The Truth About Motherhood
No matter how much research you do, motherhood will surprise you. Because what it’s really like — the way it rearranges your days and your relationships and your boobs and your wardrobe — isn’t something experts write books about.
Fortunately, real moms are all too happy to spill. Here’s what they wish they’d known.
Timing Is Everything
From the second you bring that precious bundle home, you’re a slave to the schedule. Early on, equations along the lines of “If she’s eating every two hours and a feeding takes 18.5 minutes, I can meet Sam for coffee at 11:43” will become your constant mental soundtrack.
Come toddlerhood, your days will be organized around your child’s naptimes. No matter how flexible you hoped to be, the first time he goes without a snooze and morphs into a possessed little gremlin will ensure that from then on, you’ll do anything to make sure it’s the last.
Also true: Though once you prided yourself on your punctuality, that will have to go out the window. Stocking the diaper bag, getting your child socked-and-shoed, and packing her into and right back out of the car seat so you can return to the house to grab the yellow sippy cup because the blue one is suddenly unacceptable will inevitably hijack your best intentions.
“Double the time you think it will take to leave the house,” says mom of two Shavanthi Reddy. “Even then you’ll be late everywhere you go, because in reality it takes three times longer than you plan for.”
Breastfeeding Might Not Go Smoothly
Your baby might have trouble latching. Your supply might be low. You may find the entire enterprise excruciatingly painful: you might develop mastitis, a plugged duct, cracked nipples. Your baby might refuse to take a bottle, which will leave you on the hook for every single feeding. And if your baby does take a bottle, you’ll be logging some serious quality time with the breast pump so as to have something to put into the bottle.
Even if everything goes smoothly, early on, when you are your child’s sole source of sustenance and he’s eating every couple hours, nursing (or pumping) is pretty much all you’ll be doing.
But no matter how old your kid, when you’re breastfeeding, your body is never really your own. “The biggest surprise about being a mom was what a commitment breastfeeding was,” says Terese Hudson, mom to a toddler and a newborn. “No drinking — at least not the way I used to! — no getaways, no real break for the 14 months I nursed.”
And if you’re feeding your baby formula, although a thoroughly legit choice, you’ll probably be suffering indignities of another sort: namely, people getting all judgy on you.
You’ll Do Things You Swore You’d Never Do
Here’s a not-at-all comprehensive list of things you’ll do that you told yourself you absolutely never would:
- Drive around aimlessly in the desperate hopes that your child might be lulled to sleep.
- Allow your tastefully, minimally appointed home to become overrun by colorful, noise-making pieces of plastic.
- Eat the goldfish crackers you find in the backseat of your car without stopping to consider how long they’ve been there or whether they’ve been experimentally shoved into your child’s nostril. (Related: allow your child to eat junk food like goldfish crackers.)
- Wear yoga pants every day for a week. Maybe two.
- Choose your shirt not by style or mood but based on which one has the fewest stains and will allow for the fastest access to your boobs should the babe suddenly need one in its face.
Allow all the ideas you had about how you were going to raise your child to be replaced with one overarching and unbending philosophy: Whatever Works.
You’ll Hate Your Partner More Than You Ever Imagined
“Nobody mentioned how having a baby puts your marriage to the test,” says mom Miki Goodkind, who is expecting her second child. “The stress it puts on a couple is something I never hear much about.”
If you're in a partnership when you have your baby, though, it’s inevitable: No matter how equitable the division of labor in your home, how copacetic your relationship, nor the passion with which you once tore off each other’s clothes, parenthood will shift things. You’ll be tired. So tired.
You’ll be overwhelmed and hormonal and jealous that your partner gets to put on grown-up clothes and go to work, or resentful that they have all that time with the baby if you’re the one heading to the office. You’ll think your loved one is too vigilant, or not vigilant enough. You’ll forget who you were, who they were, who you were together, because parenthood has changed you both on such a profound, cellular level that you barely recognize yourselves, let alone each other.
And sex? Eh. The most exciting thing you’ll think to do in a bed is sleep.
You’ll Love Your Partner More Than You Ever Imagined
Despite the fact that you’re exhausted and overwhelmed, you’re in the trenches together, working to keep a human-type blob living and breathing — and, later, working to raise your kiddo into a healthy, whole, good, actual human. That’s a powerful bond.
The moments between your babe and your baby that you stumble upon accidentally are often the sweetest of all. Catching your partner singing a made-up ditty while changing the baby’s diaper, or walking in on your loved one and your mini-me cracking each other up while playing a silly game of peekaboo, will make your heart swell.
Every Stage Is an Adjustment
Just when you think you’ve got it dialed in, the kid goes and changes on you. From snoozy boob goblin to drooling sitter-upper to cooing crawler to kamikaze toddler, and on and on, once you think you’ve found your sea legs, you find yourself adrift, again, in uncharted waters. You’ll enjoy some stages more than others, and you’ll be a better mom at some stages than others.
Katie Malinski, a social worker, says, “There are challenging behaviors at every stage, and each of us as individual parents have natural strengths at parenting different ages … some people are really good at infants, some at teenagers. It’s okay not to be good and thrilled at every stage.”
Keep those words in your proverbial pocket for the days when you’re 50 tantrums deep by noon.
