Many of us grew up imagining ourselves in the role of a costumed crusader, from Wonder Woman to She-Ra. Little did we know that years down the road, we'd be inducted into an amazing force of lesser-known superheroes known as moms (83 million strong in the U.S. alone, according to the U.S. Census Bureau), whose collective powers directly shape the fate of an entire generation. Disguised in bathrobes, marked with bags under their eyes, and toting around mini-sidekicks, these supermoms take on challenges and responsibilities that would bring the Man of Steel to his knees. Leap tall buildings in a single bound? Fine, but can he quiet a colicky newborn at 3 a.m.? That, my friends, is a job for Supermom -- the perfectly imperfect superhero who is unleashed when we rise to the very real challenge of loving and protecting our children.
Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and mother of two. In her book, The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter, she employs the latest scientific research to prove that from enhanced memory skills to increased emotional intelligence, motherhood actually makes you smarter. "If you think about it in evolutionary terms, there's no other time in a woman's life when she needs to be quite as smart as when she's looking after young children," Ellison says. "Nature takes over and changes her brain at that time on a scale as great or greater as the changes that take place during puberty and menopause." Not feeling super? Consider this heroic transformation: First, your body physically morphs to provide life support to your developing child. Despite bouts of morning sickness, sleep deprivation and myriad other pregnancy ailments, you continue to deliver life-sustaining nutrition to the baby growing inside your body. Yet, there are still more maternal, chemical changes that contribute to superhero-worthy enhancements. "Chemicals like the pituitary hormone, oxytocin, are released into a mother's bloodstream during the birth of her child," explains Sharon Mass, M.D., an OB-GYN at Morristown Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. "Along with stimulating uterine contractions and triggering the milk ejection reflex, it also leads to heightening senses."
It may not have the same visual wow-factor as Bruce Banner's shirt-shredding Incredible Hulk transformation, but the evolution from woman to Supermom is just as amazing--and difficult. The villainous double whammy of sleep deprivation and post-delivery pain can be difficult, emotional and straight-up exhausting. "It's the infant stage, when all we yearn for is to fall sleep and wake up when our kids can pay for their own Nikes," says Deb DiSandro, author of Tales of a Slightly Off Supermom: Fighting for Truth, Justice and Clean Underwear!
Even those with the most powerful abilities can feel overwhelmed by day-to-day challenges. Thank goodness you can count on your superpowers to make life easier. "When my son Rhys was just a few months old, it seemed like I woke up one morning and could completely understand him," says Shay Sampson, a mom of two in San Francisco. "With every cry, coo and facial expression he made, I knew just what he needed. It was like all of a sudden I spoke his baby language." Combining these powers with an armful of knowledge during the tumultuous first 12 weeks of new parenthood (we like to refer to them as "the trenches") can leave every new mom feeling stronger, better and faster -- and restore peace and order to even the most chaotic of kingdoms. Behold, seven super ways to combat common new-mom challenges: