I’ve never felt as inadequate, unprepared and terrified as I did in those first moments that I held my baby in my arms. The truth about motherhood that no one told me is, in an instant, you are changed forever. More than three years later, I can barely remember the person I was before I was a mom, and it’s hard to imagine feeling anything other than a love more pure and intense than can be described. In honor of Mother’s Day, I want to share a few things I’ve learned about being a mom. If I could go back in time to the day before my daughter’s birth, here’s what I would tell myself:
You’re about to become a mom! You thought this day would never arrive, but here you are: re-packing your hospital bag and making last-minute changes to the nursery, as if your newborn baby will care how you’ve organized the furniture in her room. Trust me, you are ready. You will soon learn that you are stronger than you think and more maternal than you ever thought you could be. The next 72 hours (and three years) are going to be a whirlwind, but hang in there. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- You’ll cry a lot. Giving birth is an incredible experience, and you will feel so many emotions when it’s finally over. This, combined with the newness and unfamiliarity of motherhood and your crazy hormones will cause you to cry. A lot. You will cry because you are overwhelmed by the enormous responsibility of being a mom. You will cry because you question whether you gave your baby the right name and because you doubt you are capable of the love and hard work that is required of a mom. You will cry because you can’t stop crying. Most of this is completely normal, and it will get better.
- Being afraid is normal. If you aren’t a little apprehensive about taking on the responsibility of keeping a tiny person alive – and socially well-adjusted – that would be a little weird, don’t you think? Try to remember that your baby doesn’t know that you don’t have a clue what you’re doing. She will, however, find comfort simply being in your arms and hearing your voice. You will both learn together and form a special bond that is unique to the two of you. She will look to you to show her the world, and you are going to really enjoy experiencing things through her eyes.
- Motherhood is messy. And not just because of all the spills, laundry and dirty dishes. It’s chaotic and unpredictable in nearly every way possible, but you are going to gain some invaluable skills in planning, prioritizing and time management that will translate really well in your career.
- Trust your instincts. When in doubt, do not turn to strangers online for answers to your hard questions! If you need more information, call the pediatrician or a trusted mom friend before resorting to the fear-inducing internet forums. You should also trust your gut. You will be surprised by how strong your parenting instincts are, not to mention that you know your child better than anyone else.
- Build your village. Raising a child really does take a village, and you will find adapting to motherhood is so much easier once you’ve surround yourself with other moms who have children around the same age as yours. More importantly, you will need mom friends who won’t judge you when you need to give your toddler the tablet while you finally eat a full meal. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and please accept help from your friends and family when they offer it. You and your baby will be better for it.
- Time will fly. It’s cliché, but true. At first, days may feel like weeks, but you’ll soon hit your stride and before you know it, days are going to feel like tiny blips in time. Just when you think you can’t go another sleepless night, she’ll sleep six hours straight. And just when you feel like you can’t take another tantrum over sign language commands you don’t understand, she’ll learn a new sound that means “milk.” Hold on to these moments, because when she’s 2 and 3, you’ll look back at the newborn days and wish you hadn’t sweat the small stuff!
Liz, your little girl is going to challenge you in nearly every way possible, but she is also going to bring you more joy and laughter than you ever thought possible. There will be days when you feel like you are doing everything wrong, but there will also be days when your heart is so full of love and pride that you think it might burst. These are the days that make it all worthwhile. When you have those beaming moments, just remember: you made that.