10 Things Motherhood Taught Me
Updated: May 14
(...and that I would have liked to know before becoming a mom)
“Motherhood is the biggest gamble in the world. It is the glorious life force. It’s huge and scary – it’s an act of infinite optimism.” — Gilda Radner
There’s an old saying that goes: Children aren’t born with a manual. And nothing rings more true! Like many I suppose, I arrived into motherhood without having a clue what to expect. I was new at handling a baby, and I was afraid of repeating damaging parenting patterns from my own childhood. My “mommy instinct” prior to giving birth led me to isolate myself, nest, and prepare to protect my child. In other words, my only desire was learning how to mother my way, naturally through instinct, on my own and certainly without listening to unsolicited advice coming from people around me. I, like most, envisioned a pleasant plan for giving birth and spent hours imagining what our first moments, days, weeks, and years together would be like.
Reality though, is generally far from any ideal. In my case, reality was far from what I had in mind and I ended up learning many things along the way (don’t we all?). Certain reality checks were harder and more challenging, while others were easier to adapt to. If I had to sum it up in a sentence, I’d say this: Everything surrounding childbirth and raising children is and will always be somewhat uncontrollable and unpredictable.
Now that I can look back at my first taste of motherhood that began three years ago already, I think that what I was missing the most was having a close relationship with my mother. I missed out on the blessing of receiving unfiltered guidance from a kind, intimate, loving and trustworthy woman. With a little retrospective, I feel like I needed someone to understand and support me, someone who had been through a lot of what I was experiencing. For many reasons, I just don’t have that kind of proximity with my mother and had to do without it.
With all the above said and done, here are 10 things motherhood taught me, and that I wish I would’ve known before becoming a mom to my son. My top ten might not be your top ten, but most of these lessons were learned through trial, error and above all, personal experience.
1. Brace For Impact
When we first started trying for a baby, I had this preconceived pregnancy ideal that, in short, resembled what you see in commercials, magazines and movies. Beautiful, serene and glowing. Right? Wrong. I’ll cut straight to the chase: There was no fantasy experience for me. It was my fifth pregnancy (after three miscarriages and one stillbirth), I spent ten months trapped at home laying in bed, needing continual assistance from four specialists and under twelve different medical treatments. My anxiety was at its peak, and honestly, what I remember most from pregnancy today is the uncertainty and intense fear. I did have a very few moments of pure serenity, but let’s just say that’s not what marked my experience.
I encouraged myself day in and day out by saying that if I couldn't have the pregnancy I dreamt of, surely I could have a wonderful natural birth, with only little pain medication, zen music, a yoga ball, a doula and kind medical staff who would let me have that golden minute the second my baby was born. Well, that must have been another fairytale I read somewhere because, after eighteen hours of labour, a sixth injection of epidural wearing off, and no dilation evolving, I found myself asking to be rushed in for a C-Section.
The problem with all that was, up until then, I had never even thought of the possibility that my child's birth could go down this way. I had never imagined it, never planned for it. I never got mentally prepared for a Plan B. The C-Section itself was a horrific experience for me, as I went through sensations I wasn't at all physically or emotionally ready for: having my arms strapped down, feeling the shoving and tugging, I almost had an out-of-body experience while lying on the operating table, the multitude of staff hovering around me in the surgery room, not being able to hug my baby to my chest right after his birth, the post-op shivers and shakes, my son having difficulties latching... Overall, I just wish that the hypnobirthing classes I did take had at least covered possible Plan B outcomes instead of focusing on, what now seems to me, unrealistic expectations. I would've liked someone to insist on the fact that a C-Section could also be a very plausible outcome.
2. Breastfeeding: Hard from Start to Finish
It took four never-ending days for my son to latch on to my breast and for my milk to come in. And because breastfeeding was something I was absolutely committed to doing with all my heart and strength, I silently cried for four days in, fearing that it might not happen. I was already grieving the natural delivery I had so desired and didn't take place, and I didn't want to accept that breastfeeding was out of the picture, too. For those first four days postpartum, in combination with all the physical and psychological changes that take place after delivery, I remember balling my eyes out, just waiting for breastfeeding to work. I refused to give up and it was with the help of a lactation consultant that everything gradually fell into place.
