The question of why no one ever told you about what it would truly feel like to be a new mom comes up in nearly every session of The Chicago New Moms Group. It is always shocking to new moms (and I remember it being shocking to me as well) how vastly different the experience of being a mom is from our expectation of what it would be like.
In the months and weeks leading up to having a baby, we often do what we think of as “preparation” for the baby. We shop for a crib (which the baby may or may not sleep in in the first few months of life), we test drive strollers (which we may end up not liking and selling on Craigslist), and we take childbirth classes (which may come in handy or may end up having been a waste of time when our birth plans go out the window). I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do any of these things. If you don’t, you may be likely to panic that you haven’t “prepared.” The reality is that there is very little you can do to prepare for the actuality of becoming a parent and what that will truly feel like.
So why didn’t anyone tell you what it would really be like? I believe there are a few reasons.
1) If they did tell you, you may not have believed them. I mean, how hard can it really be to take care of a tiny human? They are small, so how big can their needs be really be? The honest truth is that newborn babies eat a lot and they eat all the time, which often leads to pooping all the time. This means that when you want to be doing things like eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom, or changing out of your pajamas (forget about going to the grocery store, responding to a telephone message or an email, or taking “me” time), your baby may decide it is time to eat and then he needs to be changed. Maybe you are thinking, “well, that’s okay, he can wait a few minutes until I finish what I am doing.” No. That isn’t probably going to fly or at least, it won’t happen quietly. When your newborn is hungry, despite the fact that he just ate an hour ago and when he did eat, he ate for 45 minutes, his cry will sound as though you have never fed him in his entire, short life. The sense of not having the option to choose what you are doing and when you want to do it (especially in the early weeks) can feel very overwhelming.
2) If you are having a blissful pregnancy, no one wants to rain on your parade. If you are having a really rough pregnancy fraught with constant nausea, vomiting, and muscular-skeletal pain, no one wants to tell you that the 9 tough months of pregnancy are nothing compared to the 18 years of parenting that lay ahead (or even just the first year which can be a real reality check).
3) Just as there are millions of babies in the world, there are millions of ways that you could possibly experience becoming a mom. The way that one mom experiences parenthood can be entirely different then that of another mom. I do truly believe that how this feels for you has a great deal to do with how much support you have around you. For instance, if you live in an area where you have helpful grandparents nearby or other friends or family members who are readily available to help and give you some respite, then you can have a very different experience then someone who lives in a much more isolated area with little to no support. Also, having a supportive and present partner makes a huge difference in how the first few months as a parent will feel.
4) Our brains work in mysterious ways that protect the human species. If we actually remembered exactly how hard the first several months/year after becoming a mom truly was, we might never have more children and the human race would no longer exist. We often forget or revise our memories of those first several months. This is why, when you speak to your friends with older children, they have no recollection of the early months. They may either not remember what it was like or have completely changed the experience in their mind so that they remember it differently then it actually happened.
5) You cannot imagine how you will feel until you experience it for yourself. The vast array of emotions that you will uncover (sometimes simultaneously) when you meet your child and in the early months ranges from extreme highs to extreme lows. The feelings are often indescribable. This is like no other job your have done in your life. This isn’t a career for which you have gone to school or a job where you have been trained. You may have very little reference point by which to compare both the tasks themselves involved with parenting and the emotions that go along with it.
If you have had a baby, what do you tell pregnant friends or family about parenthood? Do you tell them the “honest” truth or do you sugar coat it? Do you let them go through their preparation process or do you tell them that they won’t need half of what they have planned for? How much do you share and how much do you hold back because you know that their experience will be uniquely different from yours was and nothing you can say will prepare them in reality?