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How Getting Sober Prepared Me For Motherhood

Jacqui Hathaway Levin

Waking up to baby sounds at 6:30 a.m. hasn’t gotten old for me — yet. Even when I’m exhausted. My three-month-old slept 10 hours last night, a miracle to new parents everywhere. I pick him up from his crib and head to the comfort of my cushioned rocker to breastfeed. These early mornings with my son help me check further into life and into my day, much like early morning meditation — a practice I adapted in early sobriety — does.

I smell the top of his head and draw him in closer to my chest. I often wonder where I would be if I had chosen to keep drinking as a mom. I don’t think this life would be possible for me. There wouldn’t be space for my family if alcohol were still in the picture, or if I didn’t have a program of recovery in my life.

The tools of sobriety not only help me through early motherhood; they solidify a sense of gratitude for all that I have, something I did not take time to notice while I was drinking. Here are some of the gifts of early motherhood that I believe I can embrace more fully thanks to my recovery.

Knowing what’s real and staying in the moment.

I don’t have to worry about losing track of reality with my son. I am more confident in myself knowing I won’t confuse him by acting funny or losing track of our needs. Our days are steady. Things that scare my son at three months old are: bad dreams, running out of milk, loud noises and unfamiliar faces. I don’t have to add anything extra to this list, if I don’t want.

Sticking to a morning ritual.

Recovery taught me to create a sacred space for clearing my mind each morning. This is even more important with an infant. I don’t always get the formal space for meditation (at least not first thing in the morning). So, I’ve learned to take meditative breaths and read helpful affirmations on my phone while breastfeeding. Having a routine helps us function.

Making self-care a priority.

These days, self-care doesn’t include long epsom salt baths, face masks and pulling cards from a tarot deck. If any of those things happen, great, but they aren’t my foundation, at all. For me, self-care starts with sweat. I need to move. I need to pick up the phone and call safe people. I need to cry and write out my thoughts and feelings on paper. Sobriety has shown me how to take care of myself first. Even though it’s hard to do in early motherhood, I know I can’t be the mom or partner I need to be if I don’t.

Learning to set boundaries.

Having a baby is exciting news for the whole family, but if we didn’t make clear what our plans were off the bat, people would easily make unwanted visits and intrude on our family schedule. Boundaries are difficult anyway, aside from being a new mom during a global pandemic. I’m glad I learned how to say “no” in recovery because it’s coming in handy pretty much every week since becoming a mom. “No, we won’t be going to the party.” “No, that doesn’t work for us.” “I’m unavailable.” And more recently, I’ve found an essential set of boundaries on social media: block, mute, unfollow and breathe.

Embracing ordinary days.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to contribute more. What have I done with my life? I slip down the existential spiral. But my work right now is being a mother, just like my work at one point was being sober. I want to give more, but sometimes I have to reel it in and stare at my son on the couch. This is important work.

Letting go of perfectionism.

“Accepting life on life’s terms” is one of those phrases that actually means something to me today. This October, I found a farm with a pumpkin patch close to our house. It seemed like the best possible outing for our three month old during covid times. But once we got there, it started raining. The “sunflower field” was a small patch of scattered blossoms only a foot tall. Then, it got more crowded with people not wearing masks. I finally gave up the idea of a perfect family outing. My husband took a photo of us on a haystack, but my anxiety sky rocketed. I had to accept that the holidays won’t be what I’ve envisioned them to be during covid. This is true for motherhood and life in general. Honestly, I feel I’m letting go of perfectionism when my 3rd outfit of the day is covered in spit up.

Staying connected.

I lived nomadically for five years and got sober on the road. A lot of my connection came from online resources and social media groups like Home Podcast and She Recovers. Even though we are currently settled down in Orlando, Florida, the pandemic has created a similar environment for new moms. I know how to rely on online resources for motherhood and sobriety. Podcasts like Pandemic Mama help moms feel less isolated in these uncertain times. There aren’t guidelines for having a baby during a pandemic, and this podcast covers what we do know so far according to moms who are going through it right now. I’ve found zoom meetings with other sober moms that I absolutely adore. Having an online community has been a real lifesaver.

Sitting in the liminal space.

We drove an hour to New Symrna Beach to show my son the ocean for the first time. There were five pelicans weaving across the skyline as we followed the waves back and forth. Simple moments like these hold the oldest and newest comforts I know. Standing next to that much water together felt like living amends to myself. Watching my son experience life’s treasures for the first time honestly reminded me of opening my heart to the world in early sobriety. I am kind to myself, which means I can show him the world in awe instead of panic. He can grow up knowing that it’s okay to enjoy things as they come.

One night this week, I fell asleep leaning over my son’s bassinet rubbing his tummy. I’m usually covered in spit up. I’m tired. Some days, I don’t know if I can function from lack of sleep. But these are also the times where I realize if I did not have the tools I learned in recovery, I wouldn’t make it. Our baby boy was born on July 15, 2020 at 12:37pm. Having a healthy baby was more than I could have ever asked for, as it turns out. His birth was gratitude on display. For so long, like many moms, I didn’t think I deserved a healthy baby, but he showed up anyhow. All of the stress and commotion leading up to that moment dissolved. His life opened a brand new page. They put him in my arms, and it was quiet.

I’m so glad I wasn’t waiting for something else to fill the space. Sobriety taught me how to be there fully, and it continues to let me live life to its full potential.

Childbirth is nothing like in the movies, as these beautiful photos show.

childbirth slideshow

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