There Will Be Bodily Indignities
You thought the crazy physical shenanigans were limited to pregnancy? Ha.
In the immediate postpartum period, expect night sweats. Like change-the-sheets level sweats. Trust: It will be gross.
Even after your body’s finally expelled all that extra fluid, pregnancy’s physical hangover is tough to shake: Diastasis recti, a condition in which the abs pull apart so much that the stomach protrudes in what’s often — and unfortunately — dubbed the “mom pooch,” afflicts 60 percent of women at six weeks postpartum and more than 33 percent a year after birth. More common is pelvic floor weakening (running, jumping, laughing and sneezing should carry a “Beware: Potential Leakage” warning). And after storing all that milk, sagging breasts are kind of a given.
Breastfeeding, carrying or wearing your babe, bending over, and holding weird positions because your kid passed out on top of you and you’d sooner endure permanently tweaked muscles than waste precious quiet moments means body aches are inevitable.
Oh, and you might get stretch marks. On your inner arms. (Seriously: Toting a tot can do some wicked things to that once-pristine skin.)
You Will Experience the Entire Spectrum of Human Emotion in a Single Day
When you’re a mom, answering the question, “How was your day?” is kind of impossible, as in all likelihood your day was all of the things. From boredom to bliss, disgust to devotion, exhaustion to elation, when you’re raising kids, emotional whiplash is part of the job.
“You will feel emotionally unstable due to your frustration and love for your child,” says Diana Wolff, whose son is two years old. “You can go from mad at your kid for frustrating behavior to upset or even crying because you feel guilty for having gotten mad at your lovely perfect baby within a minute’s time.”
Your Conversations Will Change
Witty banter will be something you remember fondly from another lifetime, like spending leisurely Sundays catching up with friends over brunch and bottomless mimosas, say, or sleep.
“Did he poop?” you’ll ask your partner, as unaffected as though you were discussing the weather.
“How old?” with a nod will qualify as reaching out in friendship to the mom pushing the kid on the next swing.
Abandoning conversations mid-sentence because your child is about to electrocute himself will become standard.
It’s not that the social skills sector of your brain has shriveled, exactly, it’s that you’re newly efficient. Who has time to beat around the bush? You’re busy. And about to be interrupted. Always.
Your Friendships Will Change
“Sometimes women feel disconnected from friends after becoming mothers,” says therapist Nikissia Craig, “especially if motherhood is not meeting their expectations or their friends are in different phases of their lives.”
She adds that, when a woman’s life is completely centered on her children, relationships can become less fulfilling. “I encourage mothers to put a boundary on how long they are going to talk about their kids when they have plans to socialize with others. After that, they have to talk about their own interests, hobbies and feelings.”
It’s good advice; cultivating friendships nourishes the soul — and, Craig says, “One of the common regrets I hear from mothers who are empty nesters is wishing they would have stayed more connected to their friends throughout the years.”
You Will Feel Lonely
Biz Ellis, who hosts the popular parenting podcast “One Bad Mother,” talks with and about moms for a living — and is a mother herself. She’s realized an unfortunate irony: Almost everyone feels like they’re all alone in this motherhood ride, and almost everyone is plagued by self-doubt and worries that they’re the only one who’s messing up.
“The big one for me was the sudden isolation despite being part of a community,” Ellis says. “It’s less being literally alone and more, ‘Am I the only one going through this?’ What we have discovered [in doing the podcast] is no one is having a totally unique experience. You are not alone and no one really cares that you let your one-year-old play on the iPad or that you let your five-year-old have a bottle.”
Little Connections Will Save You
One day, you’ll be at the grocery store, sporting dark circles under your eyes and leaking boobs and pajama bottoms that belie the fact that you haven’t slept in a moon, and your child will have a DEFCON five-level meltdown after you’ve stocked the cart.
The babe’s wails will have you thisclose to abandoning your haul and racing out of there like your hair’s on fire, when a fairy godmother will magically appear from behind the canned tomatoes, look you in the eye and say, “I have two; I get it.” And those words will feel like a warm blanket around your soul and you’ll find the strength to go on.
Or they’ll make you cry and you’ll leave. Either way, it’s a win. Because being reminded that you’re not alone is the best kind of balm.
It Will Be Harder, Way Harder Than You Think
“I don’t remember anyone saying how freaking hard this is,” says mom Holly Rushing. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I’ve gone through a lot in my life."
She says, "It’s hard on my body, my mental well-being, my sense of self. It’s hard on my relationship — it’s next to impossible to find the time, energy and space to connect with my partner like we used to. It’s hard navigating the waters of my new relationship with this little person. It’s hard to face judgment, from outside and in, about every decision made about parenting, relationship, work, sleep, you name it. I mean, it’s a wonderful thing, raising a tiny human. But it is so hard.”
Did we mention that it’s hard?
But You Will Love It
Even on the worst, most exhausting, most boring, most annoying, most tedious, most tantrummy, most poopy days, there will be moments. Glorious moments when merely gazing at your child will make your heart bloom to a size so huge it will feel like your chest might burst in its effort to contain it.
And in those moments, you will feel, however fleetingly, something profound. Something like bliss.
And then your kid will wake up.