A few weeks before my firstborn arrived, one of my best friends gave me a piece of advice about motherhood that, at the time, struck me as a little odd. “If you don’t love motherhood at first, that’s totally normal,” she said.
I knew on an intellectual level that motherhood would be hard. The lack of sleep, the challenges breastfeeding brings, the hormonal shifts, the chance of postpartum depression, the endless diaper-changing, the constant rocking, soothing, shushing, holding—none of these things were secrets. Countless experts have written countless books on these topics.
But not love being a mom? Of course, I would love it.
A few weeks into my journey as a new mom, I got it. I understood why my friend imparted that wisdom on me before my baby arrived, and I cried with gratitude at having that kind of a friend in my life. If you don’t already, surround yourself with mom friends who will support and uplift you along your journey without judgment or shame. Find mom friends who will tell you the truth—the good, the bad, the ugly—because we all struggle in one way or another.
While it doesn’t necessarily get any easier—just different—as our little ones get older, the first year as a new mom is a challenge unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. No matter how many books you read, courses you take, or podcasts you listen to, nothing can fully prepare you for being a first-time mom other than, well, becoming a mom.
Our editors are sharing their biggest struggles during their first year of motherhood because whatever you’re going through, you’re not alone.
In the first year of motherhood, I struggled with postpartum depression and anxiety. I moved to a new city and started a new job when I was five months pregnant, and I got married when I was eight months pregnant. All of that newness was happening, and then I became a new mom with no family or friends nearby. Needless to say, my entire world was brand new, and I had no idea how to manage it all. I was learning how to be a new mom, a new wife, and a new woman all at the same time.
For the first few months, I thought I was just in the adjustment phase, but it wasn’t until I was crying uncontrollably to my husband one day that we realized maybe my thoughts and feelings were something more. At 10 months postpartum, I finally found a therapist who diagnosed me with postpartum depression and anxiety. Within the last four months, I’ve started taking medication for the diagnosis. I am still learning how to lower my expectations, release the need for comparison, and come into my own path of wifehood, womanhood, and motherhood with tiny steps day by day.
I am just coming up on my daughter’s first birthday, and this first year of motherhood has flown by. I cannot believe how much my life—and our world—has changed in the last 12 months. One of my biggest struggles has been knowing if I’m doing enough for my child. How do you play with a newborn? We haven’t really done anything all day; am I doing this right? Should I be doing more to help her reach certain developmental milestones? Am I giving her enough opportunity to learn social skills?
Since she’s home with me all day, and I work part-time while caring for her, I question if I’m giving her the attention she needs and deserves. This has been amplified as we’ve been self-isolating, so I know I’m not the only one experiencing this right now. It feels extra hard during my first year of motherhood, as I try to figure this all out without support nearby or the ability to be with other moms and babies.
Anxiety. I’ve had it all my life, but becoming a mom brought it out in ways I’d never before experienced. In particular, I had a lot of anxiety during that first year about missing moments with my son when I went back to work and he started daycare. I was constantly stressed by the fact that time was passing, and I was never going to get it back. Was I savoring it enough? Should I rock him just a little bit longer because someday he won’t want to rock anymore? Should I grab dinner with girlfriends I haven’t seen in months or be home to put the baby to bed?
I struggled to find the right balance to maintain my professional self, my motherhood self, my friendships, my social life. I felt like if I wasn’t at work, I should be spending every last second soaking up the time I’d missed during the day with my baby. I said no to a lot of social events, and my friendships suffered as a result. I was so fulfilled as a mom, but I wasn’t fulfilled in other areas anymore, and I knew something needed to change. I shifted my mindset to focus on the quality of the time we spent together instead of the quantity of the time, and I started saying yes to more social outings. I’ve since found the right balance and learned how important it is to make sure I’m taking care of myself too.
I found the fourth trimester and beyond to be physically taxing, and I struggled with body image and feeling comfortable in my changed body. After a 25-day NICU stay, I found myself in a six-month cycle of exclusive pumping, which left me feeling physically and emotionally depleted. After being told the “weight falls off” while breastfeeding, I fell strongly into the opposite camp where I could not lose a single pound while pumping. I felt like a failure as each week passed, and I didn’t “look like myself” yet.
After I weaned, I struggled to continue to find the time to focus on exercise, and my inability to lose weight despite eating healthy. I was my own worst enemy when I looked in the mirror, and I picked apart my physical appearance. At around nine months postpartum, I had a breakdown to my husband about how I just did not feel happy in my own skin. I’d never been happier emotionally, but after a five-year infertility and pregnancy loss journey, my body felt so foreign, and I hated it. We committed to finding the time to work out together in the morning, and it helped to have his encouragement to find a way to accept and even love my new body.
Mourning my imagined rosy view of new motherhood was probably my biggest struggle in the first year. Learning quickly that so much was out of my control was jarring. My birth plan? Out the window when my daughter arrived five weeks early. Not feeling an instant, magical connection on sight with my newborn? Made me feel something must be wrong with me. Not being able to breastfeed? One more way I was failing her.
I realized the hospital classes might prepare you for the physical act of labor, breastfeeding, or caring for a newborn, but I was fully unprepared for the overwhelming emotion of it all. Talking about the struggle with other moms was a turning point for me in my first year postpartum. Connecting with other mothers helped me heal, and it’s part of the reason I pivoted my career to keep sharing the real stories of motherhood—rosy or not.