My daughter, Ruthie, just turned one at the beginning of January. One. How has a whole year gone by? I look at her and she has changed and grown so much--and so have I. We’ve been on this journey together and with each day, I have learned so much. I knew I wanted to be a mom, but I really did not know what to expect. Now, a year in, I have realized I still don’t know much, but here’s what I do know:
Motherhood is a constant lesson in humility. Your needs now are trumped by your child’s, and somehow that is intrinsically automatic.
You’ve got to be flexible. Thought you were for sure going to use that swing? Turns out baby screams in it. Move on, figure out what works for you. Play date set for weeks with friends? Baby gets a cold and the plan goes out the window.
Bodily functions… they are such a major part of parenthood. I specifically remember the first time our daughter pooped during a diaper change – it was in the hospital. Just a few hours earlier, we had googled how to change a diaper and then here we were, 2AM, collaborating on changing this little person’s diaper when splat – out it came. We just looked at each other and died laughing. Little did we know it foreshadowed what parenthood had in store for us. From tracking every diaper to cleaning vomit off the car seat, you’ve just got to learn to be comfortable with the fact that your baby’s poop, pee, vomit, spit up, are a part of your daily conversations.
Accept help when it is offered. Don’t try to be supermom. You’re human – you’re a new mom and even the most prepared mom is going to be overwhelmed at times. I am so grateful for our family and friends who took care of us. A good friend set up a meal sign up, my brother-in-law helped my husband take down Christmas decorations, my mom and mother-in-law shuttled us back and forth from endless doctor’s appointments when I was not cleared to drive yet (painkillers! Yay!). I’m not one to accept help readily – I’m a bit of a control freak. But you better believe I got used to letting go. When the baby is crying, you haven’t slept a full night since before she was born, and showers are a spa-like decadent experience, someone offering to cook you a meal is like winning the lottery. I distinctly remember realizing how much I loved my best friend when I saw her vacuuming my den while wearing my baby.
Speaking of accepting help – learn to ask for help. This one has been even harder. It takes a lot to swallow your pride and admit you need help. I’m also one that doesn’t want to inconvenience people. So when my friend offered to babysit for us whenever we needed a break, I never took her up on it. She loves kids and doesn’t have any of her own yet, so logically I knew she really did mean it but I hesitated still. But recently we were in a situation where we really needed someone to take Ruthie for a few hours, and after one text message, she was at our house and did just that. She sent me updates and even changed a poopy diaper. I was so grateful for her help and though it was hard to ask, it really did work out well.
Your body isn’t your own – at least not any time soon. Maybe this is just because I breastfed for 12 months, but I had to learn to lose any qualm about showing myself. They get you ready for this in those lovely exams at your OB-GYN’s office but the real bootcamp is the hospital when you’re poked and prodded constantly, with nurses grabbing body parts and inserting them into your baby’s mouth like it is no big deal. For someone who is very private and discreet with showing skin, I learned quickly that being a breastfeeding mom meant you're somewhat forced to expose yourself on a daily--heck, hourly--basis. And now? My daughter just finished nursing but still thinks it's perfectly normal to stick her hands down my shirt at the most inopportune times. A friend with an almost three year old confirmed that it doesn’t really change any time soon.
Trust your gut. Mom instinct is a real thing. There have been so many times when I just felt like something wasn’t right and it turned out that there was an ear infection, allergy, etc. You can read all of the advice in the world and consult all the experts but bottom line? You’re the mom, it’s your kid, you know them better than anyone.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this – there’s only what works for your family. Breastfeeding or formula? Co-sleeping or crib? Cry it out or rock back to sleep? There are two (or more!) sides to most aspects of parenting and you’ll find that almost anything can be turned into a “mommy war.” Don’t fall for the trap – don’t judge other people, don’t second guess yourself, don’t engage in it. We’re all just trying to successfully raise these little people to grow up loved, nurtured, and cared for.
Invest in quality time with your partner. We were married six years before our daughter came and had dated even longer before that. We had a solid foundation, a great relationship – and we’ve done well, but I can understand how parenting can quickly tear marriages apart bit by bit. There have been times when I’ve screamed at my husband without even knowing why I was doing it. Being able to identify when it is time to reconnect and spend some quality time together in whatever form you find best for your relationship is so important. A few weeks ago, we had a particularly rough set of days. Baby had been sick, our dog died, money was tight. I called my mother-in-law and asked her to watch our daughter and we went out for a drink and just had some time together. I realized how much I missed my husband. We are around each other a lot, but sometimes we’re not really present. Make sure you don’t miss out on time with each other, and make it a priority.
Being a parent means your heart will exist outside of your body for the rest of your life – you’re vulnerable in a way that you’ve never been before. I still find myself in awe of how much I love Ruthie. It really is amazing how this tiny person can come into your world and rock it in such a substantial way. I always say motherhood is the hardest and best thing that has ever happened to me.
A year in? I’ve learned that I have so much more to learn. Being Mom has been a roller coaster of highs and lows, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.