“Can you fall asleep while standing up?”
“Reasons why my baby won’t nap.”
“How much should a three-month-old be eating?”
I was sitting at my desk in our home office, Googling questions while my baby slept in the next room. I stared back at my own reflection in the window. A reading lamp just barely illuminated my hunched shoulders. I met my own gaze, hoping to see a part of myself I recognized, a familiar lightness. But there was no denying it: I was in rough shape.
All of the “advice” and blog posts I had consumed that day ambiently floated through my head, and with them, an unmistakable doubt crept in. I reviewed the day’s intake of information from my most recent Google searches, recalling random bloggers and websites who claimed to be sleep consultants yet still pushed their “miracle” sleep products. The authors’ words echoed in my head. Things like:
“A baby that nurses for less than five minutes is not getting their nutrition.”
“If your child is only napping half-hour increments, they will not get the sleep they need to be healthy.”
And on, and on.
Was motherhood supposed to be this hard? I didn’t know. I had no idea. Everyone had said “trust yourself,” or worse, “trust your instincts.” But how was I supposed to trust myself when I was utterly sleep deprived and ravaged by exhaustion? I could barely trust myself to remember to empty the dishwasher, let alone to follow my intuition about my baby’s hunger.
For me, sleep deprivation was the most difficult part of the months immediately after giving birth to my son, and it led to what I would now consider postpartum anxiety. Why, I wondered, didn’t other moms talk about this? Nowhere had I seen confessions about how brutally raw, both the pain and the love, could be — often at the same time. Instead, when I was in the thick of it, people would offer sympathies by reminding me that “it gets better.” Even worse, they called attention to certain milestones that promised easier waters ahead, but, when those didn’t hold true, I was no closer to getting the sleep I so desperately needed. I would hear:
“Six weeks is the mark when it gets easier.”
“No, four months is when it gets better. You can sleep train.”
“It’s actually six months, because they start eating solids.”
After three months of this, things started to crystallize for me. I was fed up with myself, particularly with allowing myself to dive down a daily internet rabbit hole fueled by anxiety. All of the comparisons, timetables, the growth charts — none of it mattered. Ultimately, my son had to figure it out on his own timeline. The benchmarks I was measuring myself (and my son) against had set me up for a certain expectation that just wasn’t a reality. And all of this was happening while my son’s sweet littleness was passing me by.
I learned I needed to challenge anything that created self-doubt, and this meant reminding myself that Google.com was not a pediatrician.
Once I realized this, I started to make a conscious effort to enjoy his littleness. Every part of it — even when he woke up at night, needing me — really needing me — and knowing that this, too, would change, just like every part of him was changing and growing every minute of every day.
I learned I needed to challenge anything that created self-doubt, and this meant reminding myself that Google.com was not a pediatrician. If you search hard enough and scroll long enough, you’ll find an opinion on the internet that either matches your assumption or wildly denounces it, reaffirming your greatest hope or worst fear. It’s all there, but it doesn’t mean you can’t let it go.
When I found myself picking up my phone to answer that “what if” question on my mind, I started to dial the pediatrician, instead. It was liberating.
Determined, I began building a new narrative for myself as a mom. It’s still a work in progress, but it goes a little something like this: “We have all of the information we need to be amazing mothers on our own. Motherhood is a concert of collective energy, encouraged by years of evolution, baked into our bones, the very fiber of our DNA. And what we don’t know in the moment, we figure it out through trial and error, by listening to our babies, and having the joy of knowing them better than anyone else on this planet.”
Today, whenever I feel the pull of self-doubt, I gently recite a few mantras to myself:
“Embrace the unknown.”
“Relish in the small achievements.”
“Let go of your expectations of what your child ‘should’ be doing.”
And, most importantly:
“Stop doubting your extraordinary strength.”