The Unexpected Lessons of Motherhood

woman writing letter in sunshine

Dear Pre-Baby Self,

Let’s chat! A little bird told me you’re about to have a baby! If I remember correctly, everything has been working out perfectly according to your plans. With over a month left until your due date, there’s just the baby’s room left to finish up, the freezer to stock, and birth music to be carefully selected. You are rockin’ it, mama-to-be/past-me.

Except…surprise! None of that is going to get done, because your baby is going to come flying out of your vagina in one short week in the back of your husband’s twelve year old, dirty 4Runner. You will be screaming, he will driving, your midwife will come running and your sweet baby boy’s umbilical cord will be cut via iPhone flashlight. Just like you wrote in your birth plan, right?

Welcome to motherhood, my dear. There are a lot more surprises in store for you.

After the shock of that wild birth experience passes, your eyes will be opened to the great strength and power that lies within you. It will be the first major lesson in the new chapter of your life: the days of being able to plan and predict the outcome of things is over. Now it’s you, the experiences and confidence you’ve gathered in the past thirty years vs. an adorable little blob you’re supposed to shape into productive member of society.

Here’s another surprise: you are going to dig this whole parenting thing. So much so that one kid isn’t going to feel like enough and you’re going to jump headfirst into having more. You’ll have two more babies in three years and soon wiping butts, noses, and tears will become second nature. You’ll have a wipe stash in every room, except when you run out (which is often) and then you will improvise. You will end some days too tired to think and thankful you never changed out of your pajamas. Your hair will go grey, your eyebrows will get overgrown, and you’ll end up two seasons behind on Game of Thrones. Coffee and chocolate chip cookies will bring you more happiness than you could imagine and you will find comfort in the quiet darkness of 3am.

There will be other surprises, too. You’ll be surprised at how you view other parents now that you are one yourself. You’ll read all the books and know all of the answers. But I can promise you as you start to settle in and motherhood becomes an unrelenting and sometimes lonely place, the feeling of judgment will pass and be replaced with thoughts of solidarity. You will make choices others will raise eyebrows at too. Every time your best laid plans fail–when the cloth diapers are phased out, when your baby’s car seat is forward-facing earlier than you wanted–you will find yourself on the side of possible judgment. Eventually you will be simply too humbled (and tired) to judge in return. You will begin to greet all moms with a smile and a simple, “you got this” nod. And you’ll believe it. We’ve all got this, in our own ways; we are all doing our best with the options available on our tables. It’s surprisingly empowering to discover this.

Speaking of getting this, boy, do you got this. More than you ever thought possible. Even the stuff that used to gross you out! Remember that first summer after college when you walked into your cabin at camp, welcomed your seven year old campers, and quickly informed your fellow counselors that you didn’t “do puke”? Well, that’s all gonna be in the past. Over the next few years, you will watch tummy aches quickly turn into something from The Exorcist. You will pull your baby close instead of rushing in a panic to the bathroom. It sometimes happens so fast, you will serve as a human bowl, and sit there covered in the puke you didn’t use to do, rubbing their back, singing their favorite song. The vomit sticking to your face and hair will seal your fate for contracting the virus in 72 hours or so, but it won’t matter. It’s part of motherhood. Now, you do puke.

You will schedule things you never thought you’d need to, including showers, sex and conversations. Things that were a source of relaxation and enjoyment will sometimes feel like to-do items that have to get checked off the list. Conversations that should take ten minutes are had over three days. Showers will be interrupted because shoes are missing, pictures are colored (which must be seen at that exact moment), and because somehow new baby tummies always empty at the exact moment shampoo hits a scalp. Sex will sometimes be quick and sparse. But you will find other ways to connect and support each other. You know how you hate your small kitchen? Here’s another surprise: it will become your favorite place in the house. It will be the place where your partner’s arms always find their way around your waist. It’s not naked, and it’s not sex, but take it as a reminder of the security, joy and strength that surrounds you.

You’re also going to buy a minivan. I know. It’s not going to be for the reasons you think because as you know there are many cars that can seat many kids. But minivans have these amazing doors that slide open allowing you to park anywhere. They also allow kids to walk to their seats themselves and allow you to carry everything and anything you would ever need with you. You will learn to love your minivan. You won’t clean it often enough, but it won’t really matter because the doors close, the windows are tinted, and the mess is outside of the house. (Also, just to warn you, every summer the minivan will get a case of the fruit flies. Although that means there is a food source hiding somewhere in the van–check for a lost banana under the sand toys–remember that it does mean that you’re giving your kids fresh fruit! Always look for that silver lining.)

Your relationships with people without kids will change. On the surface it will just be because finding babysitters is hard and the idea of someone else having to deal with your bedtime routine just seems mean. Leisurely brunches where you hash out the previous night’s antics will be a thing of the past. You’ll care about your friends without kids with the same amount of love as before, but the conversation about the promotion or move to a new house isn’t always going to resonate in the same way. This is a harder surprise. You’ll have quiet moments where you’ll think of them, and pick up the phone to call and reconnect, only to be immediately greeted by a booboo that needs to be kissed. For someone who likes to please everyone, this new balancing act is going to be a hard one for you.

Your circle of friends will become smaller and tighter as a result. Your casual friendships will remain just that. Be patient and you will slowly build your village. Making friends as a mom is hard. Really hard. There’s something about making a thousand decisions a day and knowing that you’ll get some wrong that can make motherhood a very vulnerable place to be. But with every failure you’ll gain confidence and that confidence will help you build friendships and trust. You’ll find people who without judgement will help you process your mistakes and remind you to treat yourself with grace. You will find those who will understand and never for a second doubt your love when you call your napless toddlers “little shits”. Keep these people close.

Motherhood is hard, but you will find your way. Find the strength to relax into the mess and chaos and you will quickly see the beauty, and learn to love it for all its crazy, chaotic, messiness. In fact, you’ll love it because of the crazy, the chaotic, the mess–not in spite of it. All of it will surprise you, day after day, in whole new ways. Within the unexpected, wild journey of motherhood you will become exactly who you are supposed to be.


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