The First Year of Motherhood - An Honest Reflection on the Longest and Shortest Year of My Life
I did it. Year one down, many more to go. No one told me that this year would be both the shortest and longest year of my life.
In fact, no one told me a lot of things. However rest assured, because I'll fill you in on a few realities about the first year of motherhood. Bottom line - it's hard and beautiful and I want you to know that you are NOT alone. Your first year will look different than mine, but fellow momma, this is not the time to compare our experiences with judgement on me or you. Okay ... judge me if you like, but be kind to yourself. This is your time to connect with me as I share a few honest reflections on the first year of motherhood.
Our son turned 1 and I feel like this birthday celebration is just as much for us parents as it is for our child because we survived our first year. Personally, the first year of motherhood was a whirlwind, and one overarching reality that covered that first year was this:
You will feel a lot of emotions, ranging from amazement to terror, and that is pretty much par for the course I'd say. Don't fight it. Accept it.
For a year I have done many things again and again and again. Nurse. Rock. Feed. Play. Diapers. Bathe. Stare at my son in disbelief; disbelief that he is mine and I LOVE him so much and disbelief that he just pooped on the bathmat. At times motherhood is pure joy. At times I have felt like I'm losing it. At times I've felt confident in my mothering. Other times I've doubted myself. I've felt great peace and other times great anxiety.
Some days my hubby and I work amazingly as a team in this whole parenting gig and other days we have head-butted hard. One moment I can feel so very present with my son and the experiences we share, and then the next moment I feel distracted with my to-do list or other stressors. During the first year of motherhood, you will likely experience a whole continuum of emotions. Surviving the first year of motherhood requires a lot. Period. And if you need help from family or a friend, or even professionally, ask for it, because we aren't meant to figure this out alone.
Now that we've established that you will likely feel the whole color wheel of emotions, let's explore a few more reflections, observations, and well, confessions related to the first year of motherhood.
Mothering is more consuming than a full-time job and it requires that a lot of decisions be made:
- In the early weeks with a nursing-around-the-clock newborn, I ran into the startling reality that this gig is literally 24/7. You never truly clock out. Thankfully, sleep depravation does get better.
- Mothering sometimes feels like 525,600 decisions. Cloth or disposable, co-sleep or crib, breastfeed or formula feed, nurse on demand or schedule, BLW or purée, sleep train or not, go back to work or stay home, this or that car seat, nurse to sleep or never nurse to sleep, allow screen time or shun all of it, only wooden toys or I'll take all the toys that sing and light up, baby sign language or not ... you get the picture. So. Many. Decisions.
- Many days I feel as though I'm 'on' ALL day. Mothering can be constant motion, and sure, I could put my feet up while he sleeps, but many days don't afford this as I have chores or work to do. Bottom line - whether you nap while your baby naps, catch up on work emails, watch your favorite trash tv show, or reorganize your pantry, we as mothers work HARD. We ALL work hard.
- Being a mom and making decisions for your little one can feel intimidating, especially as a first time mom. Motherhood doesn't come with an instruction book and mothering during the age of information may make you very aware of how many different ways things can be done. Personally, I have a love/hate relationship with Google and the plethora of ways my baby should apparently sleep. Information overload is a real thing. Decision fatigue is a real thing too. If a mom senses the slightest judgement from another regarding her choices, it can hit so hard. So be kind to all moms and don't criticize them. Love them, support them, and help them. Also, be kind to yourself. You are going to make some decisions that later you may wish to pivot from, and that is OKAY.
During the first year of motherhood, you realize you are being schooled in what feels like a college course you didn't know you signed up for:
- Jaundice, lip tie, tongue tie, breastfeeding, swaddling, sleep cycles, tummy time, burping, bottle feeding, pumping, solid foods, wellness visits ... the list could go on and on. Raise your hand if you did countless internet searches to understand all the things. Hello! And if you didn't, perhaps you were better off, lol. Like I said before, internet searches can develop into a bit of a love/hate relationship. I found that the book, Baby 411 proved particularly helpful as a parenting textbook. I could reference what I needed, rather than reading through the book cover to cover. Within each topic, the authors present a handful of approaches that one can take regarding everything from sleep to eating to developmental needs. It was a nice reprieve from the online world and it kept options a bit more to a minimum while simultaneously not limiting the options to one way of doing things. I didn't always agree with the author's final recommendation, but hey, we've already established that you do YOU.
