I think, like most people, I had an idea of what motherhood would be like before I became a mother. (I initially wrote “a very specific idea,” but, if I’m honest, I think I knew on most levels that I probably had no idea what I was getting myself into.)
And, before I get into the subject of this post, I want to confirm that I think I’ve made it pretty clear how much I love being a mother. We’re on clear on that, right? I feel obligated to reinforce that I do before I say what I’m about to say next.
Because sometimes being a mother makes me sad.
Whoa, whoa, WHOA, you say. Motherhood is the greatest thing that can happen to a woman, right? How can you possibly not love every second?
Well, I’m really sorry to be the one to tell you this, but, besides that statement being entirely untrue for some people, it’s also impossible for it to be true for every single woman every second of the time.
And I’m not even talking about postpartum depression, which, I’m told, is a whole other bear. I’ve been fortunate thus far that I haven’t really dealt with that, at least not in full force. My sadness is rather run-of-the-mill, I’m afraid. So sorry.
But whether or not it requires a diagnosis, my sadness is just as real. Because, even though I love being a mother, it is not always easy.
Being a mother means giving up a lot of yourself. It always makes me think of this line from The Bridges of Madison County:
“You don’t understand, no-one does. When a woman makes the choice to marry, to have children; in one way her life begins but in another way it stops.”
Because, you guys? That is IT. And even though it’s not always a bad thing, there is always a level of mourning when it comes to letting a part of yourself go.
And besides the existential struggle, there are parts of being a mom that just kind of suck. Your time is not your own. Your body does weird things. You can’t do everything you want to do. You often have to go into hiding to breastfeed. You can’t eat whatever you want to eat. You are almost always tired. You are more often than not covered in some kind of bodily fluid. You get screamed at (a lot) by a tiny, irrational dictator despite your every attempt to please them.
The good part is that your baby usually finds a way to make it up to you (those smiles and sweet coos are life-affirming at times), but the fact remains that often those sucky moments still just suck.
But wait, you say, isn’t this a blog post about joy?
YES. But more than that, it’s about the choice of happiness.
Remember almost four (!!) years ago when I decided to stop being unhappy? That sounds silly, I know. I even acknowledged the silliness when I said it. The Happiness Project was less about truly never feeling unhappiness and more about make a concerted effort whenever possible to choose joy. It probably wouldn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found the more you practice mental discipline, the easier it can become over time.
I’ve found this practice helpful in a lot of areas of my life, from friendships to marriage, from running a marathon to having a baby. I’m not sure I would have been able to enjoy pregnancy as much as I did if not for my previous practice in seeking the good.
And now I find myself putting it into practice again as a new mother.
Before Vivi arrived, I would spend a lot of time thinking about when she was finally here. And I made a promise to myself: I promised to enjoy everything, from the lack of sleep to the discomfort to the frustration.
Because this was my parental rite of passage.
These were the things that bonded millions of parents across time and space. These were the moments that plenty of people who wish to have a baby would give anything to have. So who was I to take my baby’s 3 a.m. shrieks for granted? Who was I to bristle at irrational tantrums when she hasn’t mastered a new skill? Who was I to throw up my hands in frustration after the sixth spit-up and subsequent outfit change of the day?
And besides, who would I be helping if I did any of those things anyway?
So, instead, I shifted my focus. I learned to live in the moment when things were good and to look at the progress when things weren’t. I learned to appreciate the fact that even the worst moments will make for a good story some day and to tell my war stories with a laugh and an eye roll — my baby might be trying to kill me…but at least my tiny tyrant is adorable!
I also think it helped that I was mentally prepared for struggles. I expected frustration and exhaustion and tears (hers and mine). I expected to feel at some point that I had made a terrible mistake or, at the very least, to mourn my less-tethered childless life. What I’m saying is, I deliberately kept my expectations low. But I’m very grateful that I can honestly say I’ve loved every stage of getting to know Vivi. I expected to grit my teeth through her newborn-ness and to tolerate her fussy infant months, but the fact is that I daily find myself in awe of something about this wonderful little person I get to raise.
