“A baby changes everything!” While I was expecting, I heard this adage repeatedly from well-meaning friends and colleagues. After months of trying to conceive, my husband and I were ecstatic to meet our first child. That advice, often delivered in an ominous tone, left me feeling a bit deflated. I’d smile and nod, but never once asked the question then dominating my consciousness: But how does a baby change everything?
Now my dear friend from college is expecting her first, my son recently turned two, and I’m reflecting on life before baby. There’s so much I want to tell my friend, but I don’t want to overwhelm her. It’s true, babies are catalysts for dramatic life change. Yet I think that expression is overplayed. If I was having coffee with my friend or even my pre-mom self, here’s what I’d tell her instead.
Motherhood is hard
Buckle up, sis. A baby is a beautiful blessing, but it’s equally challenging. Caring for a newborn around the clock is really rough – and it gets messy. Sleep deprivation is especially debilitating. No matter how many people warn you about this, you’ll feel blindsided by its difficulty.
You will feverishly Google “what should my baby’s poop look like” and call your pediatrician at 3 am when your little gets a fever. The stomach flu? Awful. Hand-foot-and-mouth? The worst. Each time your child gets sick you’ll feel bewildered and helpless and wish someone could swoop in and take over because caring for a tiny, needy human will thrust you beyond your physical and mental limits. Nevertheless, you’ll persevere. Because that is what mothers do. We push through pain because our children are counting on us. In doing so, we develop grit.
This too shall pass
When you’re in the trenches of motherhood, struggling with colic or endless temper tantrums, it’s easy to feel stuck. Time ticks by slowly, nothing seems to be working, and you feel hopeless. What I know now, two years later, is that developmental stages ebb and flow like the seasons. Eventually, a long winter of hard-fought sleep training gives way to a breathtaking spring the first time everyone – baby and you – sleeps through the night.
Having a baby won’t “ruin” your body
I know you don’t love your pregnant body, and you’re worried about getting back in shape. Remember, it takes around 40 weeks to grow a tiny human, so your body needs at least the same amount of time to transition back. That baby weight? You will lose it, with time. Being consistent with exercise and your diet makes a big difference. It’s true, your body won’t be the same after baby, but I guarantee you will appreciate it more after giving birth.
From pregnancy through child-rearing, motherhood is innately physical. You’ll carry your baby in your belly as he grows larger and in your strong arms through sleepless nights. You’ll get down on the floor alongside her to play blocks or tend to an owie. You’ll hold your child to your chest as he naps and whenever he needs a shoulder to cry on. You are so much more than the size of your jeans or the number on the scale – you are strong as a mother.
Motherhood affects your friendships
Becoming a mom will connect you more deeply with the mothers you know. It will also distance you from some of your childless girlfriends, unfortunately. Remember what brought you together in the first place and aim for common ground whenever you have time to connect. Invite her into your life with your baby, help her understand how things have changed, and make an effort to show interest in her life, too.
Know some friendships may shift course, and that’s OK. Lean into relationships with fellow moms, especially those with kiddos in your child’s age group. Enjoy the comfort that comes from voicing your parenting wins and losses and hearing a fellow mama say, “Me, too.”
Know some friendships may shift course, and that’s OK.
Babies don’t require a lot of stuff
I know you’re really worried about all your baby checklists – finish the nursery, wash the onesies, pack the hospital bag. Those projects are certainly important, but if they’re unfinished before baby arrives, you’ll still find a way to make it work.
Do take time to stock up on the essentials. Diapers are key. So are feeding supplies, clothes, and a place for baby to sleep. After that? It’s all icing on the cake. Don’t fret too much about the stuff, mama-to-be. Let me fill you in on a secret – the number one thing your newborn needs is YOU.
Your marriage will be different
You’ll fall more deeply in love with your spouse as you watch them become a parent. And you’ll also fight like never before. No matter how many conversations about values you have, you cannot prepare yourself for these conflicts. Late-night feedings and diaper blowouts will put great stress on your relationship. Keep the communication lines open; accept that disagreements will come. Prioritize time together, just the two of you, to reset and reconnect.
Your heart will be too
A former co-worker once told me parenting brings you face-to-face with the highest highs and lowest lows you’ve ever felt. He was right. Motherhood will expand your emotional life in the same way the Grinch grew his tiny little heart by three sizes (at least!). You may find yourself viewing the news in a whole new light or crying at car commercials. You might feel a new compassion for the dad struggling with his littles at the grocery store.
When your toddler defies you at every turn, refusing to put on her pants or eat anything except Goldfish, you’ll be astonished by your anger. On the flip side, you’ll feel profound, lasting joy at your child’s first, “I love you, Mama.” You’ll want to throw up your hands, shout it from the rooftops, and do a crazy touchdown dance. That love is everything.
Embrace the chaos
You will be two steps away from leaving your house and your 6-month-old will have a blowout. Or your toddler will suddenly refuse to wear his coat because he just doesn’t like it. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, your child often has other plans. One of my biggest lessons in motherhood is that I cannot control my child. Especially as he’s grown older, I’ve realized I must abandon my need for order and learn to go with the flow. As Queen Elsa of Frozen says, “Let it go! Let it go!” (Don’t know that Disney classic? Oh, you will.) Mama, the more you can adjust your expectations and find some levity in the unpredictability of motherhood, the happier you’ll be.
You haven’t lost your identity – it’s just changing
Days after I gave birth, I remember eyeing myself in the mirror and doing a double-take. Staring back at me was a woman with dark circles under her eyes, blotchy skin, a lumpy belly, and greasy hair. I didn’t look like myself, my entire body ached, and I definitely didn’t feel like myself.
Remember: You don’t have to take all of the advice! You know in your heart what’s right for your child.
Flash forward a few weeks. I was enamored with my son, but I worried constantly about his well-being. I felt lost in the daily duties of motherhood, slogging through diaper changes and nursing sessions with no end in sight. When my son was 4 months old, I learned about the term matrescence. Suddenly everything clicked. I realized my place in the world was indeed changing, and my ambivalence in this transition was normal.
Remember this when you have your own mirror moment: You are a mother. And you are so much more.
You’ve got this, mama
As a new mother, you will doubt yourself more than you ever have. At times you’ll feel like you’re slaying this parenting thing. Other times you will struggle to rise to the occasion. Through it all, lots of people are going to give you advice. Some advice you’ll seek out. Other advice you’ll receive without asking for it. Remember: You don’t have to take all of it! You know in your heart what’s right for your child.
A day will come when your baby won’t stop crying, you won’t stop arguing with your husband, and you’ll wonder why you decided it was even a good idea to have a kid. You’ll feel like you’re doing a terrible job, making mistakes left and right, and that you’re going to ruin your child’s life. I need you to hear this loud and clear: Trust yourself. You are one strong mama, and you will get through this – your love for your child will propel you forward.