Oh baby, baby: The first year of motherhood

The first 12 months of having a baby in your life can feel like a crazy rollercoaster ride. Full of blissful happiness, but also full of crazy levels of exhaustion and newfound anxieties. Compared to life b.c. (before child), everything is changed and yet it isn’t. You will probably learn more in this one year about yourself and life in general than you have in a long time or maybe ever before. A baby is a wonderful, crazy, challenging process of progress. It certainly was for me. Here are my key take-aways from being a mom.

How much it changes you

Everyone keeps saying how much becoming a mom changes you. While you hear those words and rationally expect it, once you have your baby, it’s still surprising how much it does indeed change you. Suddenly there is a little entity that you feel a kind of love for in a way that you never felt for someone before. Sure, you love your partner and your parents, family and friends. Still, the love for your own child is one that is fundamentally different. It is unconditional (starting with pregnancy and the birth itself, even when they scream in your ear for hours and keep you up all night with red eyes), it’s selfless (you are willing to get hurt to protect them), you suddenly worry about all kinds of things you never worried about before in your life, like being preemptively sad that at some time in the future someone will hurt your child, physically or, even worse, emotionally, that the world we live in could bring hardship to your child, that every story in the news about a baby being hurt suddenly hits very close to home. I always found it slightly insulting when moms said, “Now that I’m a mom, I can’t handle hearing stories about a child being hurt.” I always used to say: “Wait a minute, I am a compassionate human being too. I don’t have to be a mom to feel sad.” Then I became a mom and suddenly I feel grief for another woman’s baby in need like I never did before. I cry when I hear bad news involving kids. I am sobbing when a fictional TV show makes a vulnerable toddler the victim.

And yes, becoming someone’s mom changes your interests. Maybe you loved hanging out in bars all weekend-long and, while you might still enjoy it occasionally (and might even enjoy every rare occasion even more now), you might suddenly find yourself in love with being a home-buddy with your family. Of the great transitionary moments we experience in our lives, becoming first time parents is probably amongst the most intensive, and it’s only natural that we divest ourselves of certain interests and cultivate new ones. The sad thing is that it can affect your existing friendships, while by the same token it also creates new ones.

And then… how much it doesn’t change you

You are who you are. While this sentence might not seem like the most ground-breaking revelation, it is still somewhat surprising with regard to having a baby. Motherhood has a lot of stereotypes associated with it, perhaps most notably the idea of the pure-hearted, morally superior and ultimately good mother who is somehow elevated above the vulgar existence of non-mothers (aka dads and people without kids). Spoiler alert: giving birth does not make you a better person, neither does it make you whole or heals you. If you were impatient, you will still be impatient. If you are prone to envy, you will still be envious. If you are bad with time management, you will not suddenly become super organized. If you are competitive, you will perhaps shift this competitiveness from your job onto motherhood. You get the idea. Sure, you might improve in one or the other aspect, but you will still be you. You will not become a better person for having undergone the rite of passage of pregnancy.

So it changes you and it doesn’t at the same time. Sadly, people often only seem to acknowledge one or the other. The one faction says that motherhood completely transforms you and denies that you can stay who you were. The other claims that you remain completely unchanged, despite the gigantic disruption of becoming a parent. Neither of those extremes are accurate descriptions of the truth.

The sightings of virtue signaling moms

Speaking of the perfect mom, enter the virtual-signaling mom. We all know or have met one or two of this species in a mommy meet-up or amongst friends. She breathes motherhood and seems to know what’s best and acts accordingly. She is everything we want to be. Of course, she looks effortlessly amazing and seems to have a perfect, natural way about her with her child. Her relationship is envy-provokingly perfect, and she is either fully devoted to motherhood or easily balancing being a mom, lover and great friend while maintaining a spotless household and wonderful career. She reads a book to her baby every day, uses organic diapers and only serves homemade baby food. She had a natural birth (no c-sections), is breastfeeding and participates in a lot of baby groups for early development, but not too many, so as to avoid overstimulation. She never drinks a glass of wine or has caffeine and is eating healthy – always. Her hair shines like a silky waterfall. She and her partner would never yell at each other in frustration when the baby screams non-stop because s/he is teething and, of course, they follow a strict routine of meals, naps and bed time. I am not claiming that people with lives like this don’t exist, but they are probably rarer than they seem and you are not any worse than them. What people say and how they live are often two very different stories and who’s to say anyways whether there is only one pathway that leads to the promised land.

The continuity of change

Every time you think that you’ve finally gotten the rules of the parenting game memorized, some new amendment of baby life is added to the equations. Our best months in the first year seemed to be 7 to 9. We knew our munchkin well enough to identify her needs and tend to them without doubting much. She had a great sleeping routine of 7 to 8 uninterrupted hours at night, followed by a short feeding session and an additional 2 to 3 hours of sleep. She was chirpy, learned new skills quickly and eagerly and we got the strong feeling that we had now finally mastered this parenthood “thing”. Enter the molar teeth and the baby suddenly being ill a lot, all while you discover they outgrow their baby car seat and you now need to find a new one, etc. The only constant in a baby’s life is change. This is especially true in the first year. Every time you think, “ah this is the new normal and we can settle with this,” something new comes along and changes everything. If you ever wondered what change and progress feels like, you find out in the first year of parenthood. Just like career or personal development progress, it’s filled with learning, mastering, plateauing, adjusting, learning again, … – on steroids.

Special bonds

While you will obviously feel a special bond to your baby, having your first child with your partner also creates a special bond between the two of you. This first time experience of being someone’s parents, of witnessing her being born, her first moments in this world, all the incredible things a baby learns in the first year and accomplishes bit by bit, is a very unique experience to be a part of. It’s a new life of exploring the world that wouldn’t be taking place if it wasn’t for the two of you. The unique combination of genes that comprise your baby is only possible because of your partner and you. That is very special and is only enhanced by the fact that you are going through this amazing (and, quite frankly, sometimes intimidating) experience of being someone’s mom or dad for the very first time in your life. Nothing compares.

Moreover, it also allows you to see your own parents from a whole new perspective. Whether you suddenly understand the sacrifices they made, the decisions they took because of you or even discover parenting flaws that you don’t wish to repeat. I was hit quite intensively by an immense feeling of gratitude towards my parents and how they raised my brother and I and see myself turn to them for advice far more often than I would have imagined.

When we speak of bonds, friendships come to mind. A friend of my partner used the following words to describe the moment of becoming a dad: “It’s a very special feeling that you only understand if you have experienced it yourself.” Those words strongly resonated with me, because they feel so true. It’s amazing to have friends going through the exact same experience right around the time that you do, to share the funny, scary or humbling moments of parenthood, because ultimately it gives you the feeling that they understand where you are coming from in all this.

Most important lesson learned: You can trust yourself and your intuition. You got this girl!

There seems to be this intense, almost psychic, connection between mothers and their children. Like how you magically seem to wake up just a couple of minutes before your baby in the middle of the night when s/he gets hungry. Or when I go to the gym, for instance, and my daughter stays with the gym-provided babysitting service, I sometimes suddenly feel this random urge that tells me, “I should go check on the munchkin” and every single time this happened I discovered that she had just at that moment started to cry. Somehow I just knew without knowing. Scientists have done research on this and have discovered micro-chimeric fetal cells in mothers’ brains that act like stem cells (click here for the article on it). So this could help explain the psychic connection between moms and their mini-mes. If that’s true, trusting your intuition as a mother is one key lesson that we can all take away from this and benefit from. Even if it wasn’t, it’s a good guiding principle, I think. We somehow seem to buy into this assumption as a society that everything in life is extremely complicated and requires extensive preparation, education and lots of checklists and analysis. When it comes to raising a child, this is no different. We somehow all seem to think that we are ill-equipped and not adequately prepared to handle a baby, no matter how much we wished for one or not. But truth be told: we are not the first generation to have children and, while not everything is always perfect, especially in the first year, we need to stop worrying about not being good enough. It seems to me that we are all trapped in feeling like imposters when it comes to motherhood, when we should really simply trust our intuition and that we will handle it all okay. Even if we don’t seem to be as perfect as those “amazing” moms we see on Instagram or this one friend we have who seems to magically excel at mummying with ease and poise. Don’t worry, you got this girl! Your baby needs love and affection, food and fresh diapers, s/he needs your attention. They will not suffer irreparable damage if you don’t follow a childhood development book to its core or if you don’t handle the bedtime routine or the introduction of solid food according to the exact step-by-step guide you read somewhere. Why, because every child and every family is different, something that works for person A might not work for person B and because, contrary to popular belief, handling a baby is not rocket science, it’s a natural instinct. So listen to your heart and follow your intuition. Both will show you the best way for you and your family. Besides, your baby already got his/her verdict on you: you are the best mom, s/he ever knew and s/he loves you.

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