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6 Milestones That Make a Mom

The journey from hospital to home really doesn't count. You leave the hospital because they kick you out. But choosing to leave the safety of your home voluntarily is a different story.

Whether you're making a first visit to the pediatrician or going out for breakfast, this is a crucial milestone because you're:

a. going public as a family b. trusting the world not to harm your infant

Easier said than done. Having a baby means never saying "See you in 10 minutes" again. Multiply the time you think it should take to get out the door by three to account for gathering gear, bundling the baby, a last-minute feeding, and the subsequent diaper change.

Once you're out the door, remember that the baby is sure to attract an adoring public -- neighbors, strangers, and waiters will all want to peek and coo. And don't expect to be able to concentrate for more than 30 seconds on anything, including traffic lights, menus, or conversation, because you'll be staring intently at the baby, trying to anticipate her next move. This preoccupation is completely normal.

In the beginning, there are people. Lots of them. A spouse on leave. Family and friends stopping by. Then your partner returns to work and your parents and friends get on with their lives. Meanwhile, you have places to go, like your doctor's office for a postpartum checkup. It's not easy to have a pelvic exam while holding a baby!

To a brand-new mom caught in the nightmare of sore nipples and an infant with latching issues, being able to focus on anything beyond nursing seems like an impossible dream. And then it happens. You have a complete nursing session (both sides!) while carrying on a phone conversation with your mother-in-law, reading an entire magazine article, or even responding to e-mail. Suddenly nursing is as second nature as changing a diaper with one hand.

People who consider themselves mellow people can go ballistic when someone hurts their child. For many parents, this appears for the first time as a surge of protectiveness at their baby's first immunization -- they know the baby needs the shot, but nonetheless want to wrestle the doctor to the floor for making their baby cry. Don't panic. It's just another step in your development.

It's the beginning of a new era: When you say you want a hairdo that requires no styling, you now mean no styling. You decide to cut it all off. So you clip a photo of Meg Ryan or some other star sporting a no-fuss style (in denial of the fact that Meg's personal stylist likely spends hours perfecting her wash-and-wear look), pack up the baby, and head to the salon.

You leave the salon looking like Laura Bush: cute, clean, but undeniably mom-like. You throw away the picture of Meg. Fortunately, the new you has no time to dwell on a disappointing haircut. Plus, everyone will say you look great because they all keep picturing you in those last bloated days of pregnancy. Believe them. You do.

Including the hand motions! No parent thinks it will happen to her. And then it does: The baby fusses, and there's only one way to calm her. You start singing -- in that special voice -- at the post office or in the video store. Congratulations! You've put your child's needs ahead of your own self-consciousness. (You've also learned what works to calm your crier, be it song or tickle games.)

Now you've crossed to the other side -- parents only. You may not know it when you're hitting these milestones, but you'll realize it when you automatically turn around when a nearby baby cries, or when you introduce yourself as "Sophie's mom." Being a parent is rewarding, frustrating, and challenging. It's also a work in progress. And you're doing it.