I always knew that I wanted to be a mother someday. I had a deep yearning in my heart to experience unconditional love from my very own child, to chase my little one around and to hear that precious word, “Mommy.” I had no doubt in my mind this was the path for me.
Looking back on the early years of marriage and even during pregnancy, I realize I really had no clue how much my life would change once I would become a mother. I feel like no one really warned me about how it would REALLY be. I had heard all of the common sayings about motherhood: “It’s the hardest job in the world”, “It’s the most rewarding thing you will ever experience”, “It changes you for the better”, etc., etc. I could not yet comprehend what these concepts really meant. Up until the moment my daughter was born, the idea of motherhood seemed like a distant magical world. It had a soft romantic glow to it. I didn’t know much at all.
I realize now that before having my daughter, I was not even remotely close to comprehending the extraordinary joy and ultimate challenge that would encompass the role of motherhood.
I am including the two following photos together in a very intentional way. These two photos help portray some of the extremely different emotions I felt as a new mommy.
The photo above was during my first birthday as a mom. Luna was about 1 month old and I was in awe. Mostly in awe that I had left the house and was wearing a dress. And celebrating my birthday with a little one to call my own was incredible.
The photo above shows one of her many “blowouts” that took place during that early stage. Ewww. Like, is this really my life now?
Perhaps I just wasn’t listening when other experienced parents would give me advice and insight. And come to think of it, it sure is a hard thing to explain and prepare oneself for! Like a good friend of mine told me when I was pregnant, “I want to give you advice, but nothing can really prepare you for this!” I realize now this was the best advice I received.
Thinking back to those first sleepless, intense months right after Luna was born, I remember very clearly the things that shocked me and made me re-think everything. I feel like I could include a million items in this list since I am still learning something new every single day but I thought I would just focus on that beginning stage, when everything was brand new and my world as I knew it had suddenly transformed into a beautiful, terrifying, exhausting, and ridiculous mess! So here are the 8 things that took me by surprise as a new mom!
Ouch! Breastfeeding can be super painful!
When I took a breastfeeding class at Kaiser before Luna was born, the instructor showed photos of “nipple trauma.” I remember looking at those photos and thinking how unlikely it would be for that to happen to me. I took the class after all! I know what a good latch is, no problem! All set! BIG FAT NO. Luna and I had a TERRIBLE experience with latching and nursing was incredibly painful for me for the first seven weeks of Luna’s life. I literally had ZERO idea what I was doing. When we saw the lactation consultant the day after Luna was born, I was told that I had the dreaded nipple trauma. It hurt to have literally anything touch them, even a bra or soft piece of clothing. Taking a shower was torture. In the beginning stages, breastfeeding can be difficult and painful! Not for everyone, but for many moms, it is. I can only describe breastfeeding in those first few weeks as a scene from JAWS. Every time I would bring Luna to my breast and her mouth opened, all I could hear in my head was the theme song from Jaws…cue music…duunnn dunnn…duuuunnnn duun. Nooooo!! Help me!!!! Ahhhhh!!!!
Yes, nursing my sweet newborn baby reminded me of a horror film. But I stuck to it and seven painful weeks later, it felt like nothing and the pain was gone! It took a lot of googling and texting other mom friends to get me through but I made it through by the grace of God! Hallelujah!
SLEEP. It’s never the same again.
We’ve all heard this one before but I cannot help but mention it because it is probably the aspect of my life that has changed the most dramatically since Luna was born. I had so many people tell me when I was pregnant, “Get all the sleep you can before that baby comes!” I would just laugh it off without really comprehending just how little I would end up sleeping once that little baby made her grand entrance! I remember very vividly when Luna was about two days old, she had woken up for the 15th time during the night and I silently thought to myself in that very dark and exhausted moment, “this was an enormous mistake.” I kid you not. That thought really did go through my mind. I admitted it to my husband weeks later and he immediately responded, “me too.” WOW. Who knew you could ever be so exhausted to think something horrible such as that! But the sleep deprivation is BRUTAL. I actually remember literally dragging my feet during that newborn stage. It was a deep, heavy, all encompassing type of exhaustion.Coffee was EVERYTHING (and still is).
Having a new baby is hard on your marriage.
Imaging having an argument at 2:00 AM with your significant other, while your baby is wailing. It’s pretty much the absolute worst. In those first months we would argue so much in the middle of the night about what she needed to be soothed, what the best swaddle technique was for her, whether we should co-sleep or place her in her bassinet, and an endless of number of seemingly petty but surprisingly profound problems. Needless to say, it was difficult. We were exhausted and had to have patience with each other at a time when we could hardly make a coherent sentence. I didn’t realize how different our parenting styles were until we had Luna. There was no way of really knowing beforehand. We each had different approaches, different concerns, different temperaments, and different coping mechanisms during those trying times. We found solutions along the way and then once we figured something out, a new challenge would come up and it would start all over again. It was highly frustrating. The best advice I read that helped me through this time was that those first months will be hard on your relationship with your spouse and that is absolutely normal. There is no need to fret about your relationship or think that you need to go to marriage counseling. It is just going to be really hard the first few months and you will argue and then it will get better and you will sleep more and you will figure out a system that works for both of you, most of the time. It is just a phase. We still fight about what we think is best for her sometimes, but not nearly as much as we did in those early days!
Going out with your baby is a BIG DEAL!