Maybe she really is just that wonderful (I mean, I know I think she is). But maybe I’ve just gotten better at focusing on what’s wonderful about her.
Because, most of the time, being a mother is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.
I get to watch her tackle new challenges and develop an ever-sunnier personality. I get to revel in first smiles, giggles, babbles, and kisses. I get to celebrate her new milestones and soothe her pint-sized frustrations. I get to discover the world again through her big blue eyes. I get to wake up every day and be Vivi’s favorite person. I get to be Vivi’s mama.
And, for me, there are few greater joys than that.
It’s beyond cliche to say that time goes too quickly for most parents, so I’m not going to say it.
BUT YOU GUYS.
I’m around Vivi every day, obviously, so sometimes she changes without my noticing. But then I sneak peeks at her newborn baby photos (usually during her naps…because I’m obsessed with her, apparently), and I realize that my squishy little baby has been replaced with this bright-eyed, wiggly little girl.
I mean, it’s a good thing. Her growing up is good. That spitting up after every feeding phase? I don’t miss that.
Babies are so fleeting. So I’m still trying to soak up her little baby sweetness every second.
Ugh, is it DUSTY in here? I need a tissue. Moving on.
Here’s a quick update on what the little lady has been up to, plus a teaser about me/an upcoming post:
The biggest change as of late is that, well, Vivian has just gotten to be so much fun lately. She babbles to me constantly, but even that is in this interactive format where I say something, she lets out a “goo,” I say something else, she gurgles and grins — it actually feels like a conversation even though very little is actually being said.
And it’s so freaking cute.
And as if her HUGE grins weren’t enough to totally make up for all those nights of lost sleep I’ll never get back, she also started giving “kisses” on command. (I’ve literally watched that video over a hundred times. It never gets old.)
Last week, she started to get more mastery over her hands, meaning she’s now picking up and holding her toys.
Her favorites are a set of plush blocks that rattle and her Sophie giraffe. The cutest part is that she always look fascinated by her fingers when they actually do what she wants them to do. I die.
On the more practical side of things, she’s also sleeping through the night and not having nearly as many spit-up attacks as she used to, both developments that make my life a million times easier.
All in all, she’s pretty awesome. It’s such a joy to watch her grow up.
Which leads me to my next announcement…I’m not going back to my office job.
Maybe this isn’t that shocking of an announcement (or maybe it is), but for me, it’s a big deal. I’ve worked in an office for the last 8+ years, and I truly thought I always would. But last week, I took the plunge into the world of full-time freelance. It’s a little scary since I only have a couple steady gigs at the moment, but I’ve been in touch with a lot of friends and former co-workers who are looking for writers/editors/social strategists, and I feel like there will always be something to fill in the gaps. (Hopefully?)
No matter what, I know this is the right choice for us, and I’m excited to start this next season of my life. Here’s hoping Vivi’s next month is just as exciting.
Insecurities are a funny thing. Over the years, I feel like I’ve been pretty open on this blog about mine. In general, I don’t consider myself an insecure person, but that hasn’t always been the case.
For the most part, I’m a person of very cyclical moods. About once a year, I experience what I consider to be some kind of depression or low point. (I say “consider” because I’ve never been officially diagnosed with anything.) It typically lasts anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. It’s usually marked by an increase in mood swings, sensitivity, and a marked uptick in my insecurities. (And, you may have noticed, a lack of blog posts. The blog starts to feel incredibly insignificant during these lows, and I can’t imagine anyone caring what I have to say about anything.)
It’s not fun, but I at least feel more in control of these times than I used to because I’m now able to recognize them for what they are. Anyone familiar with depression can tell you what a liar it is — it tells you you’re not good enough, you’re unlovable, you’re just not enough. So, for me, there is power in being able to feel those things but still step back in my mind and remind myself I won’t always feel that way and that they probably aren’t true.
The insecurities I deal with have evolved over the years, but they’re usually a mix of doubts about something superficial (in high school, the size of my thighs; now, my teeth and nose) and something social (in high school, that my friends and family didn’t really like me; now, that my friends and family don’t really like me).
