10 Honest Lessons from One Year of Motherhood

IMG_7312Today is my adorable, silly, sweet son’s first birthday. As anyone who has children, or has even babysat a child for more than an hour knows, time with children is warped. It seems impossible to wrap my head around the fact that it has been a year, and yet the memory of nursing him at 3 a.m. is still so real and excruciating and lovely. Today at the grocery store, a lovely elderly man stopped by to say hi to the baby and informed me that “he as 81 more years to go before he’s his age.” This came up at dinner tonight between my husband and I and it dawned on me that he literally (almost) has his entire life ahead of him. We have only just begun to really see who his is and what he likes, and yet it feels like there was never a time he wasn’t here. I have learned so much in the past 365 days. I also know I still have so very much to learn, but this is as real as I can be thus far. I’m sure it’ll make me laugh in ten years.

1. Facebook is crap and also so great but mostly crap.  

Before my baby, Facebook was a fun way to keep up on friend’s lives, both near and far. It was a way to kill time while waiting for an oil change. It was simple. Once a kid came along, the importance/ridiculousness/pressure of Facebook became very apparent to me. Those first months, it was my only outlet. I was lucky to be part of a private Mama group, and they helped me immensely with breastfeeding questions and sex life questions and put my mind at ease when my baby had horrible jaundice. Facebook helped (helps) me feel connected to my entire family, who is entirely in Ohio, and who I’d give anything to have living just down the street most of the time. It helped me through those first cold, dark months (September is a great time of year to give birth, but having a 3 month old in December is … isolating to say the least), and continues to give me a place to dump all the photos of this kid.

But it also is ripe for crazy-making. I constantly feel overly aware of awfulness in the world thanks to Facebook, and I constantly feel overly aware of my child’s development, regardless of how normal it is. Facebook is fake. Facebook is everyone’s best selves, and that isn’t fair for first time Moms. A dear friend posted a picture this summer of her adorable 2 year old at a baseball game, holding a souvenir foul ball, smiling and looking perfectly American. It was easy to think, “That child is a saint! Look how happy she is at the game and how easy [my friend] has it!” Later that day, that friend posted in our private group that it was one of the worst days so far in her kiddo’s short life. It was overly hot, her co-workers were unsupportive of her daughter’s whining, her husband was nowhere to be found for help, and they only stayed for 1 inning. It was the opposite of the 1 second where her kid was calm and happy, and it really showed me that Facebook is tricky. I don’t think I can get rid of it due to boredom and the narcissism of posting pictures of my child, but it really is crap.

2. I can do anything, physically and also my body is forever changed.

I labored for 48 hours and 23 minutes. I endured pain and panic and doubts and I still pushed that 9lb 6oz baby out of my vagina. I had to let go of my birth plan in favor of simply getting the baby out and I made it. And my son made it. He had purple hands and feet from hanging out in the birth canal for so long and needed a little pull from a vacuum to get through, but in the end, I held him and I ate a turkey sandwich and breastfed for the first time despite an exhaustion that was unlike anything I could’ve imagined.

Earlier this summer, I ran my first 5k. I wasn’t totally prepared or trained for it, but any time I wanted to stop, I remembered what I had been through to get that baby out and I pushed forward. No matter what struggles I have with weight gain or loss or anything else to do with my body in my entire life, I have the knowledge that I can do something (almost) impossible. That is priceless. You can read my birth story here if you aren’t squeamish about things like that. It was awesome.

3. Connection is different for everyone.

My journey of getting to know and love this baby has been slow, hesitant and scary. I still feel like we have a long way to go in that department, but I just want to say that anything one feels for their baby is ok. Unless it is something scary and harmful. But in the end, I had some pretty bad post-partum depression and have worked with a therapist and my doctor to find the right balance of acceptance and drugs to get through. I have had guilt and grief hit me in waves this first year, but I know how much I love my baby no matter how difficult hormones make it. Just today, I was driving with him in the back seat and felt the overwhelming need to say “I love you” over and over. It took me a long time to get to this place, and I can only imagine how much farther and deeper that connection will grow. But it wasn’t unicorns and rainbows from day one, and that is normal and ok.

4. Relationships change drastically.

On one hand, my marriage has changed drastically, and I’d say it is for the better. Seeing my husband become a father has changed the way I see him forever. We communicate even better now than before because our kid depends on us being on the same page. It is so cliche to say, but I love him more now than I thought I could thanks to this baby.

On the other hand, my best girlfriends, who are my surrogate sisters and who I never thought I’d have a problem relating to, are not mothers. Our connection is different. In some ways, the difference is drastic and obvious (we haven’t been out for a happy hour or a late night dinner in ages), but the more shocking change is the simple fact that they don’t completely know what I’ve been through or am going through at any given time. I still look to them for advice but I could’ve never prepared myself for being on a different chapter in life and I am enthralled by what the future holds for our chosen family.