I remember very clearly the first time I left the house with Luna all on my own. I had made a coffee date with another mom friend who had her baby 2 months before me. Luna was 3 weeks old. I told my friend to meet me at 11:00 AM at a nearby coffee shop. I now realize that was VERY ambitious! Not only was it early (yes, in that stage, trying to be somewhere at 11:00 AM is no easy feat!) but it was also not close enough to walk so I needed to get her in the car seat and drive. Trying to get myself ready and Luna ready and make sure she was changed and fed and that I had everything I needed in the diaper bag…it seemed like I was never going to be able to leave! Let alone the fact that I was so incredibly exhausted and running on empty. Scratch that, I was running on below empty. After a great pep talk from my sister who calmed down as I was in tears and Luna was wailing, I finally got Luna in the car, and after double checking her seat belt and head position a dozen times, I finally got us out of the driveway. When I got to the coffee shop with Luna nestled in my wrap, I felt like I had just ran a marathon. It was the biggest accomplishment of my adult life by that point, I kid you not. Mind you, I actually HAVE run a marathon. This was more exhausting! In a different way of course. I had a lovely time with my friend and when I got back home with Luna I felt like I could do anything! Watch out world! 🙂
Going out WITHOUT your baby is a big deal.
As much as going out with Luna was such an enormous task those first months, going out WITHOUT her was sort of life changing. When Christian and I went on our first solo outing after Luna was born, I had such mixed emotions. First of all, the night we planned on having our outing happened after a TERRIBLE day with Luna. She had been crying and fussing most of the day and I was beyond exhausted. I cried on the bed when Christian got home telling him there was no way I could go out. My friend arrived and I hid in the bedroom sobbing from exhaustion. Eventually Christian convinced me to at least try and so we did. We went out to have sushi at a restaurant close by. As we walked out the door, Christian held my hand and we both realized we had not walked and simply held hands together since Luna had been born. I was so happy but then suddenly I felt like my whole heart was missing and something was very wrong. Being away from her felt like the most awful thing, yet I was so relieved to be out among the living with my wonderful husband, enjoying the evening. Talk about mixed emotions! I’m happy to say we have had many dates since then thanks to wonderful friends and family and they have become easier and more and more wonderful over time.
Babies don’t have a pause button.
This one you would think I would have known already, but sadly I did not. It is hard to understand fully until you are in the thick of it. Two weeks after Luna was born I came down with postpartum endometritis, a uterine infection that causes a high fever. I was admitted to the emergency room and ultimately had to stay overnight. They put me and my husband (and my mom who was staying with us at the time) in a postpartum room and gave us a small bassinet for Luna. As I battled a relentless high fever (it was intense, like at one point I just had to remove the hospital gown and have a cold damp cloth on me) and got hooked up to various antibiotics, Luna still needed attending to. If I needed to use the restroom, I needed help to disconnect my leg compression machine and to unplug my IV machine and hobble my way over to the bathroom. My head was spinning, my body was burning up, and I was so so tired. During all of that, Luna was still a baby. It didn’t matter to her that I was exhausted and battling an infection. She was hungry and needed comfort and needed her diaper changed. She. did. not. stop. Fortunately, Christian and my mom took turns tending to her but the milk came from me and I wanted to keep my milk supply up but I was too weak to hold Luna in my arms as I nursed her, so I pumped every two hours (through the night as well) and my husband fed her with a bottle. It…was…INSANE. It was during that experience that I had the profound realization that babies do not have a pause button. The only thing you can do to get through is to take turns with those wonderful people in your life that are able to help. I know my hospital experience is an extreme example but it really solidified the fact that this baby needed constant care, regardless of the circumstances.
Not being able to soothe your crying baby can make you crazy.
One afternoon, Christian came home to find me in the closet where both Luna and I were crying and I was trying to shush her through my sobbing. I was literally losing my mind in that moment, I remember very clearly. Something in my brain had broken and I just lost it. She had been crying and fussing all day long and nothing I did could soothe her. Christian took over and without saying anything I grabbed my keys and drove away. I drove to a nearby park and just sat there in my car sobbing. I needed to get a grasp of reality again. I was so distraught and exhausted and frustrated and angry. I just wanted to escape. After texting a few close friends and praying a whole lot, I was able to somewhat piece myself back together. When I got home, I helped put Luna to bed and Christian made me a strong drink. It did just the trick. After that experience, I realized I needed to do something to help myself cope and so I began getting back into a normal exercise routine, jogging in the afternoons, her fussiest time, with a good jogging stroller. Thank heavens for that plan!
You heart can open up in a way that it never has before.
I knew I would love my child but WOW, this kind of love is the most incredible thing I have ever experienced. When I look deep into my daughter’s eyes, I am transported to another place entirely. Seeing my husband and myself in her is the most incredible, life-giving thing I have ever experienced. When the doctor first placed her on my chest, I cried in shock and surprise and felt the most amazing tenderness wash over me in a flood of warmth and indescribable love. It is hard to be so vulnerable, to love someone so much. It actually hurts and is all consuming. It scares you to think that anything could happen to that precious little life. I didn’t think my heart could carry so much love and with her it just feels like bursting from joy. You can feel love for your family and your spouse and your friends, but love for your child is from an entirely different dimension. Holding your baby is like holding a piece of yourself. It’s like holding all the love you could ever feel and ever imagine.
In those first few months I was surprised, horrified, awestruck, irritated, desperate, and blissful, all at once. It was a mixed bag of pure joy and harsh adjustment. You somehow get through it and come out the other side. Everything changes when you become a mother, and perhaps the biggest change you notice is in yourself.