I don’t know that my heart was ever fuller than when I had my first baby. Or my second. I had that new mom sleepy-but-sparkly-eyed glow. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her face, examining her delicate features and reveling in every movement like I was watching living poetry. My labor and delivery nurses were incredible and took the time to help me navigate everything from changing diapers for the first time to successfully nursing, and making sure my bathroom was stocked with mesh underwear and ice packs.
And then we went home and it was as if everything I studied about caring for a new baby just ceased to exist.
And then we went home and it was as if everything I studied about caring for a new baby just ceased to exist. There were no nurses and we were solo with this new little family member. I felt completely maternal and in awe of her, but also completely unprepared. Yes, I read all the books. Of course I scoured the internet. Every week I received the email telling me what fruit my baby compared to in size. I attended birthing classes, I registered for all the necessities, and I stared at a wall full of nipples wondering what the hell the difference was. I checked all of the boxes for the things you are supposed to do to prepare for a baby. But the truth is, none of it really does that. It’s more of a hypothetical outline for parenthood in general. Once I found myself in the trenches, all those books felt like they carried less weight.
The lack of sleep was by far the hardest part for me. You know the baby will be up every few hours, but to actually feel the effects of next-level sleep deprivation is something no book can ever do justice. All of the jokes about moms doing ridiculous things while sleep deprived, like brewing coffee with no cup under the machine, are steeped in so much truth. Here I was, caring for a baby who was completely reliant on me for everything, but my brain was operating at half-mast. If I got more than three consecutive hours of sleep, it felt like a win and my body would recharge just enough to get through the next stretch before repetitive depletion. All of the people telling me to sleep when the baby sleeps were making me rage-y – because that’s not real life.
Of all the things, the one thing I wanted to do most anytime anyone came over to see the baby was to take a shower. Alone. Not with a bouncy seat in the doorway with a little face ogling my postpartum body. Not with my eyes fixed on a baby monitor while I washed my hair quickly before it was time to nurse or pump again. I wanted a real shower. The kind where the water is hot as magma and can almost melt your skin off. As much as I was getting into a motherhood groove, I craved those moments where I could just check out in silence for a few minutes and reset. I was shocked that none of my friends or family talked about this need. Every day when my husband came home from work, I had a visceral impulse to rip my clothes off before I even made it into the bathroom. It was my own little reward after a day of momming so hard.
It was a hard paradox to reconcile how I could hate and love the same thing. But then I realized so much of motherhood is like that.
Momming took everything I had every day and left me with zero reserve. The exhaustion left me irritable, so it didn’t take very long for anyone, especially my husband, to piss me off. Motherhood shined a spotlight on my limits – mentally and physically. After a full day of colic and diaper blowouts, I would collapse until I had to force myself to get up to wash breast pump parts and get ready for the next feeding session. I cried a lot when I breastfed, from being absolutely spent and also from the discomfort of my nipples betraying me and becoming raw and sensitive to the touch. But I also loved so many of those sessions as I sat in silence with my both of my babies when they were infants and added another layer to the bond. It was a hard paradox to reconcile how I could hate and love the same thing. But then I realized so much of motherhood is like that.
That wasn’t the only surprise. There always seemed to be something lurking in the corners of parenthood waiting to jump out and throw you for a loop. That was tough for me, as a self-proclaimed Type A personality. This little life, whom I deeply loved, owned me; I was a prisoner to whatever schedule boss baby dictated. And I couldn’t even remember the schedule since my mind was scrambled eggs. I had logs for everything the baby did – last meal, last pee, last poop, last pump sesh. Never did I think a captain’s log of baby feces would run my life, yet there we were. I wasn’t just sleep deprived and at the mercy of a newborn. I also had stains on almost every article of clothing. Breast milk, spit up, unidentified fluids, you name it. It’s pretty humbling to go from running meetings in an office while dressed to the nines, to coming to terms with the fact that it’s pointless to change since you have a feeding coming up which will likely result in another stain.
The biggest shock of all, though, is the fact that many people don’t talk openly about most of these things in detail. They give little snippets here and there, but rarely do people delve into the nitty-gritty of motherhood before you have a baby. When you’re in the thick of it and you find your people, there’s plenty of commiserating. But there’s no real prep for the reality of motherhood, and the fact that these experiences that seem outlandish are actually completely normal and expected. I was shell-shocked with my first baby at the sheer lack of knowledge I had, even with all the legwork I did. And while I knew what I was walking into with my second, every child is different, so I still faced many twists and turns.
I know that even though the minutia of each day and each diaper explosion that made me feel like I was losing my mind, it had no correlation to how fiercely I love my kids.
The difference the second time was that I was comfortable admitting how much the newborn phases sucked for me. I wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed. I know that even though the minutia of each day and each diaper explosion that made me feel like I was losing my mind, it had no correlation to how fiercely I love my kids. These admissions don’t make you a bad mother. They make you an honest one – and I get that now. I also know that while those first few months feel like you are drowning in quicksand while trying to keep everyone in your family afloat, you eventually climb your way out.
If I could go back and tell my first-time mama self anything, it would be that I’m doing just fine. Even though it doesn’t always feel like it, I’m slaying motherhood. I would tell her that it’s all normal and there are other mothers all over who are feeling everything I’m feeling. I would tell her that she’s strong and capable and doing the best she can every single day and she should be proud of that. I would tell her that you can’t find it all in a book or on a website. And most importantly, I would tell her to trust her gut, don’t listen to every piece of advice she gets and treat it like gospel, screw the mom-shamers and sanctimommies, and remember that nobody is more of an expert in her own children than she is. I would tell her that it’s okay to admit that motherhood is hard sometimes. I would give her a hug and tell her she’s got this. And you do, too.