would never nap again, but would be a cranky-pants after 11 o'clock am every day for the next year.
- She decided to start baby-led weaning at 4 months, because her baby was pretty much dying to feed herself and was desperate to try her parents' food. I waited until 6 months because my baby was content with breast milk until then, but went the more traditional route with purees (although I do occasionally let her much on a piece of broccoli or let her try what I'm eating.) I made the purees myself instead of buying bottles because it was more economical for me, and because I thought it was fun. If it hadn't worked for me, I may have made some different decisions. Both babies loved their introductions to solid foods. Both mothers loved making food for them and introducing them to new tastes.
- At the moment, I have no plans to go back to work until my baby is older unless circumstances change. I love my chosen profession, but at the moment I am really enjoying being home with my baby, and that's what is working best for our family right now. She recently went back to work part time because her family needed it. Her baby does great with a nanny or her daddy three days a week.
These are just a few of the myriad differences between our parenting experiences - in just the past 7 months. And yet, over the course of those past few months I have felt so very close to her, because although in some ways our experiences and choices are different, we are going through the same beautiful thing at the same time. We are both learning to love a tiny person in a way that is different from any other kind of love we have ever experienced. Both of our lives have changed in ways we could not have predicted. Some days we feel like crying because we don't know how to cope with a new development, we feel lonely or hormonal, or we just wish that we could take a week off. Some days we feel like cheering because our babies are so sweet, are learning so much, and are filling our lives with so much joy.
I feel so grateful for the bond I have developed with her. We talk, text or IM nearly every day, even though we live in different states. We share our triumphs and tragedies. We marvel at how different our babies are. We comfort each other. And that, ultimately, is what the shared experience of motherhood should be about. It's not a contest, it's not a test. We can learn so much from each other, and we can learn so much more if we leave judgment out of our interactions with each other. We do things differently because we are different and our babies are different, but we love our babies exactly the same. Let's celebrate that.