Before I had kids I thought being a mom was about giving birth. So that’s what I spent 9 months preparing for.
I read books. It’s probably more accurate to say I studied books.
I read all about HOW to get pregnant and then I read all about WHAT TO EXPECT when you are pregnant. I ate all the things and counted all the calories I was supposed to be taking in and rested and then I did the most important thing.
I bought all the things I thought were essential for babies – you know like very very cute clothes and adorable bath toys and the perfect stroller that I spent hours and hours testing and folding and re-opening and comparing and still wasn’t ever really satisfied I’d got the right one.
I even washed every, single one of those teeny little baby clothes so they would be ultra soft and safe and ready for my brand new baby.
I took the prenatal classes and vitamins and naps.
I could not have BEEN MORE READY.
I thought labor was the finish line and the baby at home in the crib the victory lap.
I could NOT HAVE BEEN MORE WRONG.
Turns out motherhood actually starts when you bring that brand new human being home and discover you have absolutely no clue what you’re doing and all those books that line your book shelves cannot in fact help you at 2am when your baby doesn’t do anything according to anyone’s schedule but his own.
Turns out motherhood is a whole lot more than just having the baby. And that mothers continue to labor LONG after the baby is born.
So for anyone just starting out and under the same misimpressions that I was (or any long time mama who would enjoy a few chuckles at my expense), here are a few disclaimers to the joyous world of motherhood.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore this whole wild gig, but I sure wish someone had pointed out the fine print.
The false advertising about motherhood that I totally believed:
You will wear your non-maternity size clothes home from the hospital.
Nope, you will end up wearing home the massive, swimming pool sized sweat pants you’ve been living in for the last two months. And you might feel like a failure. You are NOT. Your body grew a miracle and miracles need room to grow.
You will fall in love with the baby at first sight.
While this may be true, that feeling might wear off over the days and weeks of sleep deprivation as you realize that that baby is the reason you have had to break up with the life you loved. Becoming a parent is a lot like breaking up with yourself. There are all these things you used to love about yourself and your life. Those late- afternoon naps. Those spontaneous movie nights. The tidy house and pretty things that could easily break. Lots of pretty things. Unbroken pretty things. Uninterrupted meals, sleep, bathroom breaks. Children arrive and blow through what used to be your routine. They huff and they puff and they blow your life down. You wake up at 2 a.m. because someone calls you Mom. Except they don’t say the word at first—they only offer the wail, and you find yourself stumbling out of bed, groping for sense and the night-light, and in that moment it’s over. The old you is left in the wake of washing out bottles and warming milk and walking five hundred miles of carpet.
You will look like the pictures of those glowing, smiling moms in the parenting magazines you’ve been hoarding.
I wanted to be the mom on those billboards with the beautifully blow-dried hair, lying in bed with one cheek resting against her cherub as he beams up at her. Instead it was nearly impossible to find time to sneak in a bath or a shower, let alone dry my hair, and my entire wardrobe was reduced to 2 pairs of pants and three tops that were comfortable and made nursing easy for a baby whose gaze up at me usually meant he was about to projectile vomit in my direction.
If you do what the books tell you to do, then the baby will do what you want him to do.
Nine years ago, I thought there was a formula to parenting—you do what the books tell you to do, and then the baby does what the books tell him to do. I’d aced college and law school and figured motherhood would go down the same way. It turned out my baby had completely different plans in mind. Motherhood became the first test, other than federal taxation, that I thought I was truly going to fail. I would read all those books that tell you when the baby should be sleeping and when the baby should be eating and when the baby should be this, that, and the other thing-ing, and all I would see was a big, fat red F. My firstborn did nothing according to anybody’s schedule but his own.
After you give birth you will finally get your body back.
Tragically untrue. Your body – your victorious, amazing body, has fought a battle to produce that tiny human being and will need months to recover. It will no longer feel the same, move the same, or look the same. And for long months after giving birth you may not easily be able to sit down the same. Give your body time, patience and love because it has worked hard and it will need grace to find its feet in this new phase. And now there will always, always be someone attached to it on the outside, whether nursing, demanding to be carried from now on till what feels like eternity, pulling at your legs, sitting on your lap, or standing up close and personal next to you while you go the bathroom. Your body will likely never truly be just yours again. Ever.
Becoming a mother is the most natural thing in the world.
