“Some events are so big and so powerful that they cannot help but change everything they touch.” ~ Maxine Harris, PhD, in The Loss That Is Forever
I delayed composing this article for many reasons. Number 1: I try to make this blog about you and less about me. But becoming a mother has been an unwittingly consuming and momentous experience that naturally has entangled its way into my work-life balance. With grace and authenticity, I have decided to embrace rather than subjugate this development.
Over the past year, I have grown into the liminal, life-altering phenomenon of motherhood. Here are a few things I’ve discovered along the way:
1. You are propelled into motherhood.
Motherhood isn’t a gentle or graceful transition. At least, that’s not how it feels! You are thrown in the deep end. Nothing prepares you for becoming a mum. There are no books, apps, courses or anecdotes that will condition you for the uniqueness that is your own baby and experience.
2. You will worry, deep into your bones, worry.
The worry you feel for your baby is unlike anything else. It is a deep physical, cortisol-promoting worry. It can unhinge you in the darkest hours and propel you into a Hulk-like warrior.
You will strictly strive to follow all the ‘guidelines’ and sacrifice much needed rest in an attempt to guarantee your babies welfare. You will make promises to yourself to relax and rationalize your every action.
3. You will quickly learn that your intuition is the best guide.
When worry and striving to follow the well-meaning advice of ‘experts,’ ‘maternal health nurses’ and so forth quickly becomes a nuance, you will discover the power of your intuition. Listen to your baby. Listen to your gut feeling. And gently roll with it.
My baby girl is unique. She doesn’t conform to the averages and often behaved closer to that of a child 3-6 months older. For endless months, I felt like I was constantly failing because I wasn’t or she wasn’t “doing as she should” according to the ‘experts’. Yet by 12 months of age, my transitioning toddler had mastered a broad vocabulary, including multi-syllable words like “strawberry” and short sentences like “bye bye Dada.”
After trusting my intuition, letting go of rigid guidelines, listening to my baby girl and embracing her beautiful uniqueness, everything started to flow.
“Stay in your own lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.” – Brene Brown
4. Recovering from pregnancy, labour and birth takes a REALLY long time.
Complete recovery takes a realistically really long time! Don’t believe the BS you read about being cleared for exercise and so-forth after only 6 weeks. 12+ months into motherhood and I am still physically recovering. My pelvic floor remains vulnerable (forget skipping rope), my abdominals are still separated, I cannot tolerate the contraceptive pill due to hormonal shifts + a myriad of other details persist. Just think about the changes a woman’s amazing body moves through during this time. You cannot expect to just bounce back!
5. You transition through a deep, chronic and unrelenting fatigue.
Becoming a mother without a mother in the 21st century can be an extremely isolating and dizzying experience. When I returned to see my therapist after Sophia was born, she asked the question; “Have you been feeling lonely?” I gasped and almost laughed. At the time, loneliness had not even crept into my mind. For the first time, I couldn’t imagine feeling lonely again. I had my baby girl. She was with me every moment of every day… And then over time, once the high wore off and the chronic hypercortisolemia took its toll, I started to understand the reason for this question.
I hit a wall. My body was physically exhausted and at 6 months postpartum, I was officially diagnosed with maternal exhaustion. I felt isolated, unsupported and misunderstood. To be honest, a huge part of the problem was sleep deprivation, the SIDS guidelines and a stubborn resolve to exclusively breastfeed. Once rolling, Sophia slept on her tummy or side, we introduced formula and finally, I got some sleep at 8.5 months postpartum. Sophia never slept for longer than 1-2 hours flat on her back (& so neither did I). My overwhelming fear and anxiety around losing her to SIDS meant that I followed the guidelines with a studious rigidity despite physically breaking down. Potentially placing my daughter and I at a much greater risk of falls or driving accidents.
When our mother’s had us, it was not abnormal to sleep a baby on their side or front. Had I done this with Sophia, I have a strong suspicion we all would have slept better and the transition would have been kinder.
6. The grief of loosing my own mother resurfaced all over again.
This was a shock. I had no idea that becoming a mother could reignite the grief of loosing my mother over 10 years earlier. Through pregnancy and the magical experience of motherhood, I desperately craved the company, support and reassurance of my mother. No one else can replace a mother.
At least I powerfully understand how important I am to my daughter, always, even when she is running the other way!
Whether she actually would have flown in to act as baby nurse or mailed me cotton balls and calamine lotion if she were alive isn’t really the issue. It’s the fact that I can’t ask her for these things that makes me miss her all over again.”
― Hope Edelman, Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss, 20th Anniversary Edition
“When a daughter loses a mother, the intervals between grief responses lengthen over time, but her longing never disappears. It always hovers at the edge of her awareness, prepared to surface at any time, in any place, in the least expected ways.”
― Hope Edelman, Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss
7. I feel closer to my mother than ever before.
I have felt a closeness to my mother since becoming a mother myself. I can finally, fully relate to her struggles and ambivalence. I can sympathize with her sacrifices.
When I look into my daughters eyes, I feel closeness to my mother. But the role is now reversed and my daughter is looking up to me for validation, love and guidance. Her inner confidence, resilience and trust don’t merely depend on what I do or say, but on my warmth, presence and love.
8. Your relationship with your other half will change, dramatically.
As harsh as this might sound, when a dependent arrives into your world, suddenly and sometimes expectantly, your partner takes a back seat. This goes both ways.
Even the most lovingly devoted relationships can be shaken to the core. Candace Ganger details this turbulence in 9 Ways The Newborn Years Almost Ended My Relationship.
9. You will overlook a dirty house, or dirty anything really.
Kids create mess. They create mess faster than you can clean. Overtime you will admit defeat and become marginally desensitized.
10. You willingly sacrifice your own dreams for your children’s.
You don’t know the meaning of ‘busy’ or ‘having no-time’ until you have children. Squeezing in extra courses or career opportunities between changing diapers, meal prepping, cleaning and simply looking after the kids just became unfathomable. Okay, not entirely impossible, but it gets darn close. Nevertheless, when you receive an unexpected kiss, a big warm hug or an unconditioned giggle from your child, none of that even matters.
11. You will discover a new form of love.
The type of love you feel for your children is unique. It is heart wrenching, soul encapsulating and raw, unconditional.
The past year has been a roller coaster ride. It has been unfathomably testing. There were moments where I almost didn’t make it through. Will I do it all again? Honestly I don’t know… Maybe, probably not. I love my daughter more than anything in the world. She has a fiery sense of adventure and an intense drive to learn (I don’t know who she got that from, haha!). For now I plan to focus on finding our groove, balancing my commitments and smelling the roses along the path we walk right now.
Photography courtesy of: Danielle Sargent