Paynesville Press - March 27, 2002

Community Perspective

Finding a user's manual for motherhood

By Laura Odell

The birth of a child changes a person's life forever. In one week, our first child, Grace, will celebrate her first birthday, and I will celebrate being a mother for one full year.

We have both grown, smiled, and cried a lot during this first year, and I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on my experience on being a mom so far.

My husband and I were as prepared for Grace's arrival as first-time parents can be. We had the nursery decorated, had passed childbirth preparation class with flying colors, and had a small library of childbirth and baby how-to books.

I had read the books cover to cover, and we believed every word. Because we are both pharmacists, we tend to be pretty analytical. We looked to these baby books as a sort of "user's manual" for parenthood.

After labor and delivery (whose details have pleasantly blurred over the past year), our new daughter was placed in our arms. We couldn't wait to get her home, and I begged my doctor to release us from the hospital early so we could begin our new life as a family.

But the first night home was not like the TV shows or the books portrayed and neither was the second night...or the third night...or many nights after that.

Our definition of normalcy was turned upside down in an instant. We no longer went to movies on the spur of the moment, and we walked around like zombies. At church, we sat in the very back pew, praying not for forgiveness of our sins or world peace but that our baby would stay asleep just 30 minutes longer.

Where was the real user's manual for raising a baby?

In desperation, I turned to yet another book: The Girlfriends' Guide to Surviving the First Year of Motherhood. With chapter titles like "I'm Soooo Tired, I Haven't Slept a Wink" and "Sex? What Sex?" I was optimistic that this book would give me the real scoop on how to get our lives back to normal again.

In it, I found the list of the "Top Ten Things New Mothers Don't Do." The list includes:

•New mothers don't leave the house on a moment's notice.

•New mothers don't read anything longer than what can be digested during a visit to the toilet.

•New mothers don't know any of the movies nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award.

•New mothers don't wear anything that must be dry cleaned or ironed.

•New mothers don't sleep long enough to experience one single dream from start to finish.

•New mothers don't remember their former personal grooming regimen.

BINGO! Finally, a user's manual that told it like it is!

I read it from cover to cover (during trips to the toilet) and found great comfort in learning that I was not the only mom in the world who was not born with an innate understanding of what every baby cry means and what consistency rice cereal should be.

Looking back as an "experienced mother," it is easy to see that the joys of motherhood have far exceeded the trials and tribulations of the "dark days." What mom does not remember the joy that she feels when her child gives her the first "real" smile (i.e., not gas)? And nothing can replace being there for her first smiles, her first tooth, and her first steps. When you walk into a room and her eyes tell you that you are the center of her world is enough to make a mother's heart burst!

Time travels at a different speed when you are a parent. An hour is not too long to spend climbing up and down the stairs and 30 minutes becomes just the right amount of time to spend examining a Kleenex box and its contents.

Time has brought us to Grace's first birthday. Our lives are now defined by a new "normal" routine. Normal now is up by 7 a.m. on the weekends and a late night is staying up past 10:30 p.m. We spend less time at the gym and more time at Gymboree.

Recently, I turned again to the Girlfriends' Guide for inspiration and found this quote:

"That first year can be heaven and hell for new mothers, often simultaneously. Your baby's growth is evident in how she looks and what she does. Not as apparent, but maybe just as incredible, is your own growth. You still may not be sure you have a handle on this mothering job, but you suspect you'll do just fine. It's time to realize that all this upheaval in your life is never going away; it's the new "normal," so you can stop holding your breath and get on with the fun."

That sounds like good advice to me. I still haven't found a user's manual for the second baby (in the very distant future), but I would welcome any suggestions.

Odell is a Pharm.D. at the Paynesville Area Health Care System who lives on Rice Lake with husband, Kevin, and daughter, Grace.

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