5. Formula is ok.

I spent every single moment of my child’s first five months freaked out about breastfeeding. It was never easy for us. He was a big baby and I struggled to keep up. He was also a chomper when he ate. My nipples were bruised and cracked and no amount of shields or salves could really help. I am a hippie in a lot of ways, and I pictured my son and I would breastfeed for at LEAST a year. And then this past Christmas I was home and my cousin/sister/best friend saw how much I was struggling as he latched on and I cried and she said, “Colleen. What are you fighting so hard for? Do you think this really is benefitting either of you?” And I stopped, looked down at my baby, mixed a formula bottle, and called it a day. I kept pumping for another month, and was proud of every single ounce of breast milk he got. But in the end, formula was the way to go for us, and while I’m still a teensy bit regretful that it went the way it did, I know that my baby is healthy and happy and that really, REALLY is all that matters. Really.

6. The feeling of drowning does go away.

The first months of parenthood are harder than anyone can prepare you for.  Anyone who happily glides through those first months without a tear shed or a horrible curse word screamed in front of their fathers when they spill 2oz of breastmilk in the kitchen aren’t the norm. I’m sure they exist, but I like to believe that they’re as mythical as dragons and Moms who love sex 3 weeks after childbirth. But it DOES. GET. BETTER. No matter how different or crazy or intimidating one’s life feels once the baby arrives, it does get easier. The routine takes over and your little family sees glimpses of normalcy more and more in the first year. The only advice I ever give to pregnant/new Moms is that it will get easier. I can promise that with 100% certainty.

7. Being a stay at home mom isn’t for everyone.

I have mostly stayed home with my son for the first year. I still work a few shifts in the evenings for a little extra cash, but just this past week he started daycare two days a week. Up until then, I had been home all day every day with him and honestly, I’m not cut out for it. Even typing that makes me nervous because my parents really believe that staying at home is the best way to navigate babyhood. But here’s the thing; I was single for 28 years. I got married, and really stayed pretty single until our child was born. Sure, we had date nights and bought houses and were faithful and all that, but even those first years of marriage were extremely independent. Then, bam. Not only does one of us need to be home at all times, but we have to start checking in even if we want to, like, take a shower. Everything is dependent on this little baby who is almost walking and trying to kill himself on every single piece of furniture we own. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t spend 40-60 hours/week parenting. I like my kid a lot, but when we spend a few hours apart every day, I like him a lot better. The end.

8. It is perfectly fine to go to sleep at 8:15.

It just is.

9. The cleaning is never done.

Wake up. Change diaper. Give bottle. Wash bottle. Change poopy diaper. (I have a very regular baby. He always poops 13 minutes after his bottle.) Nap. Clean up leftover dishes from last night. Give baby breakfast. Wipe down baby. Wipe down (impossible to get completely clean) high chair. Change diaper. Go to park. Wipe down baby. Nap. Lunch. Repeat mealtime cleaning. Diaper. Nap. Dinner. Clean. Bath. Bottle. Diaper. Bedtime. Muster up any energy you can to clean up toys from the day, laundry, dishes from dinner … it literally never ends. Anyone on Pinterest with “tips on how to keep a clean house with a baby” has a nanny. They just do. I mean, yes, there are times the house looks great, but that is with the understanding that there are still unpacked boxes from our move 4 months ago and that sometimes (like tonight) some wine, some writing or catching up on tv, and some snuggles are more important than the cat puke stain on the carpet outside the kitchen. There are days I don’t clean up after meals. I let the black beans and banana slices and elbows of pasta collect on the floor. Sometimes the baby eats a few while I’m making dinner. And you know what? We’ve made it through a year without food poisoning which I call a win.

10. The emotions are so big.

When I started this article, I felt the need to end on a sweet, hopeful note. Please understand that I adore being a Mom. Even more, I feel like I’m a really good one. If you know me, you know it is difficult for me to toot my own horn about anything, let alone a huge thing like Motherhood. But I do. I love it and my kid is awesome and I am getting better at accepting that that has a lot to do with me.

The emotions are huge, though. So high and so low. A day can be going along perfectly well, and then I’ll see a video online of a baby 2 months younger than mine who is scaling a mountain or doing physics (or, just, say, walking … which my child is uninterested in), and in rush all the emotions. Fear and doubt and curiosity and guilt. And then while he’s eating his lunch, my kid will imitate my laugh or “sing” along to a Paul Simon song I have on in the background and I can literally feel my heart swell and I’ll well up and my breath will be taken away. And this range of emotions can happen EVERY. SINGLE. FUCKING. DAY. Highest of highs and lowest of lows. It is insane and so hard and makes it all worth it. Truly.

So, happy birthday, baby. Your first party doesn’t have a theme. We will in the future, I promise, (I love a themed party) but for now, we are simply going to celebrate making it through the first year while you smash your face in a remote control shaped cake (because that is your favorite toy right now). You have kicked our asses, made us question every decision we’ve ever made, and every time you smile you overflow our hearts. So, thanks.

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