It’s at this point that I feel obligated to remind you that, in my rational mind, I know my friends and family love me. I do. You don’t need to tell me you do; I know it. Depression just makes me not believe it for a while, or wonder when the day will come that they will stop loving me.
I think everyone handles these feelings differently, for better or worse. For me, I workout (the best therapy for me) and I think about it — a lot. I reason on my feelings, what brings them on and what I can do about it. Often the answer to the latter is simply to ride out the storm and keep reminding myself that depression is a liar. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever really discussed these feelings publicly — I’d venture a guess that most of the people in my life don’t even know I deal with them.
I’m kind of a hermit when it comes to my own struggles. But I’m trying to be better about that because bottling it up (surprise!) doesn’t really seem to help anything.
I’m happy to tell you that, while this post was inspired by my latest bout of low-ness, I can already tell I’m coming out of it. Good talks with some close friends and a weekend with my family were huge helps to reaching the other side of this valley. But even though it’s (hopefully) almost over, the most lingering part of my lows are always the insecurities. Kind of like a bad cough.
I think about my insecurities a lot now as a mother of a daughter. Girls seem to be especially plagued by insecurity, almost to the point where it is weird if you’re confident. I don’t know if I can keep Vivian from having her own self doubts, but I never want her to feel crippled by them.
I want her to laugh loudly even if she thinks her laugh is obnoxious. I want her to wear the sleeveless dress she loves even if she doesn’t like her upper arms. I want her to get down on the dance floor even if she worries someone will think she looks ridiculous.
I want her to live her life bravely, even when she doesn’t feel brave.
And the fact is, I’m going to be her best example of how to do that. So I had better start being a good example.
Which brings me to my new project: Eradicating my superficial insecurities. I’ve decided I’m going to stop only taking photos from what I consider to be my “good side” — just because my nose and teeth are straighter from the left. I’m going to grin broadly — even though in the back of my mind I think my teeth are big and slightly bucky. And I’m going to do whatever I can to stop letting myself slip into the old habit of being who I think people want me to be — and just trust that anyone who does stop liking me was never all that great to have to begin with.
Because I want Vivi to do all those things too. Because, to me, she is perfect. And who else could she possibly be to be better?
I wanted to wait a few weeks until I wrote this post. Partly because I realized pretty early on that there’s not an easy answer to the question I pose in the title (and even if there was, it changes pretty much every hour). But also because, for the first two weeks of Vivi’s life, my mom was staying with us, so I didn’t really feel like I was experiencing “real life” with a baby until this past week.
So, you’re wondering, how has it been?
In some ways, it’s a lot how I expected. A newborn is really time-consuming. (SHOCKER.) Mine wants to be held as often as possible. She’s hungry a lot. She doesn’t really do that much besides eat, sleep, and poop. I don’t have any time to myself except for a few moments stolen while she naps or when Joey comes home and can spend some time with Vivian. I’m usually not as well rested as I could be. (Hahahaha understatements!)
In other ways, it’s not at all how I expected. And not always in a good way.
For example, I was really worried about breastfeeding. It was something I felt very strongly about and really wanted to do, but I had heard so many stories of women who had trouble — babies that couldn’t latch, milk that dried up or never came in, intense pain or discomfort that deterred them from sticking it out. It seemed like this supposedly natural process was a minefield of potential parental disappointment.
But I was fortunate. Vivi starting nursing literally moments after she was born, and we never had any issues while in the hospital or the first few days at home.
And then the real milk came in. And (apparently) with gusto. Suddenly, I had a baby that was getting too much milk and who would promptly spit up everything she had just eaten after every feeding. There were days I literally changed both of our outfits upwards of three times, and I regularly found myself near tears that this one thing I thought I had down was suddenly (and literally) backfiring on me.
Thanks to some advice from our pediatrician, though, we got through it. Sure, I still get doused in vomit occasionally (the creed of new parents everywhere), but it doesn’t really faze me at all anymore. (Remember this post? It’s so much worse after you actually have the baby.)
My voracious little eater aside, though, most of the surprises of motherhood have been positive for me.