- I never anticipated how many hypothesis I would come up with as to why he slept poorly one night and like a champ the next night ... it must be because the drapes were pulled 3/4 closed rather than 3/5 thus letting in the appropriate amount of moonlight for his circadian rhythms to align with ... blah blah blah ... and no, that was never one of my actual hypothesis, but your mind goes all over the place trying to recreate the exact conditions that led to that amazing sleep!
- Why are there so many things that can go wrong with breastfeeding?! Can I get an amen?! Mastitis, plugged duct, thrush, milk bleb, tongue tie, lip tie, poor latch, high palate ... we went through a few of these and we survived. I especially found the Le Leche League to be a helpful resource around all things breastfeeding. Many cities have groups that meet in person and offer support and advice for breastfeeding and beyond.
To survive the first year of motherhood, it helps to let the little things go and embrace a sense of humor around it all.
- I have let my son eat off the floor more than once. I justify this somewhat unsanitary practice by telling myself that I am helping him establish a good variety of bacteria in his gut flora. This is what I tell myself and it may have zero basis in reality, but nonetheless, it is a nice thought.
- He has peed on the bathmat a few times and I have let said bathmat stay put for a bit longer than may be considered appropriate.
- I made a mess of trying to do cute footprints with paint on canvas. My son's prints looked like blobs, his feet were stained with paint, and my canvas was rendered useless. Opt for something clean and simple that will provide the results you want. Baby's Mark Imprint Kit and Frame was what worked for me. Precious baby hand and foot prints!
- When he has bit me while nursing, I curse more than I'd like to admit. I'm workin' on it. Also, cracked and bleeding nipples is no joke. Check out this recipe to make your own prescription strength nipple cream at a much lower cost than you would get from the pharmacy.
- I have shaved less this year than ever before. Showers are a godsend during the first year of motherhood. They are a break from baby and relaxing for you. If shaving fits into relaxing self-care for you, then do it. Shaving felt more like a chore for me, so I embraced the hair. All the hair.
- Getting to the hairdresser with a newborn didn't sound like a task I wanted to take on, so I trimmed my own bangs. I then learned that it is valuable to have an honest friend tell you that that was a mistake. Either get to your hairdresser, or do some youtube tutorials on trimming your own bangs. It's worth it.
During the first year of motherhood, you will feel vulnerable in ways that scare you and in ways that uplift you.
- Loving my son as much as I do places me in one of the most vulnerable places I've ever been. Brene Brown says it well in her book Daring Greatly - "Waking up every day and loving someone who may or may not love us back, whose safety we can't ensure, who may stay in our lives or may leave without a moment's notice, who may be loyal to the day they die or betray us tomorrow - that's vulnerability. Love is uncertain. It's incredibly risky. And loving someone leaves us emotionally exposed. Yes, it's scary and yes, we're open to being hurt, but can you imagine your life without loving or being loved?"
- Seeing my husband become a father was priceless. Seeing him father our son has been irreplaceable. There is a softness and gentleness that emerges when a husband becomes a father. I have seen his vulnerable side open up more since becoming a father. There's nothing like it.
- I don't have a ton of Mom friends and that's ok. That network will grow with a little time and intention. For now, I'm super thankful for the online mommas group I am part of - many times they have given me timely advice on numerous things! And perhaps most importantly, these mommas have helped me realize I am not alone.
- When you embrace just how vulnerable you feel as a mom, you also find a strength you didn't know you had. You realize that vulnerability isn't weakness. It is actually a strength. To give your all to your little one and to embrace all that you are, strengths and weaknesses, is brave. I won't pretend that it is easy or comfortable, but it is BRAVE.
The shortest and longest year of my life to date was the first year of motherhood. When you make it to your little one's first birthday, you realize that you are not the same person you once were and haven't been for a long time. You are different. You are more weathered and probably tired, but tougher. You are also softer and probably squishier. You are a mom and you did it. Year one down. Many more to go.