The end of June will mark nine years of being a mother. I'll be totally cliche and tell you that the years flew by so fast, that I blinked and suddenly I was here almost ten years later, I will go all out and tell you that time is fleeting. Sadly, when you have children, every last cliche rings true.
Motherhood did not come easily to me. Before my own children I had never changed a diaper, I had never prepared a bottle. I wasn't the teen in the neighborhood that everyone asked to babysit. Honestly I never really liked kids, hadn't even really thought about having any of my own. Still, maturity and matrimony brought on baby fever, and by my second wedding anniversary I was seven months pregnant. I read What To Expect religiously, I wrote list after list of products that I would need for baby, I listened to "wise mothers" in line at the grocery check out as they spouted off their sage advice. As my due date approached, I was ready, if only in my naive brain. The nursery was painted, the crib assembled, the bottles sterilized. I had this in the bag.
Then my daughter was born. All six pounds of her, and she scared me more than anything. She was the tiniest human I had ever seen, and she was mine. What was I going to do with her? I kept looking at her and then looking around for her actual mother to come and take her from my arms. Except I was her mother and I was totally out of my element. That first night in the hospital was rough, she cried all night, she never latched on, and in turn I was convinced that this was a bad idea. Before I knew it we were on our way home, my life forever changed.
I'd like to say that I was a quick study once I got home but I wasn't. My daughter never latched on, and after two weeks of nipple shields and supplemental feeding with a tube and a syringe, I surrendered and gave her a bottle. I counted that as failure number one. After a month of her sleeping in a swing most nights, we tried to transition her to her crib and endured three sleepless nights of screaming. Failure number two. Then as the months gave way to other milestones and experiences, I numbly went through the motions. Counting my imperfections as a mother at every turn. Nothing about motherhood was going the way I had planned. By my daughter's first birthday, I was sleeping in her full sized mattress on the floor, she still relied on a bottle for naps and bedtime, and I was still on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
I missed a lot of life in that first year of motherhood. Blinded by my imperfections, I soothed myself by getting by. I made excuses on why we couldn't make play dates and mommy gym. Declined invitations to dinners out with friends. I ignored phone calls from friends and relatives, never wanting to get caught in a conversation where I would have to admit that this was not going right. That motherhood felt wrong and foreign. That I had to be the worst, most disastrous mother on the planet. All the while I missed so many important moments. I spent night feedings angry and resentful of the sleep I wasn't getting. I spent bath time counting down the minutes until I could give her a bottle and sleep myself. At the time I was never able to find the joy in any of the chaotic moments that mothers claim bring them joy. I was just angry and sad, dumbfounded that I couldn't get a grip on the life that is being a mother.
Around the time my daughter turned two, I found my happy place. I threw out my previous expectations and settled into the comfort of our imperfect life. My daughter slept in her own bed, but only after I'd lay with her while she fell asleep. We weaned her from her bottle just weeks before her second birthday. We established a bath, book, bed routine which was the only routine in her life. I accepted that she would never nap again, ever. Once I was able to accept this not so perfect life, I found the joy in the little things. I was able to laugh at our mishaps. I was able to let go of the mother I thought I would be and accept the mother that I was: messy, imperfect, but always trying her best. Then a few months after my daughter turned two, I got pregnant again.
My second daughter brought my rare second chance, the opportunity to do motherhood my way. This time I had experience under my belt. I knew what worked for me and what didn't. I knew that I didn't have to listen to any sage advice, I didn't have to read any book, I didn't have to follow any list or directive. Here was my chance to follow my own rules... And I did. By doing so I finally found the joy in those night time feedings. I was able to laugh at the blowouts and the missed naps. I was able to submit to those days when all the baby wanted was to be held without the overwhelming guilt of not doing the laundry or the dishes. The second time around I found myself. I found that person who was undeniably, Mom.
No one ever tells you about the ugly stuff. When you announce that you are expecting, you are showered with congratulations and peppered with advice. Everyone will tell you about the best breast pumps and which diapers are most absorbent. No one will tell you that sleep deprivation and night time feedings will bring you to the absolute edge of everything. Everyone is quick to share sleep tricks and recipes on how to make your own baby food. No one will ever admit to those few short moments when they contemplate packing a bag and driving their car to the next state without their new baby. I think it's because motherhood is one of the most revered titles on the planet. Mothers, by definition are supposed to be perfect and infallible. We are supposed to know how to get our babies to latch on the first try. We are supposed to know how to make baby sleep through the night before two weeks of age. We are supposed to know how to soothe and nurture and love. When I was pregnant with my first a woman I know told me, "Motherhood is the most natural thing in the world". Three weeks into be a mother I thought, "Natural for who?". I'll admit that after nine years, that although I'm not a natural, I am a mother, faults and all.
