When I was pregnant with my first child I had plenty of time to daydream about what life with a baby would look like. And when I first looked into his eyes seven months ago, I was over the moon with joy—and blissfully unaware of what was to come.
I am confident that I am not alone when I say that my vision pre-baby of what my life would look like as a parent was a lot less complex (read: naïve) than what reality has served up. Here are just some of the ways my vision of motherhood was not at all like the real thing.
I thought I’d be able to control my baby’s actions
I’m not sure why, but I had grandiose visions of being a magical baby whisperer, where my soothing voice and warm touch would automatically calm a fussing babe and draw crowds from miles around to witness the wonders of my charm. As it turns out, my nipples are the baby whisperers, and I just happen to be attached. Thankfully, they have not drawn crowds.
I thought my baby would be so adorable that I could never be frustrated with him
Don’t get me wrong—he is adorable. But despite my love for him, I find it really hard to like him when he refuses to go down for his nap. Every. Single. Day. I really do not like when he bites me while nursing. I also don’t like that he only sleeps for two-hour stretches at night; which means that I only sleep for two-hour stretches at night. So while there is so much that I truly, whole-heartedly like and love, I am coming to terms with truly and whole-heartedly disliking the sensation of my nipple being ground between the gums of an over-tired infant.
I didn’t think sleep deprivation would affect me
Why I thought I would be immune to the cognitive impairments brought on by not getting a full night’s sleep for months on end is truly a wonder. Again, in my pre-baby mind, I seemed to believe that the never-ending bliss of having a baby would keep me buoyed no matter how few hours I slept. And while being a parent is absolutely incredible, not getting enough sleep has been really bad for my mental well-being. I often find myself irritable, anxious, and frustrated. This can take the form of me thinking terrible thoughts about the little old lady who accidentally bumps me while walking by the stroller. I am quickly brought back to reality and find myself begging the universe for forgiveness when that same tiny old lady lovingly states, “Beautiful mom, beautiful baby!” Sleep deprivation has, quite frankly, turned me into an asshole.
I knew I would be in love with my baby, but I didn’t realize how aggressively so
I have found that my instinct to protect this baby is powerful, and at times ferocious. I finally have an appreciation for the term “mama bear,” and this newfound purpose as my baby’s guardian and safe-keeper can feel intense. Pre-baby, I had images of boundless bliss, of feeling light and serene thanks to all the oxytocin pumping through my body. And while I certainly have light, blissful moments, I have to admit that I more frequently find myself identifying with Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister. Before anyone gets any ideas, I would just like to clarify that I only identify with her fierce and uncompromising love for her children. I don’t identify with…you know…all that other stuff…
I didn’t think “baby weight” applied to me
I genuinely thought that I’d be slipping back into my old clothes within a few weeks of giving birth. I know there are lots of people who do—and that’s great! I’m just not one of them. And that’s…great. On the bright side, if foot size was a type of currency, I’d be quite wealthy.
I thought my relationship with my partner wouldn’t change
While my heart swells when I see him caring for and parenting our son, my anger also swells when I’m tired and the baby is fussing and he innocently asks, “when did you last feed him?” I might be the only person on this planet who did not anticipate that having a child would change the dynamic between my partner and I; while it has been positive in so many ways, it has also been very challenging. Let’s just say that my eyes have been getting a great deal of exercise with all the rolling they have been doing over the past six months (I will blame the sleep deprivation for my limited patience and short fuse).
I didn’t anticipate how fleeting each stage would feel
I’ve always been sentimental, but even I am surprised at my feelings of nostalgia looking at pictures of my baby that were taken only a month prior. I become teary each time I have to put away another outfit he’s outgrown. It often feels like this period of time is a ribbon constantly slipping out of my grasp. When people tell me the days are long but the weeks are short once a baby is in the picture, I want to tell them that no, the days are short and the weeks are short and the months are short and it’s all too short!! And then my baby has an explosive poop for the third time that day and I think, okay, maybe today is a little bit long.
When I consider how my expectations of parenthood have frequently been unmet, I realize that it is because, on the whole, they have been surpassed. And while managing my day-to-day expectations will be a life-long exercise, I am hoping that I will become more adept at seeing the big picture as time goes on. For now, I will keep practicing. I will keep loving my baby and my partner, I will keep regretting thinking the terrible thoughts I think about people who bump into the stroller, and I will allow myself to be happy, sad, angry, joyous, and all those other conflicting and confusing emotions that bubble up along the way. Because truly, when I hear my baby giggle, when I see him trying to crawl, and even when he showers me with a spray of mashed peas during mealtime, I know that I would choose this experience again and again and again.
This article was originally published online in June 2019.