Truthfully, the transition can be painful. Like any break up, it hurts to let go of your old life and adjust to a new one. It’s OK to grieve. It’s OK to grieve the loss of a stage of life you’ve loved. It’s OK to ask directions into this new life. A life where everything is unfamiliar and often scary. A life that can’t be reduced to a poster-board checklist. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. And it’s especially not easy for those type A personalities accustomed to having all their ducks in a row, all their check boxes checked, and their sofa cushions, cereal boxes, and entire lives neatly arranged. I had a nursing chart. I’d harnessed my elementary school poster-board and marker skills and set up a timetable. After each feeding, I would dutifully put a check mark in the box—which side I’d nursed and how long— before I stumbled deliriously back to bed. My son cried, I nursed, I made check marks, and he never, ever once slept or ate as much or as long as the books promised my chart and me he would. F, F, F, F minus in parenting. I pretended it made sense to me. I pretended I had a handle on his “routine.” I pretended I hadn’t started to resent all those parenting books lining the shelves of our teeny oneroom cottage. And still he ate at a snail’s pace and woke up to eat slowly at 11 p.m., 1 a.m., 3 a.m., 5 a.m., and 7 a.m. I kept waiting to fall in love with him, and instead I just felt like we’d both failed our midterms.
You will savor every second spent with your baby.
You will not. And allow me to spare you months, if not years, of guilt. Listen, the first few years of parenting are cripplingly exhausting and leave you feeling like you’ve been operating heavy machinery under water without enough oxygen. Ask anyone in a high pressure job if they enjoy every second of it. Of course not. And parenting is the ultimate 24-7 job without breaks or raises or annual leave. If you haven’t yet, stop now and click here to watch this description of the World’s Toughest Job. That’s the one you just signed up for. And some of you didn’t mean to sign up, you got recruited accidentally. So it’s OK to feel overwhelmed and it’s OK to feel like some days you just want to quit. That’s normal. You’re phenomenal. I’ve never understood why there aren’t more parades in your honor. What you do is mind-blowing and if you click over here I’d like to give you all a medal.
It will get easier as the baby gets older.
Yes and no. You will sleep more, the baby will cry less. You will start to take tentative steps back into parts of your old life. But much like the weather, if you wait a few minutes everything changes. And as soon as you think you’ve figured out your son or daughter’s “routine” something will change. Because they’re these living, breathing packages of life and they explode every few weeks with delicious gobs of newness and growth and we’re always, always a couple steps behind. Kids are like a constantly changing puzzle and nothing is more satisfying or more exhausting than figuring them out. I think parents probably have to make more decisions in a 24-hour period than most CEOs. But if “easy” is relative to how much sleep you’re getting then yes, it will definitely get easier as your kids get older. (Except, of course, for how you will inevitably sabotage that margin of extra sleep by staying up way waaay too late to enjoy the glorious extra hours of ALL THAT SACRED QUIET ALONE TIME).
Having more than one kid will be impossibly, insanely, unthinkably hard.
After you’ve survived and finally started to adapt to your first baby, the idea of adding a second (or heaven forbid) third or fourth to the mix fills you with fear. You’ve only just made it through one; how can anyone expect you could manage a second? Well, here’s the good news. That first baby has already broken you. They’ve dragged you through sleep-deprivation, surrendering your privacy, and opening your heart. So, from here on out things only get easier. Baby number one has routed the way for all the others to follow and surprisingly, each new baby seems so much more relaxed than the one before. (Tip: it’s not the baby, it’s YOU. Yup, you’re getting better at this parenting gig and YOU’RE more relaxed so the babies are too. Good on you! Go treat yourself to a slice of cake and the hysterically, accurately funny book, Dad is Fat – especially the chapter on having five kids!)
Motherhood is boring, life-sucking monotony, of dirty laundry and dishes set on repeat that only appeals to women without ambition or creativity.
Not a freakin’ chance. Motherhood is saving lives on a daily basis. Motherhood is a sacred marriage of the mundane and the eternal. The small directly related to the massive; kids walking around like so much eternity with skin on. The courage of loving someone who will inevitably break your heart as they break their way into their own life. Motherhood is venturing out into an ocean of vulnerability with only a small dinghy and two short oars to keep you afloat. It’s brave because we do it scared, tired, unqualified, and often ill-equipped. We mother on. You are a warrior who will battle for your children’s hearts, souls, attention, innocence, education and memories.
Go to battle my friends. This is your time.
We will hold strong on either side of you. We will pray over those bottles, through the dark watches of the night, when doubt comes and children break, when adults fail them, when they push and push as hard against us as that day we delivered them into the world we. will. not. be broken.
We may ache and see cracks tear through our hearts, but we will get up again tomorrow and load the clothes and the words that need to be said. Again and again and again.
Because, we mother.
Like these? Read more of my bumpy journey towards discovering the truth about motherhood in my memoir, Surprised by Motherhood: Everything I Never Expected about Being a Mom.
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