For one thing, I was always kind of worried I wouldn’t be that into the newborn phase. They really can’t do that much yet, and a lot of their (extremely limited) awake time is spent fussing because they’re hungry or tired. We usually get 20-45 minutes of happy, fully alert baby at a time. I was worried I would be bored or, even worse, mildly irritated most of the first three months. But I’m really happy to say that I’ve been enjoying it a lot more than I expected. It helps that I just love this little girl so much, even just staring at her while she sleeps feels like a fun activity for the day. But I also just really appreciate getting to be with her every day and watching her change nearly every hour. She’s extremely curious, and I love watching her slowly discover the world around her. She’s also so strong, and it kills me seeing this tiny person hold her head up for the first time or scoot her body around on her play mat.
You know you’re a new parent when: watching a veritable slug of a person kick on their tummy for five minutes thrills you.
Basically, the whole experience has been even more fulfilling than I ever imagined. And now that she recognizes me on sight and can make prolonged eye contact? Well, I’d be lying if I said the first few times she looked at me — really looked at me — didn’t draw a few tears from this new momma. (Though we can probably blame some of the weepies on the hormones and sleep deprivation, right?)
Speaking of sleep-deprivation (because I know you really just want the gory details, not any of this “gosh I love my baby” mush), I’m happy to report that Vivi sleeps decently well. She usually sleeps from 6:30-8ish out in the living room with us (either in someone’s arms or in her swing chair), but I try to have both of us in bed (me in my actual bed, her in her bassinet) by 10/10:30. After that, she typically wakes up about three, sometimes four times, but we usually get two 3- to 4-hour stretches of sleep between the wake-ups. Vivian also takes a short morning nap (about an hour) around 10/11 a.m., and a longer nap (2ish hours) around 2:30 p.m (I try to join her for that one). The rest of the evening is a mix of wakefulness and sleep until the process starts all over again.
If it sounds like not at all a real schedule, it’s because it isn’t. It’s just the life of a newborn — they sleep a lot, but rarely for all that long. In fact, there is typically at least one night a week that she throws the whole thing out the window and just wakes up every hour and a half the whole night through.
Fun fact: That’s also how they torture prisoners of war.
True Life: My baby could be an evil dictator.
But you know what’s kind of funny? Even though I feel like I should be a zombie, I don’t really feel more tired than I usually did pre-baby. These crazy bodies of ours are capable of adapting to just about anything, apparently.
So, yes, I’m tired a lot. And regularly covered in someone else’s bodily fluids. And sometimes (often?) smell. As in, I literally stink. (Post-pregnancy hormones make you sweat a lot.)(GLAMOUR!)
But I really wouldn’t trade a second of it. Because while I’m sure I’m making a million “mistakes” along the way, I feel like I’m good at this. Or, rather, that I can be. I feel like, slowly, I’m figuring this little girl out. And, maybe in spite of everything, having a lot of fun along the way. Because just when I think I’ve hit my limit and might be the worst mom ever, she does this:
And suddenly everything feels like it’s going to be all right again.
So what’s it like to have a baby? It’s overwhelming and incredibly trying. And it’s also completely wonderful.
I want to talk to you about the father of my child for a minute.
He’s pretty handsome, right? Not to sound totally shallow, but it’s pretty fun waking up to a handsome face every day.
His handsomeness is not what I’m here to talk about. I just think it’s fun.
What I really want to talk about? How excited I am to have a baby with this person.
On some level, I always knew Joey would make a great dad. I don’t think you marry someone without at least considering whether or not they would be a good parent unless you are dead-set against having kids yourself. I was pretty sure I did want kids, so I thought about it. And yup, I thought, he would be good at it.
Which isn’t to say we both didn’t have some growing up to do first. When you get married in your early 20s like we did, you probably have more growing up to do than most. And when you get married in your early 20s like we did, it’s not always a smooth, simple process.
I’m incredibly grateful, though, that we grew up and together. In fact, I think Joey and I have never been a better match than we are today.
I’m also incredibly grateful that we both grew into people that, I’m pretty sure, will be pretty good parents. At least, I know Joey will.
