Motherhood’s First Lesson

The suprising challenges a mother faces after giving birth to her first child.

Motherhood's First Lesson

When I first heard his scream, I was overcome with emotion. Not happiness: panic. While I was relieved-he was breathing, he had all his parts-I suddenly realized this small, hysterical creature was mine. I was utterly unprepared.

Oh, I had the car seat, the stroller, a bassinet, diapers. But in all my reading, I learned nothing about newborn sleep habits, diaper rash, reflux. Somehow, I thought the birth would transform me into an all-knowing mother-a mother like mine.

In the days after my husband and I brought our son home, things went badly. The baby wailed, I cried. I tried to breastfeed him. He tore at my breasts. My mother sang to him and rocked him. He kept screaming.

Over the next few weeks, we couldn’t agree on how to take care of him. She thought he was desperate for milk and I needed to feed him every time he howled. I thought he could use a pacifier. He had colic. No, he was overtired. On and on it went.

Until early one morning, while we feuded over whether her singing was helping, I stopped mid-sentence. Why hadn’t I seen it before? My mom had been making it up as she went along. No magic, no instinctive knowledge, no expertise. Pure improvisation. And now, God help me, it was my turn.

(Photo: skynesher/Istockphoto)