I attended a baby shower recently for a dear family member. It was one of my first baby showers since becoming a mom myself and it brought back a flood of memories of my pregnancy and the early days of motherhood. The excitement and anticipation nearing the end of the pregnancy, the surprise and anxiety on the day my water broke, the struggles and overwhelming love surrounding the first days with my baby. Though I restrain myself from saying this to everyone I know who does not have kids, I now understand why many parents are so eager to encourage others to have children of their own. There is really nothing else like it.
On the beautifully arranged, bunny themed tables at this shower there were large white index cards on which all the guest were asked to write motherly wisdom or words of advice for the mom-to-be. I must have stared at that card for a good 15 minutes. I, as a new mom should have so much advice fresh in my mind to pass along, but instead I stared at that card and tried to think of a nice way to say "ignore all the advice you get on these cards."
From the time my belly first began to show (in the obvious pregnant way, and not the way where I just looked like I had hit the dessert table too hard) the advice came pouring in. Of course all the wonderful people who showered me with their hard earned wisdom were motivated by a sincere desire to make my transition into motherhood as easy as possible, which I have a great appreciation for. But, what I found once I was holding my bundle of joy was that all the advice I had been given that sounded so reasonable in theory did not work in the least for my baby, nor did it fit me as a mom.
Mothering is not simple, and each baby is so different, a fact I have come to know well, but as a new mom, all I knew was that for some reason I did not fit the accepted pattern of advice that I was given. Somehow I was deficient, or my baby was abnormal. I held my baby all the time, slept with him in my bed, refused to let him cry himself to sleep even though it meant getting up several times a night (to this day...), nursed him as much and as often as he wanted, and never napped when he did, all in direct contradiction to everyone's eagerly offered opinion.
There are of course some wrong ways to be a mom, but there are many, many right ways as well, and broad parenting advice ignores the uniqueness of each mommy-baby pair. In looking back on my first few months as a mother I wish I had had enough confidence in my instincts to let others advice roll right off of me, instead of letting it make me feel insecure and conflicted about what I thought was best for my baby. Advice has it's place in parenting, but for me the best advice has come when it was asked for, and at times sought out in desperation.
At the baby shower I thought long and hard about what to say and finally wrote, "you can only be a mother to the baby you have." I hope that statement can be empowering for this mom-to-be and helps her to realize that she doesn't have to do things "by the book," that she is free to improvise and respond to her baby in a way that feels right, and that all the advice in the world can never take the place of motherly instincts. Perhaps 20 years from now when my baby is grown I may be eager to share my wisdom with new moms, but for now as a new mom I hope that instead of advice I can offer friendship, instead of books on mothering I can offer a listening ear, and instead of formulas for sleeping I can offer my own two hands to help out when mothering gets overwhelming, as it does even for those of us who are given the best advice.