Joey is the kind of guy who remembers my friends’ various diet restrictions, just in case they want to come over for dinner, so he can cook them something they’ll like.
Joey is the kind of guy that, when he figures out something that makes you laugh until you almost pee your pants, will find as many excuses to do that thing as possible because he just likes seeing you crack up.
Joey is the kind of guy that babies notice from across a room and instantly grin at, as if simply seeing his face is the best part of their day.
Joey is the kind of guy who, when you’ve spent all day carrying your pregnant belly around to just limp home and collapse on the couch and lazily ask for a glass of water even though you’re two feet away from the kitchen, he’ll immediately get it for you without any fuss even though he was probably already making you dinner. No heavy sighs or dramatics. He just wants to take care of you.
Joey is the kind of guy who, in birth prep class, will make you try every practice labor position on the birthing ball and test every massage apparatus so we can be sure we’ve found the ones I like best. Then he’ll commit to memory what I liked so he can help as much as possible when we do this labor thing for real.
Joey is the kind of guy who, when I’m exhausted and finally starting to get tired of this growing-a-human thing and let myself complain a bit, tells me what an amazing job I’m doing and how brave, strong, and great he thinks I am.
Joey is the kind of guy who wants to read to the baby every night, but first he wants to wait until I feel her moving so he knows she’s awake and “paying attention.”
Joey is the kind of guy who never, ever loses that look of amazement and wonder in his eyes when he feels the baby kick or move in my belly.
Joey is the kind of guy who whispers to my belly before we go to sleep, sharing a private moment with his daughter that always ends with him telling her how much he loves her and can’t wait to meet her.
I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to think of a guy better suited to being a dad.
I’m so glad I married this man. I’m so glad we stuck it out through the not-so-smooth-or-simple parts of growing up together. And I’m so glad I get to have a baby with him.
And that’s what I wanted to talk about today.
You’re the best, Joey. You’re going to be so great at this — you already are. I love you from the left to the right.
All photos by Figment Art & Photo Co.
Are y’all okay if I spew a little mush on the blog today?
Seriously…just a bit? A tiny bit?
Oh wait. This is my blog. I DO WHAT I WANT.
About a month ago, Joey and I decided that not only did we want to take a “babymoon” before our little lady’s imminent arrival, we needed to.
Think about it: A baby is forever. After she’s born, it will never be just the two of us again. Sure, one day she’ll grow up and move out and get a job and her own life and whatever. But really, it will never, ever be the same as it has been for the last four years.
So, even though we are in super-saver mode these days, we ponied up the cash for two tickets to my grandparents’ condo in Florida. Of course, we weren’t being totally reckless. Staying at my grandparents’ place is significantly cheaper than booking a hotel or an all-inclusive resort (the dream), and we would have our own kitchen, meaning we could save on at least a dinner or two and all of our breakfasts and most lunches. And while we would have loved to take a 10-day trip, we opted to extend our Memorial Day weekend an extra day to preserve my precious few vacation days.
Though I will admit that I sprung for the slightly more expensive plane tickets that would give us direct flights to the most convenient airports in both locations. Because what’s the point of taking a relaxing vacation if the trip home is going to get you just as rattled as you were before?
The result of our plans? I don’t want to overstate this, but the trip was, in a word, perfect.
I’m always a little irked by those people who put #blessed in their Instagram captions because, to me, it seems like a fairly overt humblebrag. But after that trip with my husband, I have a hard time describing my feelings any other way. I’m so humbled by the way my husband loves me. I’m so grateful that we have the opportunity and the means to get away from regular life now and then to reconnect. I’m filled with awe by this tiny life growing inside me.
God is so, so good to us, and I hope I can hold onto these feelings even when things aren’t going so smoothly. Because while I don’t feel #blessed, I do feel blessed to live the life I do with the people I love.
So now it’s back to “real” life, with jobs and bills and schedules that don’t include things like “morning swim in the pool” and “leisurely lunch by the ocean whenever we feel like walking to the restaurant”. But you know what? The trips to the beach may be over and my tan has probably already begun to fade, but I think this fullness in my heart will last a while longer.