When I was expecting my first son, I made it perfectly clear to my mother that she should NOT plan to come to town to help me with the baby until his dad and I had at least 2 weeks to bond with this guy. After all, every parenting book I had dutifully read emphasized this critical time of parental bonding to help ensure our son wouldn’t grow up to announce the wrong Academy award winner or some such awful fate. As a seasoned change management consultant for leaders and businesses, I never worried about my adjustment to parenthood. We were simply adding a new little bundle of joy to our life.
But the enormity of this change hit me squarely in the gut the day we left the hospital with our little preemie, Tyler, strapped in his car seat, trusting he’d been placed in a car with capable parents who would oversee his journey to adulthood with ease. Truth is, we’d had more training on how to drive that car than we did on how to take care of him. And it was in that moment that I realized things were never going to be same again. We were in for a bumpy road.
We were on the new parent journey. We prepare for this change—decorate the nursery, buy the gadgets we need, and “get ready.” But what we often aren’t ready for is the emotional transition that goes with the journey. There are 3 stages of emotional transition. We leave stage one, “the way it was,” behind on the way to stage three, “the way it will be.” But that stage in between is called “uncertainty.” We run through these stages during any life change, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. In fact, when I visit a new mom, amidst our conversation about the joys of being a new mom, I always mention that in my experience, parts of it “suck.” Yep, I use that word even though I’ve never grown to like the word one bit. And with that, a floodgate opens and we have a real conversation.
You see, we don’t magically move into our new way of being without some emotional angst. We need to mourn “the way it was.” I grieved the freedom I wouldn’t have again for a long time. I longed to get my old body back. I mourned the loss of sleep. New moms will experience some mourning and that doesn’t make you a bad or unloving mom, but a normal one in a major life transition.
Not only are you mourning as a new mom, you’re also navigating some unchartered territory. It’s the uncertainty stage of this transition. It’s uncomfortable and disconcerting. We want to move through it quickly and find our competent selves again. We feel unsettled. So, what do you do? Me? Phone in hand and tears in my eyes, I made a call. It wasn’t at the end of two weeks, but two days. “Mom, how fast can you get here and how long can you stay???”
She walked into a house that was lit up like an operating room, a jaundiced baby, two eyes-wide open, sleep deprived and anxiety-riddled parents, and news of a blizzard on the way. During this uncertainty stage, you may need to surrender to help. It’s during this unsettled stage that your own personal learning and growth will happen. Your confidence will return. The key is to dial down the negative self-talk or comparisons to other moms, and take it one hour and day at a time. Think about it as self-swaddling. Over time you will find your new normal—“the way it will be.” But not without moving through each of these stages.
Much like your baby who has gone from that nice comfortable womb into the light of a new day, you’re in a big transition. But you’re in it together. And while you may think you’ll never get through this uncertain time, ironically, most of us actually do this baby thing all over again. I did. And having sent my second son off to college, I now get to experience these same stages of transition as a new empty-nester! You will too—in the blink of an eye.
Brenda Reynolds spaced her boys 6 years apart after her first-born didn’t sleep through the night for the first time until he was 2 years old. How she wishes she had a Merlin’s Magic Sleepsuit back then. As a recent empty nester, she sleeps through the night and uses her energy to help organizations, leaders, teams, and individuals find the resilience they need to manage transitions in their work and home lives. She’s worked with clients including Nemours Pediatric Healthcare System, Special Olympics, and Sherwin Williams. She is best-selling author of TBD: To Be Determined—Leading with Clarity and Confidence in Uncertain Times, creator of the “Now What?” Transformation Clarity Card deck for people needing information and inspiration to manage a change, and a sought-after keynote speaker and workshop presenter. In her recent TEDx talk, she discusses “Navigating Transition Fog.” She holds a MS in Organization Development from American University and a BS in Education and Communication. She resides in the Philadelphia suburbs.
If you’re reading this in the early morning while trying to rock your baby back to sleep, then parents: we stand with you. We’ve all been there, trying to figure out when our restless munchkins will let us catch a few more Z’s. While you can’t predict the exact timing of when your baby’s schedule will normalize, it can be helpful to get a sense of how long most babies sleep, why they wake up, and how to help them.