This overwhelming desire and commitment took over all the discomforts and hardships that followed. Feeding positions, breast engorgement, sore nipples, checking-in round the clock, handling public places, leaking through shirts, pumping/storing/freezing milk, dealing with unwanted questions, comments, or curious people, and the list goes on. The first months were really challenging, but I kept at it for two whole years, and it brought me many rewarding moments of intimacy, bonding, complicity, love, peace, and happiness with my little one. Originally, I had planned to wean my son after his first year, but I just couldn't bring myself to stop at the time, so I renewed my commitment for a second year. I had to put up with additional opinions about extended breastfeeding, but all in all, it didn't matter to me anymore.
What I underestimated the most with breastfeeding though was the hardship of weaning after extended breastfeeding, and boy did that fireback on me. I struggled to let go, and because my child was a little older and more conscious, it was very hard for him, too. But together, we got through this very first separation, and all went well in the end.
3. The Sleep Training/Not Sleeping Paradox
Although this too had its fair share of incredible moments, one of the things I regret the most was giving in to co-sleeping. At the time, I was too afraid my newborn might hit the crib frame, get his legs or arms caught in between the bars, or suffocate in the crib lining or linens. If I had known that sleep training my baby to get him out of our bed, to progressively out of our room, to falling asleep on his own through an entire night would turn out to be so hard, I would have insisted more adamantly on conquering my fears and letting him fall asleep on his own, in his crib, and in his room from the very start. In all, it took us a good year and a half to reach that milestone, and to say that it was time-consuming and exhausting doesn’t describe the half of it. Of course, throughout the entire period of time, both my hubby and I weren’t sleeping much and trust me, that was hard on us and our relationship as well.
4. Reenacting Passed Family Dynamics
No matter how strong and healthy my relationship with my husband was before Noah's birth, it definitely took a toll during pregnancy and after his birth. No matter how badly you want to parent differently from the way you were raised, it seems that unconscious patterns creep up unexpectedly and resurface when a child is born. In most cases, both father and mother tend to lean toward the family dynamics they respectively experienced, whether those experiences be good or bad. And because mom and dad probably grew up in separate family dynamics and were raised in different ways, certain contrasts appear only when the parenting starts.
And you know what? Sometimes, resisting the bad and unhealthy patterns that were inflicted upon us and that we were exposed to is hard. I mean, really, really hard. It takes time and courage to become aware of and learn how to control such patterns.
5. The Dependence Phase Passes
As soon as Noah arrived, from the very second I saw him for the first time, I felt so naturally compelled to care for him that as time went on, I caught myself thinking: "My goodness, is this what it's always going to be like?" or "Will I ever have my life and independence back?" Spoiler alert: It doesn’t and you do. This feeling of being trapped forever with a little dependent being only lasted about a year in reality, or up until Noah reached his first major milestone: walking. When you’re living the whole newborn-caring bubble life, it can be tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I wish someone had been there at the time to tell me that this intense dependent phase was going to pass, and things were going to get easier very fast and very soon. Not knowing how quickly something like this would be over with, made everything more intense and hard for me. If someone had said something to me, I think it would've made a difference, or at least helped me put things into perspective, perhaps allowing me to lay back a little bit and enjoy more of Noah as a baby.
6. Every Milestone Takes Work, Dedication, and Consistency
When it comes to parenting, my experience of upbringing is blurred with years of neglect from when I was a child. Due to such circumstances, I have a hard time knowing when to let things happen naturally from a distance, and when to implicate myself with more consistent effort. To a certain extent, I believe that all parents probably deal with similar issues, but in my case, it reached an extreme before I started taking action. And I understood that every important developmental milestone in children, although inevitable, doesn't just happen naturally or by itself. Weaning, eating, walking, sleep training, potty training, daycare integration, socializing, you name it. Every step of the way requires special attention. It takes work, dedication and consistency. And I had to remind myself of the latter constantly, especially because as soon as a child achieves one milestone, they’re already moving on to the next.
