1. Hormones be wack, yo!
I apologize if I butchered that hip slang. I was uncertain of the grammar. Anyway, I always heard stories about those crazy pregnant women who cry at the drop of a hat and crave ridiculous food combinations, but while it may be hilarious to hear about them, it’s downright exhausting to be one. For the last few months of my pregnancy I would stay in my room and cry just about every other day. Poor B was ready to pull out his hair, which would have been a real shame because he is so. very. pretty. And then after Juliet was born, I ramped it up a few thousand notches. To be honest, I was sort of expecting some postpartum depression, but I was not in the least prepared for the anxiety attacks. They came upon me suddenly, and they were merciless. For reasons that B assures me make very little logical sense, I would sit and panic–sometimes for hours–because I was certain I was dying. It sounds weird, but it felt very real. Eight months later, things are much better. I still get jittery sometimes, but I no longer feel legitimately insane, which is progress. Someday I hope to be able to leave my neurosis behind altogether. Prayers would be welcomed.
2. Everything changes
Everything. I thought I understood before having a child. I did not. I was blissfully ignorant. I used to love to decorate. Now my living room has been taken over by brightly colored baby toys and a makeshift baby cage composed of all her baby equipment covered in random sheets and blankets. It looks homeless. I used to look kind of normal. Now, at long last I have lost all my pregnancy weight (huzzah!), but I do not look as I did before. Apparently, my post-pregnancy body does not shrink so much as deflate. A disheartening realization, that one. And then there are many days when, despite my best intentions, I do not leave the house because God and my baby laugh at schedules. Sometimes I feel like I have a very adorable (exceptionally loud) prison warden.
3. Babies are tiny sociopaths
Juliet looks so sweet most of the time, but she derives her greatest pleasure from pulling my hair, scratching my face, kicking, biting, pushing, and screaming. Her idea of showing affection is to try to pull out my teeth. I never thought I’d get beat up by my baby, but life’s funny that way. Most of the time I think it’s kind of cute except when she makes me bleed with her baby claws; that’s not cute at all. All those dreams I had about snuggling with my soft little baby turned out quite differently in actuality. B assures me that Juliet loves me–she really does–it’s just that her love is painful. And it is. It really is.
4. Being a mom is an exercise in dealing with guilt
Motherhood is one of those things that many, many people seem to have strong opinions about. According to the experts, everything you do and everything you fail to do for your baby will have enormous repercussions later on in life. You don’t attachment parent? Your child is sure to be emotionally stunted. You do attachment parent? Well then, your kid is bound to become a brat. If you breastfeed too long, you’ll be raising a weirdo. Give in to formula, and your baby is doomed. I think there must be something biologically bred in mothers (probably those dratted hormones again) that makes us obsess over all these little decisions. I know B didn’t have nearly the issues with making these choices that I did.
The language in the parenting books and blogs for sure didn’t help either. When Juliet was having a tough time sleeping, we debated whether we should let her cry it out or be more crunchy granola about it. All the attachment parenting material I read made it sound like absolute child abuse to let your baby cry at night: “She’s alone and she’s scared with no one to comfort her. All she wants is to be held by her parents and assured of their love, but they leave her alone and miserable because they won’t endure some sleepless nights for a few short months. Selfish parents! Poor baby! Eventually, baby will stop crying, but not because she is no longer sad. She will stop because she has lost faith that her parents will ever come for her.” That’s an amalgamation of what I read, but not nearly an exaggeration. How could I possibly feel good about letting my kid cry herself to sleep when I was probably scarring her for life? Eventually though, B and I decided to try a gentle cry it out method so she could learn to self soothe. And you know what? Juliet was fine. Better than. Once she was able to go to sleep on her own, everyone was much happier. And Juliet still cries when she need us, she does not look at us as though we’ve betrayed her trust, and I no longer burst into tears when I think of abandoning by little girl in her crib. Everyone came out a winner. (This is not to say that the cry it out method is for every parent or every child. I just wanted to point out that our babies’ psyches are not so terribly fragile that our every decision risks dire consequences. If you love your kid and really put in the effort to do what you think is best for them, 99% of the time, even if you’re wrong, she’s going to turn out just fine.)
5. Motherhood is not magic
Before I got pregnant I was more than a little feckless. I was finishing up my Masters Degree and had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do after that. I’ve always envied people with a strong sense of calling because I’ve never been sure what I was meant to do or be. I always figured things would fall in place, but they didn’t. I felt useless, paralyzed, humiliated, and it seemed, at the ripe old age of 27, that time was running out for me to make something of myself. So I decided that motherhood was where it was at. I would have a baby, and my life would have purpose. I would no longer have to endure the judgment or the pity of people who wanted to know why I didn’t have plans or a career or ambition of any sort. I would be a MOM–the greatest job there is, right?…Right?
I guess I thought that having a baby would change me. I would become the selfless, compassionate homemaker that I never wanted to be. The second that baby popped out I would undergo a metamorphosis from the disappointment who never bothered to grow up into a productive member of society. Needless to say, it…didn’t happen quite that way. I had a baby and found that, despite this huge life-changing event, I was still me. I was still self-absorbed, still sad, still as un-nurturing as I ever was. Only now I had a screaming infant that demanded to be cared for.
I thought because I was sure to love my baby that I was sure to love motherhood. I’m telling you now, love for one does not equate to love for the other. I knew so many women who wanted to be mothers, and then, when that goal was achieved, they seemed content. Joyful, even. I suppose I was hoping for the same happy ending, but motherhood seemed to fit me as poorly as everything else. It wasn’t my calling. It wasn’t the answer I’d been looking for.
That’s not to say it isn’t fabulous sometimes. I have the coolest baby ever, and I’m so thrilled and thankful for her every day. I love her to little bits and pieces. But while I’m her mom, “mother” is not the role that defines me, however much I wish it would. I am amorphous still. So having a baby didn’t solve the problems I thought it might, but my life is still richer for it. I’ve learned a lot, and I’m still in the process of reorienting my perspective and reworking my expectations. No, I didn’t become Martha Stewart or Caroline Ingalls overnight, but I’ll get there or maybe somewhere else equally good. That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see how it goes.