Summertime lessons of a first-time mom

The summer delights of poolside lounging, bare feet and impromptu barbecues will soon be swapped for busier days, light sweaters and cozy beverages. Summertime will linger only in our collections of seashells, sandy beach bags and vacation recaps at the office.

For me, this summer will remain in a special way, thanks to the hundreds of photos I took and the lessons that came in 8 pounds, 5 ounces.

On May 24, clutching my husband's hand, I became a mother. And like every mother on this swirling planet, I swooned over this fragile, wrinkly, red new life, and my own life was forever changed. I can't yet know all the ways our baby will challenge, test and enrich the ensuing years. But I do know this parenthood gig overflows with opportunities to grow.

Here are three lessons motherhood has taught me thus far:

Women, we need to drop the judgment

Women can be top-notch judgers, and new mothers are no different. We judge each other's birth plans and infant sleep philosophies. We judge feeding and career choices, transportation methods (strollers versus baby-wearing) and discipline styles. Opinions are as strong, and usually as welcome, as a newborn's wail.

Yet another woman's wisdom and empathy can be a lifeline amid the at-times overwhelming stress of sleep deprivation, an avalanche of conflicting advice and an infant's constant needs.

Ten days after my son was born, I sat in a nursing support group filled with mothers of all ages, races and backgrounds. Each woman either shared a difficulty she was having or offered a knowing nod and word of encouragement. Tears of relief fell from one new mother's face after another mom gave her hope that she could successfully nurse after several setbacks.

The words "I've been there" can make all the difference both in and out of support groups.

Parenthood is deeply personal, so it's easy to be critical of both ourselves and other's choices. But life at its best is communal, and whether a mom or not, we need other women to help us get through the tough patches.

The small stuff is not worth sweating

One night when my son was about 10 days old, he was crying inconsolably, and my husband and I were drained and perplexed at how to console him. I'd been determined not to introduce a pacifier until he was at least a few weeks old, as I was told it could interfere with breastfeeding. But at 3 a.m., I grabbed the Binky and put it in his tiny mouth mid-cry. He zonked-out instantly. The next morning I felt tremendous guilt for "taking the easy route." Sounds a bit silly now, but in the moment I was worried. I emailed our midwife, turned to Mrs. Google and bothered a number of more seasoned mothers: Had I made a massive mistake? What if out of desperation I gave it to him again?

A few weeks later, once I decided it was OK, I offered him the pacifier again. I placed it in his mouth and, well, he hated it. He spit it out with the disgusted look of a snobby foodie.

The moral of the story was easy for even my sleep-craving, worry-prone self to grasp: We can save ourselves a bundle of stress if we don't sweat the small stuff.

The communion of saints is alive and well

My own mother died of brain cancer 10 years ago. But never in the past decade has she been more present than when I love and care for my son.

In the songs and children's books I know by heart, in the terms of endearment I use, in the ideas I have about child development, in the goofy faces and voices I make - my mom is present.

I've always loved the Catholic Church's teaching on the communion of saints, the spiritual union of all Christians, living and dead, those on earth and those in heaven. Our Sunday Visitor's Encyclopedia of Catholic Doctrine describes the communion of saints as an "especially consoling doctrine" that "means no Christian is ever defenseless or alone. He or she is always accompanied and always receiving help."

When I'm my best self with my son, I experience this reality; I feel my mother's help, her wisdom and her love.

Two weeks after our son was born, my husband and I bought a rose bush for him in my mother's honor. Most nights before bed, I hold my snuggly, pajama-clad baby as we look out the nursery window and say, "Goodnight, Grandma Sue's rose bush." My son will not know my mother's voice or her laugh, but I'm certain that he will know her.

For these three lessons - or perhaps "gifts" - and countless more to come, I am deeply grateful. As the years quickly pass, I hope I'll be open and strong enough to learn and to live them.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015