7. The First Heart-Wrenching Mother-Baby Separation
As much as I felt motherhood became easier as my son grew up and became less dependent, living through the stages leading up to my son's independence had been really hard on me. I realized that, because it had taken me an entire decade to conceive and carry a full term pregnancy, and because I didn’t know when or even if I would be able to have another baby, I have wanted to hold on to Noah’s newborn and baby nurturing phases. And now that I think of it, it probably explains why I had such a hard time weaning him off the breast, too. This very first separation was very hard on me. To realize that he wasn’t a baby anymore and that there would only be more separations to come. Again, I wish someone had given me a heads up on this. Like, “Hey, hug him and hold him while you can, he’ll be a squirmy little worm before long,” or something of the sort, no?
8. Compromising Between What is Best For Your Child and What is Best For Yourself
This one is tricky because it's morally wrong to disregard your child's needs, but you can't ignore yourself, your needs, or your own personal limitations either. I read that American societies tend to favor the child's needs while Western Europeans focus on helping their children become independent from day one. Having been influenced by both cultures, I felt as though I could relate to so many different experiences. In both cases though, when taken to an extreme, neither are healthy. You’re either over-protecting or neglecting them. Getting trapped into either or of these directions is fairly easy and therefore, in my opinion, it's important to become aware of the different parenting styles out there and to try our best in compromising and parenting in a realistic, secure, and balanced way. Meeting halfway, without failing to provide for a child’s basic needs, but without sacrificing too much of who and what we are either.
9. There Is No Such Thing As "A Good Kid"
No matter how good you are or how good you want to be as a mother, your child will grow through hardships. Chances are he will cry uncontrollably, throw tantrums in public, get sick, hit someone, throw his food around, have unexpected fits, ruin a holiday, make you lose your shit, and… I’ll just stop there. There are so many challenging experiences that can AND WILL occur that you just have to be prepared and keep in mind that no mom is truly perfect.
Many people would often tell me, "Noah is such a good baby!" And I never knew how to react to that sentence. Because in all honesty, I didn’t think of him as a “good” baby, nor did I think of him as a bad one. I thought of him as a child, and my son's childhood was challenging for me, as any kid's upbringing was probably challenging for any parent. I know my son is capable of being calm, sweet, affectionate, kind, funny, curious, excited, patient, attentive, independent, playful, with an appetite, all smiles and chatty. The same way he is capable of being the Complete. Fucking. Opposite. And in my opinion, that’s what’s really important, here. For my son to have the capacity of expressing himself through a complete spectrum of emotions and for me to help him navigate through them.
10. It Does Take a Village
Here’s another one of those sayings for you: It takes a village to raise a child. As I said, my instinct was to isolate myself right before and after Noah's birth. It was beautiful to be able to discover how to be a mother on my own, but it was equally very challenging. I wish I hadn't tried so hard to do it completely on my own, or insisted on being so independent. Because in all honesty, a lot of the small things that I was obsessing and stressing over at the time, weren't such a big deal after all. Many people mean well, and I think it's important to accept help and understand that not everyone will do things exactly the way you want them to. And that’s okay, too. Your child needs people to parent him in different ways. And with that said, I’d also like to mention that my method isn’t perfect, far from it, and alone, it isn't enough, either. My son needs and benefits from the interactions with his father, his grandmother, and his aunt, which are different from the interactions he has with me. He needs and benefits from having these people in his life. Although I’m not much of a city person and didn’t need much of a social life prior to my son’s birth, after his arrival, I gladly moved to the suburbs in order to better access help, go to kid's parks, and now I spend time with other parents and kids almost daily.
Sarah The Digital GypSea
Romania, September 2019