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After my daughter Frances was born, it took me several weeks to get out of the house. I had worked myself into such a frenzy over the possibility of viruses leaping through the air and into my daughter that the only place I felt comfortable taking her socially was a cafe in the woods where we sat at a picnic table hundreds of feet away from anyone else.
And I was also extremely anxious about what I would do if she needed to nurse while we were out or had a meltdown in public.
It didn’t help that my post-pregnancy body was still looking a good 5 or 6 months pregnant and I had nothing to wear. Having given birth in early spring, my winter maternity clothes were now out of season and I couldn’t even begin to squeeze into my pre-pregnancy wardrobe. The few baggy yet fashionable pieces I could wear (thank you Free People) were awkward for breastfeeding. And I was leaking milk all over the place, my breast pads always finding a way to travel somewhere off my nipple. So I spent most of my days walking around in harem-style yoga pants and a night nursing bra, if not topless.
To top it off, during pregnancy I got so fed up with all the shoes my swollen feet could not fit into that I tossed them all during a hormonal cleansing spree and was now living in Birkenstocks (thanks Marie Kondo).
So really, the woods were the only place I fit in anyway. And, given that I was a nervous wreck of a mess, home seemed like a good place to stay a majority of the time.
But I knew I couldn’t be agoraphobic forever (I kept imagining the mom and son in ROOM) so when Frances was 10 weeks old I signed up for a mommy and me class to give us a weekly commitment to getting out.
As our first class approached, questions swirled in my head: Would I be able to make it out the door and get there on time? Will she cry during the entire session? What if she’s hungry yet refuses to eat (she had recently gone through a phase of only wanting to eat naked while lying down on the bed). What if she gets sick? And most importantly, with my pregnancy belly still hanging on for dear life, what on earth will I wear?
Miraculously, I pulled together an outfit and made it to class, armed with a good amount of hand sanitizer. We were not only on time, we were early. The room was clean and well-ventilated. As the other pairs arrived, and the instructor guided our group discussion, my anxieties quickly dissipated as I discovered how much we all had in common as new moms. We played with our babes, sang songs (the kind I swore I would never sing pre-motherhood but now belt out daily) and shared our experiences. Some babies fussed, some ate, some slept and most, including Frances, did all of the above.
I felt more at ease than I had in a long time.
I was in a place beyond the walls of my apartment where no one cared if my baby cried. I could change her diaper mid-conversation and nurse her sans awkward nursing cover (not that I owned one) without feeling awkward. They even supplied cute nursing pillows. This was a place where every single woman in the room knew EXACTLY what I was going through. Each time another mom spoke I felt like she had lifted the words right out of my mouth. I was dumbfounded.
If one mommy and me class was great, two was better, so I signed up for another ongoing class that met later in the week. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed being social, and I loved having safe places to go.
I was discovering so much. For example, I learned that my daughter wasn’t the only one who got frustrated – quickly – during tummy time, still woke up every 3 hours at night (surely, I had thought, all other babies were solid sleepers by now), and who didn’t like to be “worn” in a carrier nor cradled like a baby. I learned that I was fortunate feedings were going well but I was behind in giving her a bottle (at 4+ months we are still trying). I learned that most babies’ poop does not smell like vinegar but that for a few, like Frances, it can. And I learned that many of us struggle with what to wear!
Most importantly, I learned that I was not alone in my plethora of insecurities as a new mom.
The more moms I met, the more inspired I was to go out and about in the world. I finally took Frances grocery shopping and discovered the joy of doing an everyday errand with a little one gazing at me in wonder. Mesmerized by the shelves at Trader Joe’s, she didn’t cry once. In fact, she seemed to like it. And she slept peacefully in the car on the way home.
I began to feel less like a prisoner of new motherhood and more like an updated version of myself.
While on a stroll through the neighborhood I met another mom with a baby a few months older than Frances. She invited us out to lunch at a nearby cafe. I hesitated. Frances hadn’t been to a real restaurant yet! But it was something I wanted to do, so we made a date.
Everything was going fine. I juggled Frances between her stroller and my arms, stealing bites of food when I could and enjoying the adult conversation. However, halfway through my quinoa bowl my boobs started to leak through my shirt (again, where did my breast pads go?) and Frances showed signs of hunger. A meltdown was looming if she did not eat. My friend encouraged me to just feed her at the table. “No one will care,’ she said, “and if they do care it’s so politically incorrect these days to shame a woman breastfeeding that they wouldn’t say anything.” I decided she was right and, as discreetly as possible (but not so discreetly), I gave Frances a meal while I finished my own. It was liberating. I couldn’t wait to do it again.
I made another lunch date for the following day.
Going out has now become routine – from grocery shopping, to lunch dates, to mommy and me yoga, to group hikes, and strolls in the air-conditioned mall – I’ve become adept at weaving napping and nursing needs into a day of excursions. We go places in her stroller and in her carrier because it turns out Frances does like to be worn, she just likes to face out so she can see the world. And I have so much fun showing it to her.
It’s not that we don’t have days that we need to stay home, or that things always go perfectly – they don’t – but I’m so much more confident in myself as a mom that I don’t need them to. And when my old anxieties creep up I know there is a mom out there somewhere feeling the exact same way, and that makes all the difference.
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