Rollercoaster ride for new mothers

 

Growing up in a large family, I thought I knew a lot about babies.

I am the second oldest of eight children, so babysitting was second nature for me. I had changed tons of diapers. I had dressed infants. I knew a lot, right? Boy, was I wrong.

I am now convinced that until you’re a mom, you don’t know what it means to be a mom. There are so many things I am experiencing with my daughter, Isla — who is now 5 months old —  that I don’t remember my mom having to do.

Sleepless nights, trying to find the right time to shower, having to change your shirt five times before you leave the house because the baby keeps spitting up on you.

The Townsend family of, from left, Jason, Isla and Anna.

Rollercoaster ride of “firsts”

There are joys and there are trials with motherhood.

Probably the best part about being a mom is that when you’re a rookie mom, everything is new. There are so many “firsts,” like her first real smile that could melt your heart, and her first laugh, which was infectious.

We celebrated as Isla rolled over, then learned to grab her toes, pull her socks off and eventually got her little toes all the way up to her mouth. It ripped us apart the first time she cried with actual tears and the first time we had to take her to get shots. We enjoyed our first stroller walk, first trip to the mall, first bath, first cereal feeding and first Christmas.

It can be an emotional roller coaster, but these are all beautiful moments.

Then there were the “firsts” that are not so exciting, like my first attempt to go to the store and suddenly being stranded in the parking lot trying to figure out how to open the new stroller, or our first time grocery shopping together, when she starts screaming halfway to the check-out as you have a full cart of groceries. There was also her first blowout in public when I forgot to bring an extra outfit, her first cold, first fever and our first trip to the emergency room.

Parenthood brings lots of joy, but it can also bring on lots of worries you never experienced before.

Back to the working grind

Perhaps the worst “first” new mothers dread is going back to work. It’s the one “first” that has been looming in the back of your head ever since you brought her home.

I was lucky to have three full months of maternity leave. I could not have been happier with this choice, especially since Isla was not a good sleeper.

Some days, it took my last ounce of energy to get up and just feed her, let alone performing all the daily chores and house cleaning.

On Jan. 7, I went back to work as a middle school orchestra teacher, on a part-time basis.

Honestly, that first week was hard, especially dropping Isla off at day care. I worried every day about what I was forgetting, how she was doing and if I would get enough sleep at night.

Slowly, I have been settling in.

I don’t enjoy leaving her, but I do enjoy my three hours of music making and interacting with my students again. I am more motivated to work quickly so I can leave as soon as possible to pick up Isla.

It is easier to leave work at work, because when you’re home, your role is now to be mom, not teacher. Now there is a higher priority in my life. Even on my worst days, I stay positive thinking about the smiles I will get when I pick her up.

Balancing priorities

So how do I balance work and motherhood? I have adopted the philosophy of working ahead.

Babies are unpredictable and do not live by a set schedule. I work far in advance so when a tough baby day comes, I am prepared.

Last week put my philosophy to the test. I had a huge concert scheduled for Tuesday night involving all 120 of my students. It’s a good thing I didn’t save my program and planning for last minute because that Monday night turned into an unexpected trip to the emergency room because Isla had a fever of 103.5.

Another way I stay on top of things to to make lists.

I have a list for everything on my phone. I have a grocery list, a school to-do list, a home to-do list and a honey-do list.

I also have a “must do before you go to bed” daily chore list. When I get home from school, I slowly tackle this list so that when Isla goes to bed at 9 p.m., I’m ready to call it a night, too.  This helps me stay rested because babies take energy.

It is important to try and get one thing done on my to-do lists each day at school and home.

Finally, my last piece of advice for balancing your life as a new mother is to learn to say no to extras and learn to say yes to help.

I have always dreamed of being a mom, and now I am living that dream. I have learned that having a baby can be both wonderful and complicated, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Daily News guest columnist Anna Townsend is a 2005  Greenville High School graduate, new mother,  a wife and an orchestra director at Kentwood Public Schools. She, her husband, Jason, their daughter, Isla, live in Kentwood.

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