Mom Talk: 5 No-B.S. Tips on Surviving the First Year of Motherhood

10:30 am
12/14/18

Photographed by SARAH HEBENSTREIT

Becoming a new mom is a major life adjustment and it’s not always full of picture-perfect moments. In fact, it can be extremely challenging and humbling. In today’s “Mom Talk,” one mom shares her honest, “no bullshit” tips for surviving her first year of motherhood. -SL

I once heard somebody say that when you have a baby, the first year feels like you’re slowly walking out of hell. For me, that statement couldn’t be more accurate. Motherhood is a huge life change, and I don’t think anybody is truly ready for it. From the 24/7 milk stink to constant sleep deprivation, adapting to life with a tiny human can feel like being slapped in the face by a cute mini cactus for 365 days straight.

My first year as a new mom was the worst year of my life. I hated it, and I’m not ashamed to say it. Now, almost three and a half years in, I can say that I love being a mother. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My life as a parent isn’t perfect. It’s never Instagram worthy. But what I can say is that I really cherish my relationship with my strong-willed and slightly dramatic child that asks for a cup of coffee on Monday mornings.

Having had time to reflect on my beginnings as a mom, I’ve come to realize a couple of things, which I thought I should share with you. In essence, my tips on surviving the first year of motherhood—a.k.a. how to make it out of hell for first-timers.

Step 1. Accept that life as you know it is over, and I mean DONEZO.
My mother always told me that her life became significantly different once she had my sister and I. Think less social, less money, more sacrifice. I never wanted to believe her. I’ll do things differently, I thought. I don’t have to give up anything just because I have a baby, right? I can have it all, right? Wrong. And I learned the hard way.

When my son was born, I desperately tried to hold on to my old life for longer than I should have. I thought I could keep the same pace and still be the mom I wanted to be. I put immense pressure on myself to go to the gym as often, see my friends regularly, schedule date nights with my husband, and even keep one foot in the work game so I wouldn’t “fall behind.”

I had a hard time accepting the fact that I had a baby, and that I was now a mom. A new baby is hard, and it’s so exhausting. After months of denial, my body sent me a clear message through the form of anxiety. I finally accepted that it’s ok to slow down. Let some things go, even temporarily. By trying to prove to myself that I hadn’t changed, that I could, in fact, keep doing brunch and crunches as much as I used to, I was actually doing a great disservice to myself and to my child.

Step 2. Don’t do the dishes.
Or the laundry. Or any type of housework for that matter. Unless you’ve run out of jogging pants or onesies, leave the laundry to somebody else if you can. Your partner (if you have one)?  Your parents? Your in-laws? Friends or other family members? A neighbor? Ask for help. To some people, maternity leave means you should be taking care of everything in the household since you’re at home caring for a baby. Might as well, right? No. Just no. A baby isn’t exactly a walk in the park. Between feedings, diaper changes, colic, visits to the pediatrician, showering, and self-nourishment, there isn’t much time left for scrubbing floors and cooking meals. There just isn’t. Sure, some babies are easier than others and take 4-hour naps in the afternoon (unicorns). But if you’re tired, and feel like you need to catch your breath, don’t put pressure on yourself to get shit done around the house.

This is about self-preservation. Screw the dishes. Maybe there is someone in your life that can help you take care of that later. You have the rest of your life to live in a clean house and fold your laundry. You don’t have the rest of your life to nap beside your baby or to hold her just because. Oh, and while you’re at it: order some take-out and make sure you Netflix and chill.

Step 3. Do get the mom cut.
What? Really? Yes, really. To outsiders, a.k.a. people who don’t have kids, the mom cut is a frowned-upon practice that means you’ve “let yourself go.” I beg to differ. It’s actually a great way to keep your sanity. To reinvent yourself. When you’re home alone with a baby and a greasy top knot all day, a trip to the hairdresser is just what the doctor ordered.

Getting the mom cut isn’t letting yourself go. It’s getting yourself back. It’s reclaiming some form of control over your life. It’s self-care. Just find a short, low-maintenance look that works for you and makes you feel good about yourself. The mom cut is an important ritual that allows new moms to look at themselves and say, “I look hot and edgy, and I don’t care if my tits are leaking right now.”

Step 4. Join a mommy Facebook group.
I used to cringe at the thought of mommy Facebook groups. I really did. But after a couple of months of feeling isolated, I decided to join my neighborhood group to connect with other moms. I didn’t participate that much at first, but reading about fellow moms freaking out about their baby’s eczema, or their dilemmas about which formula or daycare was best made me feel better about my own self-doubts. I also became acquainted with the various child-rearing approaches and philosophies and was able to make up my own mind about what I wanted for my child (because genius over here had never read a parenting book).

Sure, I witnessed my share of mommy shaming. I was even shamed myself when I commented that I had given soy instead of cow’s milk to my then-1-year-old. Mothers can be ruthless creatures sometimes. I can understand why. They all believe what they’re doing is best. And sometimes they think that applies to everybody else’s children. Don’t let potential fights about mineral versus chemical sunscreen dissuade you from becoming part of an online community. It’s an amazing space for emotional support, especially when your baby wakes up every hour and a half to feed. There’s always someone online!

