When I found out I was pregnant, I was pretty sure I knew what motherhood would be like. I’m a teacher and have worked with children in some form or fashion for as long as I can remember. The oldest of three siblings, I started babysitting for other families at age 12. (What were they thinking letting a sixth-grader watch their toddlers?) I’d read the books on what to expect and truly felt that all my experience and knowledge had prepared me to raise a little one of my own.
What a rude awakening it was when we brought our newborn home and I found myself absolutely clueless. I realized how naïve I’d been in thinking that two decades of babysitting would prepare me for parenting.
Motherhood wasn’t what I was expecting, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about that at first. I loved our sweet daughter, but I hadn’t fully understood how every little aspect of life would be altered. Fourteen months into this beautiful and ever-changing journey, I can appreciate the challenging moments because they have shaped me into the mom I am today. The lessons I’ve learned from just one year of motherhood have made a noticeable impact on my life, and I hope they resonate with some other new mamas out there, too.
1. Soak in the details.
People always comment on a newborn’s tiny fingers and toes, and I totally get it. On top of being adorable, their contrasting strength and fragility are mesmerizing. The way a baby can wrap an entire hand around one of your full-grown fingers…that’s an automatic heart-melter right there.
Thinking back on my own early days of motherhood, I can still hear those little newborn noises—the squeals, hiccups, and grunts she would make in her sleep. At the time, I remember being shocked that such a tiny human could be the source of such an interesting symphony of sounds. One of my friends suggested that I record this then-regular occurrence because babies don’t make those sounds for very long. Watching those videos now is a good reminder of how much she’s grown in the short time she’s been on this earth.
Now that she’s one, I’m soaking in new details—gap-toothed smiles, boisterous giggles, and a rapidly expanding repertoire of facial expressions. While I quickly capture as much as I can on camera so I’ll always have the memories to look back on, I also try to relish these simple joys in the moment.
2. Not everything will go as planned…
and that’s okay.
Everyone said that newborns sleep all the time, so when ours hardly slept during the day beyond the first few weeks, I became flustered. Never mind the fact that my baby started sleeping through the night around six weeks old (a reality most new parents would trade anything for), she wasn’t behaving in the way that nearly every piece of literature suggested she would be.
Every single nap was a catnap—30 minutes on the dot. For months, I tried different ways of getting her on a sleep schedule. It wasn’t until I stopped attempting to control the timing of her rest so rigidly that things fell into place and she started getting the sleep she needed. By focusing more on her tired cues (yawning and eye-rubbing, specifically) than the clock, I didn’t have to waste time and energy trying to force a nap she wasn’t ready to take.
Every baby really is different, and although some things may be true for the majority of babies, there will always be some exceptions. It’s definitely a good thing to consider the wisdom of others, but ultimately, you need to do what’s best for you and your little one.
3. Breastfeeding can be TOUGH.
I hadn’t given much thought to breastfeeding before delivery; I assumed it would just come naturally. Oh, how wrong I was. A poor latch, lip tie, and tongue tie were a recipe for the most painful and aggravating experience imaginable. I felt like such a failure; my body was made to do this task, and I was failing at it. That frustration prevented me from truly bonding with my baby early on. I was bitter. There were times I would be crying through entire nursing sessions because the pain was that unbearable.
We consulted a lactation consultant who was absolutely wonderful. Still, after several lactation appointments, going back to the basics of positioning, and rectifying both a lip and tongue tie, there was no improvement. Since I was returning to work when our daughter was 10 weeks old, I began to consider exclusive pumping.
For me, this ended up being the golden ticket. I was finally able to nourish my baby in a painless way that, for us, was quite a bit quicker than nursing. She took to bottles immediately, and her growth skyrocketed. An added bonus, I became a much happier person (and therefore a better mom to my baby) by making that decision for us.
Pumping wasn’t without its challenges, however. Lugging my pump, bottles, and cooler to and from work every day and then cleaning them every night was time-consuming. If my baby started crying while I was pumping, I’d have to stop, tend to her needs, and resume once she settled down. Being a pumping mom also made traveling much more of a hassle since it can be hard to find secluded spaces with outlets in an airport. On one occasion, I ended up sitting on a toilet in the airport restroom for 20 minutes while my pump loudly whirred away—definitely not an ideal situation.
Nevertheless, exclusive pumping allowed me to reach my goal of providing breast milk to our baby. Know that even if nursing poses unforeseen challenges, there’s still a way to pass on the benefits of breast milk to our babies. (Bonus tip: Get a hands-free pumping and nursing bra!)
4. Your house doesn’t have
to be a model home.
Since entering adulthood, keeping my living space clean and organized has been a priority. I’ve scoured Pinterest and home decorating websites for inspiration on how to achieve a certain look and have spent countless hours searching for just the right pieces to bring that vision to life.
Of course, around the same time that almost everything was styled as desired, it was time to welcome our first baby into our lives.
None of the moms I followed on Instagram had a massive baby swing as part of their décor. But for us, the only practical spot for the swing was the living room, so there it went. That wasn’t so bad, though. The rest of the aesthetic was still intact.
Slowly but surely, toys, books, and diaper changing stations made their way into several rooms of our house. We bought new storage solutions to house said items, and some of our previously practical furniture was no longer serving its purpose. That cool, industrial coffee table? It was taking up floor space where we could sit with our daughter and play. Out to the garage it went until a quick post to a local sales site took it off our hands.
The choice is simple; although I would love to have a picture-perfect home, having a comfortable space where my daughter can play and explore safely is so much more important.
5. People are right when they say
it goes by fast.
Amidst the sleep deprivation of the first few weeks of motherhood, I was skeptical when others told me it was just a phase that would pass. The constant cycle of feeding, changing diapers, and soothing a fussy newborn seemed never-ending.
But they were right.
When our daughter’s first birthday rolled around, I couldn’t believe she had already been in our lives for an entire year. A milestone that had once felt so far away had somehow snuck up on us.
Multiply that short year by 18 and she’ll be leaving us to start her own life. I get emotional just thinking about it.
What I’ve come to realize is that certain days can seem long…really long. But the weeks, months, and years seem to pass by at warp speed. Every month of my daughter’s life has brought with it a unique set of surprises and challenges. My husband and I don’t always know exactly how to approach each of them, but the fact that she’s thriving affirms that we’re handling things just fine.
In the past year, I’ve realized that motherhood truly is an amazing journey. There is so much to learn from this beautiful experience, and I know that at a year in, I have merely scratched the surface. Someday, a day that will be here before we can see it coming, it will be time for her to start her own adventure. But until then, we will make the most of the time we have together. I’ll cherish the little things, roll with the punches, be flexible, prioritize family, and try my best not to blink.