By Marina Komarovsky
As the kind of gal who likes to insist on doing things on my own, I find it really surprising that two months into motherhood, what has empowered me the most has been getting help from my own mom.
When our son was born, I immediately felt a bit behind on the parenting front. First, having had a c-section posed a physical challenge. For the first few days it hurt so much to stand up that being able to both stand and respond to kicking, crying, and potential peeing during a diaper change seemed insurmountably demanding. My partner was changing all the diapers, and I still don’t know what meconium looks like. Second, as the youngest in a big family, my partner has seen all his siblings have their babies. The oldest in my family, I am the first to have one. Even when I felt a lot better, I found myself constantly asking him for instructions. While highly appreciative of such an involved and knowledgeable Dad, I couldn't help but feel that my role as Mom meant that I had to bring something important to the table, too -- not just the breast milk.
When my mother traveled from Chicago to Buenos Aires, where we live, our son was three weeks old and I was just beginning to get the hang of newborn baby care. My family had insisted that my mom come down for at least a month, "because you will need the help." I carefully counted out the latest day our baby could be born to ensure that she would at least arrive after the delivery, “because we want to do it on our own.” With our families far away, that had been how we’d done most of our pregnancy -- supporting each other, seeking out resources, and only occasionally reporting back to our home countries. The day before my mom arrived, my partner and I toasted a half-glass of wine to having been able to do the first weeks ourselves.
When we saw each other, my mom and I both cried. It had been more than a year, and so much had happened: first, pregnancy, and now, this little person who made my mom’s daughter a mom, too. It was so crazy to see each other and share a three-generation hug.
I hadn’t really thought about what to expect, but the next few days were a challenge. My mom was tired from the trip, and it was hard for her to get comfortable in our tiny apartment. I was tired from the nighttime wake-ups and c-section recovery, and it was hard for me to be an attentive host. It didn’t help that my partner and my mom kept looking at me whenever they didn’t understand each other’s English, usually exactly at the moment I had put a forkful of food in my mouth in the middle of trying to breastfeed.
And then there was helping with the baby: My mother was constantly expressing her concerns, and my perspective was almost always different from hers. “We decided to do it another way,” I would take my stand. “That’s not what the pediatrician told us,” I would argue. “That recommendation is outdated!” I would exclaim in exasperation.
My mom tried not to step on my toes, but it was hard for her sometimes. I tried not to be rude, but it was hard for me often. “I’m sorry I’m not being nice,” I told my mom that first week. “I am so happy you’re here. Sometimes I may say no to your advice at first, but I’ll think about it later. Please don’t be mad.” My mom just shrugged: “I’m not mad.” I was surprised. “How can you not be mad?” I would be mad. But then I realized it: This is exactly what it means to be a mom. I felt tension from all the debating, but I also felt so, so much love.
During her month in Buenos Aires, my mother taught me countless tricks of the trade: how to change a diaper without the baby crying, how to hand-wash onesies more efficiently, how to take the stroller up and down steps of different widths, and many others. She also learned enough Spanish to pinpoint the best deals on produce in our neighborhood, analyzed our appliances to help us save on electricity, showed us how to pre-cook base ingredients for simpler meals, and planted flowers on our balcony. I learned to argue less, say thank you, and absorb all her bits of wisdom. We had a really great time together.
All the tips definitely helped me become more confident, but even more importantly, I was inspired every day just watching my mom being my mom.