Motherhood is the ultimate learning experience. It's like never ending on the job training. What have I learned as a mother? The list is endless, but here are a few lessons that have stuck.
Write your own rules. If you want to breast feed, do it. If you want to bottle feed, do it. You are the mother and it's your choice. Don't let friends or colleges write your rules. Don't let books or blog posts write your rules. Write the rules yourself. This is your child, you get to make the decisions. I wish I would have known this so many years ago. It would have made motherhood so much easier. I second guessed every decision I made because it didn't line up with this parenting book or that friends advice. Who cares. Your kid. Your rules.
Savor every minute. You won't realize that you will miss night feedings, until your kid is in kindergarten and doesn't need you to rock their tiny body to sleep anymore. You won't ever again get those short moments when they are milk drunk and woozy, their impossibly small head on your shoulder, grunting as they fight sleep. You don't realize that when you are in the thick of it, so just know that you should enjoy it a few times. You don't realize that your toddler will never be that same chunky and demanding person with sticking hands and ill pronounced words again. That chubby cheeked face will thin, they will learn how to pronounce their "r"s or "t"s, and they will find their own way three weeks into preschool. It will most definitely break your heart, but it will also overwhelm you with gratitude. Savor the moments that you are in right now, no matter the mess or the chaos. I promise, you will miss them when they are gone.
Know your limits. Don't let obligations and expectations break you. Three birthday parties for three different friends in one weekend may kill you, or at the very least turn your child into a goblin. It's okay to say no, it's okay to quit. When my oldest daughter was three I signed her up for a ballet class that didn't allow the parents to watch. I didn't realize that when I signed her up, because my oldest has class A separation anxiety. After two classes where she cried the entire time, we quit. I asked the studio to transfer the money to their gym class where I could watch from the sideline. I heard it all from they naysayers, "How will she ever learn", "She has to get used to being away from you", and so on. Still, I knew that she was three and one day she would learn how to separate from mom. I also knew that I didn't have the emotional or mental stability to shuttle a crying three year old with a newborn in tow to a class once a week. I knew my limits and everyone was happier in the long run.
Speak up. Talk to someone. If you feel lost or numb or on the edge. Tell someone. I was so afraid that I'd be labeled a bad mother if I admitted that motherhood just wasn't my thing. I was scared that I'd be judged, and cast out of my group of mommy friends. The surprising thing was that once I admitted it, I was a better mother. Once I admitted that I hated the night time feedings and the breast pump, I felt better. Once I stopped lying about how awesome motherhood was going for me, I was a better mother. I'm not sure why, but maybe the secret is in the surrender. Just talk, to friends, to your husband (remember him? see below), to those "perfect" gals at mommy gym. I bet they have a struggle or two of their own, and they are just dying to let it out. You never know who you will help just by speaking up.
Don't forget your husband. I know this sounds silly, but it's sound advice. I got so wrapped up in being a mother that I totally forgot I was also a wife. No, I'm not talking about housework and hot dinners, I'm talking about that person you married because they are your partner. When my oldest daughter was born I never asked my husband for help, I never told him I needed help, I didn't share a single thing with him. Why? I have no idea. I guess I just figured since I was a mother I was on my own. Crazy, I know. Not only did this divide us, but it also made us roommates. Husbands or Partners are important. They married you and took vows and they are capable humans. I promise that just because they do things backwards or not "your way", they are still very capable of being parents. My husband is a great father, but in the beginning I never gave him the chance. One I relaxed a little, he took a lot of the stress off this whole child rearing business. Then I remembered that I really liked him and that I really missed him too. Don't forget your husband or partner. Lean on them. Ask them for help. Invited them to eat the left over pizza with you at four in the morning after the baby wakes for the twelfth time. They miss you too, and maybe they won't eat that pizza with you, but they will remember that you asked.
Motherhood is the one thing that brings you overwhelming joy and earth shattering heartbreak at the same time. Which can blind you when you are in the thick of it. Each year of motherhood will bring new challenges that will make you wonder what was so hard about those two in the morning feedings. Still motherhood will be the most exciting thing you will ever do in your life. Even if you aren't a natural, even if it took a few years to find your groove. I try to remind myself every day that my children don't need perfection, they only need me. Which is so very reassuring when you are in the middle of chaos and catastrophe. More commonly known as motherhood.