The Secret to Motherhood


It is hot out, and you are so thirsty.  Or maybe it is freezing and the heater is on full force in your house, so the air is super dry. You haven't had anything to drink in the last hour, and you have been hard at work on a new skill and it's wearing you out. You can see your glass of water on the other side of the room. It's up on a shelf too high for you to reach, but luckily your most trusted partner is here and he is much taller. You ask him to please get it for you, but he acts annoyed and leaves the room. Maybe he did not hear you, so you ask louder. He does not return--where did he go? You ask louder, and he comes back and talks to you in a language you do not understand. "It's only been an hour; you can't possibly need a drink yet." What did he say? You become frantic and he gets more frustrated. You truly don't think you are asking for too much--you just need a drink and the person you love the most could give it to you. Why won't he?

In the last month I have had a handful of new mamas reach out to me with questions about how often their babies need to breastfeed. "She would nurse every hour if I let her, but my doctor told me to make her wait two to three hours between sessions." "My baby is six weeks old--shouldn't he be sleeping through the night and not waking to eat by now?" "My aunt told me I am going to spoil my baby by picking her up and feeding her every time she cries, so I have been making her wait until I think she is actually hungry. But then she just screams and takes forever to calm down to nurse and ends up falling asleep instead of eating."

I have a secret I would love to share with you: the baby in your arms or across the room in the swing or upstairs in her crib, that baby is a whole person. I would actually argue that she is more whole than you or I am because she has not yet been broken by the world. The concepts of evil and ill will are completely foreign to her--she has never once tried to manipulate you. Her intentions are pure, no matter how long she has been crying. She is communicating with you in the only way she can right now. You are not spoiling her by responding; you are meeting her needs in the same way you would want someone to meet yours if you were asking for something out of your reach.

I know, Mama, that it feels so heavy to be solely responsible for this little life and even heavier when you are getting conflicting advice from people you feel like you should trust. And sometimes there are nursing issues that are more confusing and complicated and take research and trial and error. But this does not have to be one of them. Feed your baby. Answer her cries. They are cries today, but tomorrow they will be words. And the next day she will climb down from your lap and never return. And the next, she will not ask for anything; she will be out on her own and you will ache to be needed again. She will still have needs, greater and more confusing, but they probably won't include you.

But today you get to be the one to hear and meet all of them, to teach her what fulfillment tastes like so she hopefully grows up and does not settle for anything less. 

Feed your baby. Hold your baby. Wear your baby. As often as she asks you to. That's all she's asking of you today, and compared to your complicated list of things you think you need, she's really not asking for that much. She's not being selfish or spoiled--she's being a human with basic human needs.  

The secret to a fulfilled baby? Fulfill the baby. That's it.