Last week I visited my sister Jen and her husband Chad at their home in Washington. It was just 12 days after Jen gave birth to her first child so I will always treasure this time together and the chance to get to meet their new little boy, Ben. Being an aunt so far is awesome and I am so proud of my sister! She is doing a great job as a new mom!
As sisters do, we talked a lot during my trip. It was really fascinating listening to my sister explain her experiences with infertility, pregnancy and the sudden switch to motherhood. I appreciate my sister’s willingness to let me in on her personal experiences with motherhood and letting me write about it for my blog.
The decision to start a family is a big one for most people! For some people it comes easily; they have always wanted to be parents and they have little problems getting pregnant. For other couples, it is a much harder decision or process. Some people fear what impact having a child will have on their personal or social life, and understandably so! Many experience another setback: infertility.
For a variety of reasons some couples just have a harder time than expected getting pregnant or carrying a baby to term. Unfortunately, this can dramatically mark a beautiful process with pain and confusion for many couples.
As a certified life coach focused on helping people make major life decisions and successfully maneuver through big life transitions or changes, my conversations with Jen were absolutely fascinating. I have yet to become a mom, but the whole process of pregnancy and child raising has always been fascinating to me. I loved my developmental psychology classes in school because I could see life with a wide-angle lens. Frequently I zoom in on just one or two elements of my life so it is always helpful when my perspective widens. My time with my sister has definitely given me new insight into the transition into parenthood and I want to share with you a few of my favorite highlights and life lessons from our time together.
The power of involving other people. Jen and I talked about what has helped her throughout the process of fertility treatments, being pregnant, giving birth and her first few days as a mom. It was easy to see that many of her answers revolved around including other people. She relied on two close friends a lot: one who had recently given birth for the first time and one who was pregnant and due around the same date as her. Over the past year, these friends helped her process her fears and questions as her body and life began to change. Her baby classes through Kaiser were a great source of information, but also a great way to meet other pregnant ladies also due around September. She also read a lot of blogs about things they don’t tell you about newborns, timelines and balancing working out with being a mom. She used Pinterest boards to learn about which products to buy and what to take to the hospital. For baby care, she loves “The Happiest Baby on the Block” video by Harvey Karp, M.D. which goes over the 5 S’s for soothing babies. Our mom visited for two weeks right around the birth and took care of most of the housework, which let my sister focus on just being a mom. Jen could sleep and rest knowing that Ben was in good hands with our mom. I am impressed with my sister’s wide variety of resources and how she involved so many people in her process!
To use this many resources is such a great example of humility. She had, and still has, no problem admitting that she has a lot to learn about motherhood and needs support and information from others.
Lesson #1: When we are starting a new chapter in life, involving others for support or information can be an incredible strategy for learning and coping as life changes! We need to follow her example of remaining humble and be open to asking for help, something I am not always good at doing. I’m thankful that my sister reminded me of this truth.
Sometimes life changes are hard to comprehend until the change is already underway. Even though my sister was pregnant for nine months, all the while preparing and waiting for motherhood to come, the transition seemed instantaneous upon the birth of her son. Before then, it was hard to grasp the fact that she was growing a little human inside her body and that her dream was becoming true. It didn’t seem real yet to her and the only life experience that seemed similar was getting married, which helps her maneuver through her new life.
I really like the way she explained this comparison to me; “It is like getting married and getting to know someone new. You are suddenly with someone 100% of the time. It is the same with Ben (her son). All of a sudden being a mother clicked when they plopped Ben on my chest. Before then it was really hard to picture a little human inside me. He isn’t really a stranger though like Chad was a stranger; he has my DNA.” Her words make me chuckle a little bit, but they also show how she was processing one of the biggest changes in her life.
As expected, Jen had nine months leading up to the big day of her son’s birth to get ready for motherhood, however she couldn’t really comprehend what was happening in her life until the very moment the change became 100% real. There he was, laying on her chest, saying hello to the world for the very first time. It wasn’t until that moment, when she was in the very real experience of being a mom, that she felt the change happen…and then it was instant! This long awaited reality was hers now. She has wanted to be a mom for more than a decade and now this wish was finally coming true!
Lesson #2: Some changes in life are hard to grasp and fully understand until the change is already taking place, even with a lot of preparation. Jen texted me a picture of Ben on her chest shortly after his birth and said “This is so amazing.” Her simple text told me that despite all her concerns about being a new mom and the odd changes her body was going through, she was doing just fine! Going through something brand new in life, whether it is having your first child, moving to a new state, or making a career change, the change can be hard to fully comprehend, but with time it all comes together…and sometimes all you will be able to say is “this is so amazing!
Learn as you go and be okay not knowing. As a new mom so much of my sister’s current life is brand new to her, even though she has given many hours to taking care of other people’s young kids. She is learning very quickly and just taking life one day at a time. She commented at one point, “You get a lot of practice really quick with breast feeding and diaper changing because you do it so many times in the first few days. Nothing prepares you for it; you just figure it out quickly.” Jen’s learn-as-you-go approach was so good for me to hear because my personality is one that loves to plan and I naturally want to be ready for whatever comes my way.
Just a few days after my return home, Jen told me about her morning visit to the doctor’s office for Ben. She expected the visit to take much longer and the doctor to give her way more aftercare instructions for Ben than what she received. She texted, “I’ve only been a mom for 18 days. I’m still very easily overwhelmed.” I so value her transparency! She still has a lot to learn and sometimes not knowing what to do right away is very difficult.
Lesson #3: Sometimes in life you have to learn in the moment. You can’t prepare… but you can get a lot of experience quickly so the skill and knowledge needed for success (or survival) will come. We just have to be okay not knowing some things and trusting that we will learn as we go! This can make life a bit more emotional but that is totally okay! A transition of this size takes time and when so much of our daily life is new. Small things that normally wouldn’t bother us can have a much larger impact. We just need to keep moving forward, trusting that over time, our new version of life will become normal and much easier to handle.
Her advice. I asked Jen if she had any advice for new parents, which seems like a great way to end this post. Here is what she had to share:
Enjoy every moment. If you want to sit and stare at your baby for three hours, do it.
Remember you are a team. Trust your husband or whoever you are doing this with; let them help too. Trust that your partner is just as worried about your new baby as you are. Remember to be patient with each other. You are both tired and doing something brand new so give each other some slack.
Trust your instincts. Trust your “mommy gut”. You’ll be surprised at how much of it just comes naturally.
Be thankful. Appreciate the opportunity to just be pregnant and have a healthy baby because not everyone can. Remembering how badly you wanted this is especially helpful when you are uncomfortable.
Forget your fears. I had a lot of fears that didn’t come true. Most of our worries are just wasted energy, even though they can feel so real.
Thank you Jen, Chad and little Ben for this wonderful close up view on the transition into parenthood! You’ve taught me some great life lessons! I look forward to the the years to come and watching your family grow. Thank you for all the pictures, hugs and smiles!
First published by Jessica Lynn Johnson in 2016 for JLJ Coaching Services, Ltd.