The journey into motherhood is a complex one. You make it through the pregnancy, and the initial postpartum period (no small feat–topics deserving their own posts). The excitement and fodder around the birth and the fact that your baby is actually, finally here, settles down and life around you resumes, continues, pulses and somehow expects you to keep up right along with it.
But you have a baby now. You didn’t before. What, you’re just supposed to, like, BE a mom now?
You have endless, consuming decisions to make. Like, what to do when the baby is warm and you can’t tell if he’s feverish? What to do when he wakes up remotely off schedule, or eats carrots one day and hates them the next? How small to cut the grapes, whether to bring a hat or sunscreen, when to get baby to the playground vs library vs playdate vs let’s lay around in our pajamas all day because I could not possibly do one more thing. Taking care of a baby is WORK.
Then there’s the small matter of your identity. What does it mean to transition from Individual Pregnant Person to New Mom? So many of us new mothers are far too busy trying to stay awake, stay alive, keep another person alive, that there is little left in us to even have these conversations with ourselves, let alone each other.
To assess within ourselves what it means to be totally transformed by love and responsibility. Trying to remember what you even thought about before diapers and teething and sleep regressions consumed your life. How to summon enough energy to get back to work and try to pretend that you care about it in the same way you did before. Or making the decision to stay home and then pretending that baby related things are enough to fulfill you and that you don’t feel defensive about taking time out of your career. Or you try to do both. Every option requires sacrifice.
There is the part of you that tries to hang on to who you were before, that just wants everything to get back to normal. Then there’s that moment, whenever and however it shows itself, that makes you realize “holy shit, this is normal now.”
You live in constant duality of before and after, but never solidly planted in either. Willing yourself to be the same, though you’re irrevocably changed.
It took me the entirety of the first year to catch up with all these feelings. Closing in on it, I felt simultaneously a weathered veteran and shaking neophyte. I felt so different and wasn’t sure if I was the only mom who did.
There is just so much thrown at you all at once. So many exhausting nights and mornings. So much repetition. So little sleep (which I admittedly did expect — how can you not when everyone you ever meet while pregnant tells you to enjoy your sleep while you can since it will never be the same ever again with a knowing, maniacal look in their eye (note: I am now that person)).
So much illness and worry.
So much pride and joy.
So many unknown goos on my clothes, table, countertops and hair.
So much sublime happiness in the smallest moments, and simplest snapshots of my life.
But then, somehow, something starts to shift. It’s almost imperceptible at first, but the baby sleeps in a little longer or you are able to take a shower on a predictable basis. You start to get the hang of it. Every day feels a little less shocking to your system, a little more manageable. You develop a routine that actually kind of works. Somehow or another, your baby starts sleeping. You start sleeping. Your kid starts crawling then walking then talking. You stop focusing on all the things you’ve lost to make room for all the things you have. The abundance of love and pride and joy. The sheer brilliance of it all. Every positive shift is a victory.
All at once, being a mom isn’t something outside of you anymore, embodied by the child that you are holding and nurturing and giving everything to, but instead inside of you, safely tucked beside and intwined with the rest of you (partner/sister/friend/cheese-lover/reader).
You start to make new friends and connect with old friends, especially the ones who have kids themselves. It slowly dawns on you that these people are your lifeline and soul sisters. The ones who understand what it really means when your baby is going through a sleep regression, a developmental leap or is sick. They don’t have to be your closest friends to give you the support you really need; who can say the words that at once put so much anxiety and hand-wringing to rest: “Oh, I’ve been there. You’re doing great. Hang in there, mama.” (Seriously, join a moms group)
There will be setbacks to this progress. Like, when you can’t attend an event because it’s not conducive to an infant’s schedule. Or like when someone asks you what you thought of that movie that you definitely didn’t see because how could you be so insensitive, Sarah, I haven’t worn eyeliner in seven months, let alone had time to go to a movie (hysterical sobs).
I’ve had way more salty moments now that I’m a mom than I care to admit.
But then those moments pass, too and you edge ever closer back to the integrated you. Eventually.
There will be some friends and family who don’t get what you’re going through, per se, but they will try really hard to and will shower you and your baby with love anyway. They won’t back away just because you’re a different person now (because you totally are. Of course you are. You brought life into this world and are raising that beautiful, little, complicated person, how could that not change you?) These people are supreme angels from on high. Bask in their gifts and love and try to remember to thank them when you can and ask them to forgive you when you forget. They will because, you know, angels.
And then there are people who don’t get it and who you may lose. The grief is thick and more painful than you thought possible. It sucks and I’m sorry you’re going through it.
If anyone could actually prepare us for this journey into motherhood, what a gip it would be. As maddening, exhausting, thrilling and black-coffee-to-match-the-black-circles-under-my-eyes-needing as it can be, the journey of discovery and navigation through these complexities is entirely the richness of it. The most challenging and heartening and strengthening and humbling role I have and will likely ever have. I am bitter and resentful some days. I am exceedingly grateful others. I love being a mother. I struggle with being a mother. I miss who I was before, and yet I wouldn’t ever return to a world that my son is not in. It’s a notion that doesn’t even make sense to me anymore.
Overall, it will be a year to remember, though you likely won’t because you’ll be so sleep-deprived and hormonal as your body equilibrates and finds its new normal as well. Mommy brain is real, don’t let anyone tell you different.
But even if you don’t remember every detail, what will last (aside from the three thousand photos you took) is the bond between you and your child. The foundation you have forged with your messy, wonderful love for that kid. The raw emotion of it, the grit it takes, the heart swelling, the well of strength that deepens within you.
You are now a mother and a person. Your life as you knew it is definitely over, but the life before you? Tremendous, exhausting, magic.
And when in doubt, remember: I’ve been there. You’re doing great. Hang in there, mama.