Transitioning to motherhood was one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced.
I’ll never forget week one of my firstborn son’s life. I felt a sense of tiredness not comparable to anything I had ever known. My emotions soared from the heights of, “I love him so much” to the lows of, “Why did I want to have a baby?” with a constant throb of, “Wow, this is a lot harder than I expected.” I hurt all over from the combination of labor and my c-section and was petrified to change diapers around that ugly looking cord “thing” and his healing circumcision. The whole experience of becoming a new mom shook my world.
Then there was day 8. For my husband and I it is a sort of day that will live in infamy on our parenting journey. That was the day we decided to go out for one hour, alone. It had been a whole week since we had some alone time – so why not? I both hesitantly and eagerly handed the baby over to my mother and got in the car for a trip to a local ice cream place.
We ordered and sat down and then it took about 2 minutes for my tears to start. My poor husband didn’t know what was happening. Soon my tears had progressed from a controllable, wipe-off-able trickle into a full-blown, no hiding it, sob. Why was it so hard? Why didn’t I feel euphoria over having the child I had always wanted? Why wasn’t our ice cream order ready yet?
We returned home. I fed the baby. We were tired. But, instead of sleep, this would be the night we learned that breastfeeding babies and, for me, dairy, do not mix. That was a lesson we learned until 6am the next morning, after exhausting every trick we knew in a vain attempt to get the crying to STOP.
For me, embracing the new role of motherhood was a struggle most of that first year. Beyond the obvious challenge of figuring out how to care for a newborn – I had a constant internal struggle. It felt like this little person was running my life. I balked at having a new “boss.” He told me what I couldn’t eat, wouldn’t let me sleep, and seemed to need attention just when I would sit down to do something very important (like post pictures of him on Facebook). I had been a single and independent working girl for more than a decade post-college. I had earned positions in my career where I had lots of liberty and very few people to whom I had to answer. Now, a newborn was dictating the details of my life.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when we welcomed our 4th child into this world. He’s calm and relaxed – but so are his parents (now). He’ll probably sleep most of tonight because I’m not going to touch anything that’s even remotely related to a dairy cow. I’ll happily change his diaper to make him comfortable, even though the gross piece of umbilical cord is bound to get in my way.
So what happened? Well, in short, I think I gave up.
Yes. I gave up ice cream, unlimited time at the gym, and sleeping through the night. I gave up the ability to shop for countless hours or have coffee with friends without having to watch the clock. I gave up uninterrupted phone calls, unlimited time to write, frequent travel, and the job that required all of that. In short, I gave up doing what I felt like doing, when I felt like doing it. I gave up my freedom and I surrendered… to motherhood.
It was my surrender that somehow allowed me to morph into a mom–or, more accurately– a happier mom. I had to stop lamenting the loss of my old life and come to the reality that yes, life-with-baby was different, but it would have a whole new set of benefits. Giving up allowed me to relax, enjoy, and embrace the privilege of being a mother.
As my children have done some morphing of their own–from babies into toddlers and preschoolers, I’ve had to give up even more. Privacy (like using the bathroom with the door all the way closed), sitting down for meals, and watching the Today show instead of Curious George, are luxuries I sometimes miss. But, the list of what I’ve gained from “giving up” is too long to capture in words. And, I can’t imagine life any other way.