Advice from a breastmilk bag.
The other day, I learned I am not wearing enough stripes around my baby. I should be donning them as often as possible. In fact, if I am not constantly surrounding my child with bold colored, contrasting stripes I “might as well be blindfolding him.”
This was actual advice by an actual doctor on the actual internet.
And, despite what I consider a relatively level head, it left me near tears, contemplating the tragic lack of stripes in my life.
As a new parent, the are no shortage of places to turn for advice, or instructions, or advice that feels like instructions. From books to parenting experts to the internet, everyone has something to say about the best way to care for my baby.
Some of these nuggets of wisdom are based in science or years of experience and are quite solid. Others seem to be based on what worked for a specific child and a specific parent during a specific time and have now been extrapolated to be the thing we should all do always.
Motherhood is an anxiety provoking endeavor. With that final mighty push, you are dramatically catapulted from a person moving through the world into a person who is now suddenly responsible for this whole other person who literally cannot do anything for themselves.
It’s scary. You want to do it right. Or at least not completely fuck it up.
Every week in my new moms group, one after another, we fret about the things we are doing wrong or not doing right or not doing at all but we’re certain we should be. Our circle of strong, capable, intelligent women becomes a sea of doubt, anxious and scared in the face of the tiny beings in our arms.
And one after another we remind each other, “you’re doing great, Mama.”
When my son was a couple weeks old, I noticed my breast milk freezer bags had encouraging sayings printed on them. Things like, “good job, mama,” “hang in there,” and “you’ve got this.”
My prior self would have probably rolled her eyes at the hokiness of the company’s copywriter. But my new parent self, sleep deprived and doubting, trying with every ounce of her being to do this right but desperately fearing she was failing every step? She loved it. She cherished the sweet encouragements that brought tears to her eyes in the middle of a long night.
The day I had the meltdown over stripes, I called my mother. I poured out my newest, internet-induced fear that I was not doing enough to mentally stimulate my young son. After listening to me, she didn’t tell me what she did when I was a baby. She didn’t suggest activities I could do with him or offer to buy striped bassinet sheets. She told me what a great mother I am. She told me she never worries about her grandson because she knows I’m taking such good care of him. She told me I’m doing a good job.
As I hung up the phone with my mom, I thought back to the breastmilk bags that gave me such odd comfort in my earliest, most unsure days of new motherhood. I started thinking about the tomes of advice and how-to’s and best practices I’ve come across in my search for clues on how to accomplish this impossible task of mothering perfectly.
And it occurred to me, the one thing I almost never see in all these volumes about parenting is someone telling me they’re sure I’m doing a pretty darn good job. That this is tough and we all doubt ourselves, but the very fact that I am the type of parent that cares enough to research the best visual stimulus for my child’s developing brain probably means I am already okay.
That afternoon, I wrapped my son up and went to the drugstore next door. Of course, it being Monday and me being a new mother, I didn’t realize until I was in the checkout line that I was still wearing my slippers. But no matter, I had gotten what I came for, a package of Post-It notes!
Back home, I channeled the breastmilk bag copywriter and wrote supportive phrases on Post-Its, sticking them all over my apartment.
Now, when I go to put away towels, I’m reminded to “good job, Mama!” When I open the fridge, I see a note telling me to “hang in there.” When I change my son’s diaper, an arrow directs me to look at him with the caption, “See! Look how well he’s doing!” And when I set the baby in his bassinet at night, I take comfort in the sentiment, “YOU are exactly what your son needs.”
I promised myself something that day. Yes, I will keep learning and reading and seeking information. But the advice I will take the most to heart is not from the experts with their instructions and lists and developmental milestones. The voices I will let in the loudest will be my friends and family, my circle of new mothers and the ones who’ve been there before me. The voices reminding me, “you’ve got this, mama.”
And for those moments when there isn’t someone to encourage me? Well, all I have to do is open my fridge.