Step 5. Secure a village for yourself.
They say it takes a village. Before I had my baby, I thought that expression belonged in the 1800’s. As if it really takes a village to raise a child, I thought to myself. What’s so difficult about a cute little baby? We have all this technology and information now, is it really necessary to rely on other people to help you do your job as a parent? Y-E-S. I wish I hadn’t been so arrogant. I thought I could do everything myself and be a fabulous independent mama prancing her way down the street with one of those fancy strollers. Turns out fancy strollers and vibrating chairs will only take you so far.

Whether your family or your friends are your village, or if you have to and are able to hire one, I think having support around you during the first (or next 18) years of motherhood is crucial. Whether your village cooks, cleans, or babysits so you can sleep or meet a friend for coffee, the village is the key. Trust me. It took me several years to realize that I needed one. Now that I have one, after 3 and a half years, I understand how precious it is and I never want to let it go.

If I had a village back then, I think my first year of motherhood would have felt less like the fiery depths of hell.

I would have been just a little closer to the exit.

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Leave a Comment

14 comments

Tchitchi

Not a mom, but enjoyed the read very much. Says it all. Bravo

lu

I love this! I’m expecting my first and needed a no b.s article on first-year mom life.

Now, I would just love to hear her take on what baby things worked (like baby things) and what she used or wish she had for the first year. There is just so many silly “baby registry” list with shit that I know I’ll never use. Would love her advice!

    Michelle Beland

    Hi Lu, thank you for your comment! Well, I think every parent and every baby is different, so it’s hard to know what YOU will find useful and what will help you make your life easier. Personally, I would recommend a rocking chair. I didn’t have one for the first year because I didn’t want yet another piece of clunky furniture in my apartment. I thought an exercise ball would be enough (and I could work my core at the same time). Turns out bouncing on an exercise ball at 3 AM isn’t the best idea. So I finally got a rocking chair (not clunky at all and actually pretty cute) and still use it for cuddles and story time to this day. Another thing I would recommend is a bottle warmer. I tried the whole “warm the milk in a bowl of hot water” thing and I realized that when your kid is hungry AF, he doesn’t want to wait 15 minutes for the milk to heat up. A vibrating chair is always useful when you need a break (bathroom, shower, a quick episode of Friends). Oh! And one thing I really appreciated was a knotted gown, especially for diaper changes during the night. They’re like a one-piece jammy that you can fasten at the bottom with a simple knot. Very practical in the middle of the night when your motor-skills aren’t as sharp. PJs with a million little snaps are hard to fasten when you’re tired. Or you could go with PJs with a zip! You don’t have to get everything at once. You can buy or borrow from a friend as you go and see the need for something. Different stages call for different items. I hope this helps! Wishing you all the best for the remainder of your pregnancy.

DS

I really struggle with the “don’t do the dishes or laundry” point. Having and keeping the space you’re spending 24 hours a day in has been reallynimoortant for my sanity. When I have a free moment I actually enjoy doing these things because of the order it brings. To the house and because it’s still a break from feeding, diapers, and bouncing babe. If you have someone who can help you with those tasks then definitely put them to work. If you don’t have the help, and if you can find a few minutes away from babe, it might be a great way to feel like you’ve accomplished something in your day!

Steph

Truth. The part about not cooking and cleaning made me cry. I guess it’s a little PTSD I tried so hard to get it all done with my 1 and 3 year old.

Amy

Thank you for writing this!
I’m a first time mum and my beautiful girl is only 16 days old so definitely needed to read this. As someone who has struggled with anxiety before and I hold myself to really high standards when it comes to trying to be perfect at everything -this was a really great read. Good on you for speaking the truth!

    Michelle Beland

    Hi Amy! Thank you so much for your comment and congratulations on the birth of your daughter. Wishing you all the best!

Louise Belanger

I really liked the content of this article. It’s about time someone stands up telling the true things about motherhood. Thank you very much Michelle.

Nicole

Man, those first three points are soooooo upsetting, and if I was a pregnant “first time mom” I would be so depressed after reading those. We had a really difficult year with my first born, well, more the first 6 months (we had a baby that cried >3 hours a day, over 3 days a week, for more than 3 weeks…..4.5 months to be exact), but getting to the gym regularly, cleaning around the house, and scheduling time away (whether with my husband or friends or to get a blow out) were the ONLY things that helped me stay sane. I even think work helped me. I would say that parts of myself were put on hold, but that was extremely temporary, maybe the first 1-2 months. I’m so thankful for being able to stick with those things (cleaning, exercising and socializing) because I really believe that having those has been something that has helped me be the best mom I can be. I do love the last two points, we’ve seen just how important it is to have a good village and being a part of my mama facebook group has been so nice! I will add my own personal point, make sure you’ve married someone who really wants to have kids, because I imagine it would be much harder to get away to do those things (socialize, clean, and exercise) if my husband didn’t jump in to do his share as a parent.

    Michelle Beland

    Hi Nicole, thank you for sharing your experience. Those are some really good tips as well, and I think the main thing is to practice self-care when we can, be kind to ourselves and try to not put too much pressure on ourselves during those first few months. Wishing you all the best!

Erin

To each his own! Much of this wouldn’t have worked for me as a new mom! And, that’s OK!

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