Picture me circa 2013. I was a third-year dental student just starting the clinical part of my education. I had just finished two years of intensive didactic learning. Every facet of my life was organized by folder. I was an expert PDF annotator. I could study for hours upon hours in my little bubble at the local Panera.
So when I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I approached this new experience much in the same way. I studied. I researched article after article on mothering, pregnancy, newborn life, the whole shebang. I had Pinterest boards dedicated to pregnancy and motherhood. I downloaded apps that walked me through each day of pregnancy. I researched monthly developmental milestones to make sure that my daughter was on target.
I had lofty dreams about sleep training and getting my pre-baby body back. I would exclusively breastfeed and only feed her organic food that I made myself. But now that I am four and a half years into motherhood, I can tell you that all the research in the world did not prepare me adequately for what would be the greatest joy, adventure, and challenge of my life.
Here are a few things I wish I’d known before becoming a mom.
You may renege on the “I would never”
Things I said I would never do:
A: Allow screen time
B: Feed my children processed food
Cut to me, 4.5 years later and we do A, B, and C every single day. All my children have or are currently bed-sharing with us. I nursed Emma and Henry on-demand throughout the night the first year of their lives and we are on track to do the same for Theo. Sleep training was a forgotten memory and basically, anything to help us all sleep a little longer was fair game. They use an iPad or watch a little tv at least once per day. If 30 minutes of Daniel Tiger after daycare but before dinner is ready can help us survive the witching hour, then so be it. And speaking of dinner, we thrive on a mixture of healthy food, yes, but also mac and cheese, frozen pizza, and a whole lot of takeout. Had I known I’d be backtracking on my “I would nevers”, I would have likely kept my pre-baby mouth tightly shut.
Your body is no longer your own
Yes, in theory I knew what pregnancy would mean. This little single-celled embryo would grow in my womb into a fully-formed human child (by the grace of God). But by week six of my first pregnancy and every subsequent pregnancy thereafter, I would be ravaged by the symptoms of morning sickness for week after week followed by pelvic round ligament pain and lower back sciatic nerve pain and searing heartburn and insomnia. Then there would be the postpartum recovery from the tearing and the pelvic floor muscle weakness and the postpartum anxiety and baby blues. And the breastfeeding, holy moly, the breastfeeding, with the bleeding nipples and cluster feeding and sleep deprivation and engorgement. It’s constantly being touched and tugged at and accidentally hit in the face and scratched and never going to the bathroom alone and body fluids from other people all over. You’re rarely alone and some solitude is all you every really crave.
You act mostly on instinct
After reading and researching everything I could, I figure I’d just waltz out of the hospital after having my first and I’d know all the how-tos I’d need. Cut to me throwing the book out the window and just winging-it. I’m yes on vaccines and no on circumcision. I’m yes on fluoride and no on daily baths. I’m yes on helmets and no on trampolines. Although I worry 110% of the time, I trust my gut more than ever. My gut tells me that her fever is more than just a 24-hour bug. My gut tells me that it’s gas that’s causing that stomach ache. My gut tells me when they’re over-tired or over-stimulated. My gut tells me when to say yes to more snuggles. My gut tells me that something is just not right. My gut tells me when it’s just whining or when they’re really hurt. You develop a sixth (and seventh and eighth, etc) sense for what’s right for your family and what is wrong for it.
Motherhood is different for everyone
Every mother is different. Each parent is different. And the way you parent may change over time and during different seasons of life. If I had to give you a solid take-a-way from this post, it would be this: stay away from motherhood forums online. If there was ever a place that was more toxic for a new mother, it would be the comment section in a post about vaccines or attachment parenting or sleep training. Motherhood looks different on you and it looks different on me and THAT’S OKAY. I do things one way and you may do things another way. At the end of the day, our motivations are the same — to love and care for our kids the best way we know how. I also parent differently than my husband and THAT’S OKAY. I still struggle with this but we both do things differently and my way is not necessarily the right way. We both care for our children in the way that complements our personalities and strengths. Also, we parent differently over time and for each child. My three children are different people, so it makes sense that they are parented differently. Their personalities require different kinds of nurturing and what works for one may not work for the other.
There is an infinite amount of love
I never thought I could love anyone more than I love my husband. But if you never thought you could reach the depths of love than when you married your spouse, you’d be wrong. Love runs DEEP. Your children bore through those depths. The minute you see that heartbeat, your heart explodes and your universe gets bigger. You love your husband even more when you hold this precious life that you parent together. Your heart breaks into a million pieces when they smile at you and you ache when they are hurting with a fierceness you’d never thought possible. You never thought you could love another child like you do your first, then the next one comes and your love has grown exponentially and it does the same for the next. Your camera roll is filled with photos of them sleeping or eating or dancing or just being. You break down crying for no reason because you love them so much. You simultaneously thank God for the gift of their lives and also rage at Him whenever they suffer even the tiniest bit.
While this list is no where near exhaustive, you get the picture. Motherhood, to me, means that I know nothing about motherhood at all. I just trust my gut, run on coffee and wine, and rely on that all-consuming love to help me figure it all out. Motherhood is the hardest thing in the world and also the best thing in the world and it is always getting harder but also gets easier. It’s letting your heart walk around on the outside of your body and being terrified of it but also being completely okay with it at the same time.