Being a mother is the most challenging, heartening, strengthening and humbling role I have ever had.
The journey into motherhood is a complex one. You make it through the pregnancy, your baby arrives and it is nothing but unmitigated bliss. For a little while. Then the excitement and fodder around the birth settles down and life around you resumes, continues, pulses and somehow expects you to keep up right along with it.
But you have a baby now. You didn't before. And now you do. What, you're just supposed to, like, BE a mom now?
You have endless, consuming decisions to make. Like, what to do when the baby is warm and you can't tell if he's feverish? What to do when he wakes up remotely off schedule, or eats carrots one day and hates them the next? How small to cut the grapes, when to get baby out versus giving up and staying home because it’s all too hard. How not to lose your sanity when baby just Won’t. Stop. Crying.
Taking care of a baby is no-joke WORK.
Then there's the small matter of your identity. What does it mean to transition from Individual Pregnant Person to New Mom? New mothers are far too busy trying to stay awake, stay alive, keep another person alive, etc. that there is little left in us to even have these conversations with ourselves, let alone each other.
To assess within ourselves what it means to be totally transformed by love and responsibility is a great task. It's hard to even remember what you thought about before diapers and teething and sleep regressions consumed your life.
It’s hard to summon enough energy to get back to work and try to pretend that you care about it in the same way you did before.
It’s hard to make the decision to stay home and figure out if it is the right fit for you, if it's fulfilling to you. Or you try to do both. Every option requires sacrifice.
You live in constant duality of before and after, but never solidly planted in either. Willing yourself to be the same, though you're irrevocably different. Because you totally are. Of course you are. You brought life into this world and are raising that beautiful, little, complicated person with all your love, all your soul, all your might—how could that not change you?
There is the part of you that tries to hang on to who you were before, that just wants everything to get back to ‘normal’. Then there's that moment when you realize Oh wow. This *is* normal, now.
There is just so much thrown at you all at once. So many exhausting nights and mornings. So much repetition. So little sleep. So much illness and worry. So much pride and joy. So much unknown goo on my clothes, table, countertops and hair.
But then, somehow, something starts to shift.
It's almost imperceptible at first, but the baby sleeps in a little longer or you are able to take a shower on a predictable basis. Every day feels a little less shocking to your system, a little more manageable. You develop a routine that actually kind of works. Somehow, one way or another, your baby starts sleeping. You start sleeping. Your kid starts crawling then walking then talking.
You stop focusing on all the things you've “lost” to make room for all the things you’ve gained. The abundance of love and pride and joy. The sheer brilliance of it all. Every positive shift is a victory.
All at once, being a mom isn't something outside of you anymore, embodied by the child that you are holding and nurturing and giving everything to, but instead inside of you, safely tucked beside and entwined with the rest of you (partner/sister/friend/cheese-lover/reader).
You start to make new friends and reconnect with old friends, especially the ones who have kids. It slowly dawns on you that these people are your lifeline and soul sisters. They don’t have to be your closest friends to give you the support you really need for they are the ones who can say the words that put so much anxiety to rest: “Oh, I’ve been there. You’re doing great. Hang in there, mama.” (Seriously, join a moms group.)
There will be setbacks to this progress. Like, when you can't attend an event because it's not conducive to an infant's schedule. Or when someone asks you what you thought of that movie that you definitely didn't see because how could you be so insensitive, Sarah? I haven't even worn eyeliner in seven months, let alone had time to go to a movie! (hysterical sobs).
But then those moments pass, too, and you edge ever closer back to the integrated you.
If anyone could actually prepare us for this journey into motherhood, what a cheat it would be. As maddening, confusing, and exhausting as it can be at times, the journey of discovery and navigation through these complexities is entirely the richness of it.
Being a mother is the most challenging, heartening, strengthening and humbling role I have ever had. I am bitter and resentful some days. I am exceedingly grateful others. I love being a mother. I struggle with being a mother. I miss who I was before, and love who I am becoming.
Overall, it will be a year to remember, though you likely won’t because you’ll be so sleep-deprived and hormonal as your body equilibrates and finds its own new normal. Mommy brain is real. (Don’t let anyone tell you different.)
But what will last from this first year, (aside from the three thousand photos you took) is the foundation you have forged with your messy, wonderful love for that kid. The raw emotion of it, the grit it takes, the well of strength that deepens within you.
You are now a mother and a person. Your life as you knew it is definitely over, but the life before you? Tremendous, exhausting, magical.
And when in doubt, remember: I’ve been there. You’re doing great. Hang in there, mama.
You’ve got this.