Like most new moms, I was absolutely overwhelmed by the challenges of caring for a totally helpless human being. Other than knowing I really wanted kids, I don’t think I had any concrete expectation for motherhood, except perhaps that it would be easier than my day job and “Babies!!! Cute!!!” My observations of friends with their babies gave me the impression that they were delightful, low-maintenance creatures you carted around in nifty strollers and carrying devices to show off. I think I got pregnant shortly after Hollywood made babies bumps the newest accessory for trendy celebrities. I was about to have my own little person!! I was so happy about becoming a mother, yet painfully naive about what motherhood entails.
Well, my first born showed me. Max was born, against his will, 17 days late, forcing us to break 9 of the 10 rules on my birth plan (I want to go back and slap my little birth-plan-writing-self upside the head for presuming I had control over ANYTHING). He was colicky/high-needs/spirited/however you want to say it. He demanded everything I could give. He was my life. Those first six months, alone with him every day and away from all family while my husband worked long hours, were a blur. I cried the entire hour-long car trip home from the hospital because I felt so helpless next to this screaming child. How insane it was that God trusted me with a small human’s LIFE. The first week of motherhood, I maybe slept eight hours total because I was terrified of SIDS and wanted to make sure he didn’t stop breathing during the night. I refused to take him out, and when we did, I rode in the back seat next to him, even though all I could do was wave toys fruitlessly in his face as he screamed at my idiocy. I ate approximately five different foods for months, fearing that certain foods were upsetting him. I was trying so hard to make him happy that I was becoming a miserable person.
I had gone into parenthood thinking that being a mother was about ME becoming what I wanted. When I lost practically all sense of myself in those early days of motherhood, it was a rude awakening. I was stretched so thin that all my faults were amplified. I had to acknowledge how little control I had and that this little person was not what I wanted him to be. My children are not on earth to entertain me, to sleep when I am ready for a break, to smile when I want to be cheered up, or to cart around and show off. They aren’t here to give me the family that I always wanted or to fulfill me. We are a family because of them, sure, but really, I’m here to be their family. I have the privilege of being a part of their lives. It’s about THEM, not ME. That’s a hard one sometimes.
In the modern world of shiny blogs and perfect Instagram photos and everything we want when we want it, there is a great fiction that we can control everything around us, so that we’ll never experience discomfort. According to modern society, discomfort is the worst thing that can happen. But parenting little people will involve difficult, sometimes painful stuff. Most of it is amazing, wonderful and unimaginably fulfilling, but not a small amount of parenting is dealing with challenges you have no way to prevent. Stomach bugs happen. Tantrums happen, mostly in public places. Sleepless night HAPPEN, oh those sleepless nights. Parenthood comes with a higher level of discomfort than almost anything else you’d willingly choose. Our society asks the question, why chose parenthood if it sucks so much?
Do you know what else motherhood surprised me with? LOVE. The love I had for my children and even how much love they had for me was something I couldn’t comprehend before I experienced it. And though it didn’t always happen in the most graceful way, our children made Oskar and I grow as a couple and as individuals. We had a new purpose.
I made it through those first six months, perhaps with fewer showers than is hygienic, but I’m alive. I adjusted. Though I’m sure I’m not completely reasonable about parenting, I would like to think that now, after 5 years and another baby, I’m at least in the realm of normal. And it’s because I’ve relinquished the notion that I have total control. I’ve learned that loving and caring for someone means sacrifice. I’m learning to balance their needs with my needs. We function in moderate chaos, and as long as they eat their green vegetables, I’m (almost) ok with that. We are all happier campers now.
I don’t deserve them. Their presence in my life is a gift. The most precious gift I’ve ever been given. They are love and they’ve made me a better person. They also occasionally bite and pee on the couch, but urine stains and teeth marks are a small price to pay for the blessing of being a mother.
For more on the surprises of becoming a mother, check out what the other Happy Wife contributors have to say. I promise it is of higher quality than the stuff of this blog!