Motherhood is one of those openly incredible-but-a-little-terrifying things that no one really understands until they hold their baby in their arms and find themselves in the weeds.
All those “things” that people tell you will happen or “things” that people tell you you will be feeling, or all those “things” people tell you you will do or say (even though you probably said you would never do or say those “things”) all of a sudden become your reality. You find yourself doing laundry instead of sleeping when the baby sleeps because apparently there isn’t actually a laundry fairy that magically comes to your home when the baby finally comes. You find yourself crying in the bathroom even though you were convinced that you wouldn’t succumb to the stresses that other mothers seem to have. You were confident that breastfeeding would be easy and you would be able to birth without begging for any medication.
Motherhood is one of those things that you never really believe that it’s like what the millions of women claim it is before you until you are actually experiencing it. Not only will your physical body change, but your whole entire world will change. Sure, you know that you probably won’t sleep for a while. But did you know that stories on the news about children being riddled with cancer or taken from their parents would send you into a panic? That you will begin to look at the world with new, non-rose colored glasses where you all of a sudden think, “What if that was my baby?”
You know, one day you will suddenly do something or say something or think something and realize, “Oh my gosh, now I understand all that my own mother did for me.”And you’ll also be reminded of how much you may have tortured her and how she loved me through it.” You will realize how hard life was for your own parents, and you will see them in an entirely new light.
There is no doubt that you knew that motherhood would change you. You probably have read the books, attended the classes, and researched with Dr. Google on your side. You have probably joined Facebook groups and chatted with young mothers you know about what life is going to be like. You have probably observed other moms, secretly and silently judging them about what they are doing that you “won’t ever do.” You have looked up, researched, and promised yourself that you will parent in this certain way because it is what will work best for your family.
But the truth is, we are all winging it. We all have preconceived notions about what motherhood will be like for us. We all daydream about the sweet moments and the happy smiles and the Instagram worthy photos. And maybe we are realistic that motherhood will be exhausting and hard. But you will never really understand the meaning of motherhood, and all its intricacies that other mothers can wholeheartedly relate to, until you have that baby in your arms.
Here’s a look back at one of our mama authors as she shares what she would tell every one of her prenatal birth class students about the honesty of motherhood.
I spent years leading prenatal classes. Every week we opened class with a chat about the joys and challenges of pregnancy, of how it feels to prepare for motherhood. We talked about hypnobirthing and where to find a good breastfeeding class. Below is everything else I would have said to students on their first day of class, had there been enough time to talk about what motherhood really feels like.
If My Prenatal Classes were Honest:
Hi, welcome. You’re, what, getting into your second trimester now? Yes. Okay, so, just beginning to face the fact that you had no idea what you were getting yourself into. You can’t fathom how you can be so in love with someone who does nothing but make you feel tired and queasy, or understand why you would give your life for the health and happiness of someone who demands everything and gives, well, very little. Gives nothing, really.
Someone has probably told you that around now is when it starts to get easier. Your appetite returns – often with a vengeance – and your energy is coming back up. Soon, those first weeks of worry and fatigue will be a distant memory. That’s what they told you, right?
Consider this a temporary respite.
The truth is, you just signed yourself up for work that’s neverending. You’ve committed to having your heart broken in the strangest, silliest ways; to having your mind see problems and failings no one will ever suspect; to decades-long fatigue that will reach into your soul.
You can’t wait to start showing, for your own body to bear evidence of the mystery you carry, even though you know it may never look the same again. Speaking of your body: You’re about to become one of those weird people who sways when they’re standing. Like, all the time. When music plays and there isn’t a baby in your arms, you probably won’t know what to do with yourself.
By now you’ve surely heard someone refer to this new venture as ‘the toughest job you’ll ever love,’ a dreadful oversimplification. Yes, it’s a job, no doubt. It’s a job, except 1) your shift never ends, 2) you won’t get paid, and 3) you’re stuck with it for the rest of your life. ‘Job’ doesn’t really do this whole thing justice.
Oh, yeah, regarding jobs? You’re screwed. No matter what you do, you’re screwed. Daily you will ask yourself if you should be doing that Other Thing, spending your time at that Other Place – no matter which one you’re talking about. Staying at home? You’ll wonder if you should find a job. Working 40+ hours a week? Maybe you should be home. Own a business and / or work unconventional hours? Let’s not even go there. Just resign yourself to questioning your career choice along with all those other things you’ll probably never be sure of again.
In a few months there will be white-haired, wrinkled old women who stop you in the grocery store, asking when you’re due. Later they will ask how old your baby is. No matter your answer, they will smile softly and remind you to enjoy this time, because it’s over so quickly. You will probably find this advice very annoying. Today, already wearing shirt number three since getting dressed this morning, with a hungry baby in a leaking diaper who is never satisfied unless you wear him and shush him constantly, this time is dragging. This stage, you think, can’t end fast enough. Oh, it’s over so quickly? Please let that be true.
You won’t realize the old women at the grocery store are right until hours later, when you’re at home and it’s quiet (finally), when that demanding, opinionated baby has conked out for the evening. You’ll lay him in his crib and, as you stretch your tired, sore neck and shoulders, you’ll look down and notice that he’s bigger, that the feet of his pajamas are getting snug. Tomorrow it will be time to dig out the bin of next sized clothing. And you will wonder when that happened. For a moment, you will long for his tiny newborn snuggles, so recent yet so long ago.
I am not kidding. You’ll miss that always overwhelming, sloppy, hungry, exhausted newborn stage.
You see, the economics of motherhood are complicated, if not completely ridiculous. No one can adequately describe the magic of newborn snuggles, or tell you how a single intentional smile that lasts for two seconds can make up for days of nausea, hours of pain, and weeks without sleep. It’s ludicrous that a six-ounce gain on the pediatrician’s scale cancels out round-the-clock feedings which, no matter the method you choose, are demanding and exhausting. There is no rational explanation when a single letter recognized, a word sounded out, lends value to years of reading board books and interrupting your own thoughts to point out signs along the road.
On paper, the returns on the investment look incredibly slim. On paper, motherhood is a fool’s errand.
On paper we all look like idiots.
And by the way, to be clear: Some days, it actually will suck. You will have times where this whole project of parenting stretches you far beyond your capacity, where you question your fitness for it, where you begin to suspect it was a very bad idea. Nobody bothers to tell you, that’s all part of the package.
I could try and reassure you that you will love this, that it will be worth it. You won’t be able to imagine a time when this tiny person was not an integral part of everything you hold dearest and closest to your heart; you won’t even know who you were then. But as far as making it worthwhile – I can’t tell you how that works, how you will know. I cannot give you a solid, articulable reason that will make things look better on paper. For eight years – nine, really, when you count all the months of nausea – I’ve searched, and come up empty.
There is just this: A smile when you need reassurance. A snuggle and a sigh of contentment as evening falls. A word read, a problem solved, a routine practiced, all followed by a glance at you to make sure you’re watching. Once in a while there is a chubby arm that wraps around your neck, unbidden, reminding you that you are someone’s safe place. There is the knowledge that your body may be home for months, but your arms, your face, your voice will represent home for a lifetime.
You, YOU, are comfort, safety, stillness, peace. On paper, it sounds silly indeed.
But in your arms, it makes perfect sense.
Image: Flamingo Images/Shutterstock