On Mother's Day: Here's to surviving another year
I know it’s Mother’s Day weekend and we’re supposed to be talking the joys and beauty of motherhood—and there are plenty. Honestly, though, if I had to sum up the first year of motherhood in one word it would be survival. It’s a lot like being on one of those reality shows where you’re stuck on an island doing weird and crazy tasks with a group of strangers (or in the case of motherhood, one tiny stranger), just trying to make it to the next day. You don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what’s coming in the next episode, and you really, really don’t want to screw up.
The feeling I remember most from that first year is waiting. Not the good kind, where you have butterflies in your stomach, and it feels more like excitement. I’m talking about anxious waiting, where you sit around wondering when the other shoe is going to drop. This stemmed partly from spending twenty-four hours a day with a person whom I knew nothing about. I loved my baby, sure, but I didn’t know him. So, I watched vigilantly for signs of his personality. I latched on to anything I thought might be an indication of who he would turn into and thus how difficult or easy the years ahead might be. What did his sleep patterns mean? Was he nursing easily? Did he weigh enough? Too much? I replayed in my mind every story I’d ever heard about colicky babies or kids who didn’t sleep through the night until the teen years. Even as time went on and people commented on how easy-going my son was, I remained unconvinced. If he had an off-day and fussed more than normal I’d think, This is it, he’s finally showing his true colors. He’s going to make my life a living hell from this day forward.
That first year I was also waiting to see how my marriage would weather the transition of our family going from two to three. Here, also, horror stories abound. Would we fight constantly? Would I resent my husband for the rest of my life? Would having a baby in the next room permanently kill the romance? Every time we snapped at each other from lack of sleep I’d think, It’s happening; it’s all falling apart; we’ll be divorced in a month.
Most of all, though, I was waiting to screw up as a mom. To get something so wrong that it would permanently damage my child. Were we doing enough tummy time? Should I sleep train or not? When should I take the pacifier away? There were so many firsts and I wanted a perfect score on all of them. It seems obvious now, but really there were very few ways I could have screwed up, other than to not show him enough love.
If the first year was all about survival, I’m happy to say that year two has been about finding my rhythm. Over this past year, many of my inner voices of anxiety have quieted, and my footing feels more solid. I have found a new ability to be absorbed in the moment and to stop trying to control the future. Some of this is no doubt due to the confidence that experience brings. I managed to keep my baby alive for a year, so chances are I can do it for another! I also feel like I finally know my child as an individual and not just a baby blob. I know his likes and dislikes, and what to expect from him as we navigate new situations. I also understand by now that everything is just a phase. One bad day does not mean he’ll suddenly turned into the Bad Seed—and trust me, there are plenty of them.
In the second year I’ve also been able to see that while my marriage is changing, it’s not in the way that I feared. There continue to be hard moments, where the balls we’re juggling come crashing down and we get distracted by assigning blame instead of cleaning up the mess. For the most part, though raising a tiny human has only amplified our love for each another.
Most of all, in the second year I’ve remembered how to trust again—in my skills and instincts, in the people around me, and in the greater power of the universe to guide my life along the right path. The evidence for this trust was there all along, I just went through a long period of forgetting to notice it.
I’m now headed into my third year of motherhood, and I have no idea what it will bring. I’m oddly ok with that, though. I’d like it to be characterized by the confidence and trust I developed in year two. The beauty is that I know it will be—if that’s what I choose.