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.
If you had asked me two years ago if I ever thought I would be a full-time freelance worker, I would have answered unequivocally “no.”
It wasn’t that I didn’t see the merit of leaving the office behind — setting one’s own schedule, prioritizing work I actually enjoy, working from home…the list goes on.
What always held me back, though, was the fear that I would never be able to make it work for real — or that the anxiety of whether or not it was working would crush the joy of freedom. I liked knowing that I had work to go to every morning and a paycheck coming every two weeks without fail.
So, I would have said no, and I wouldn’t have hesitated.
When Joey and I had discussed our work plan post-baby, we talked a few options, but rarely did we discuss the option of me staying home. I made good money, and, more importantly, I liked working. I like what I do for a living. (Most of the time.) I like working on a team, and I’ve even liked a few of the office buildings I’ve worked in. Me working full-time was something that made sense in my brain.
Then I got pregnant.
And from the moment I saw that second line on the pregnancy test, I knew things were never going to be the same again. With every sonogram, every inch my belly grew, and every feisty little kick, it became clearer and clearer to me that there simply would be no going back to work for me.
Which isn’t to say that my decision is somehow better or more noble than anyone else’s. Parents choose to go back to work for a variety of reasons — and in some cases it isn’t a choice at all. For me, though, there just wasn’t an alternative.
So, quietly at first, I started to toy with the idea. And as Vivi’s due date drew closer, the possibility and the options I actually had in front of me became more real and ever more likely every day.
When I first put my hands around that tiny baby, I forever let go of the idea of leaving her to go back to work.
Every time she looked at me, Vivian steeled my resolve to find a way to make this work-at-home-mom thing a reality. A month into my maternity leave, finding and applying for remote and telecommute jobs, as well as reaching out to everyone I knew who might be hiring freelance writers, editors, or social strategists, became my full-time hobby.
By the time my “return to work” date rolled around, my mind was fully made up and I turned in my official notice. (For the record, my boss could not have been kinder and more understanding of my decision. We even discussed the possibility of my freelancing for the team in the future.)
And then, quite suddenly, my dream-turned-plan turned into a reality. And I felt…well, I’m still not quite sure. I’m completely happy with the decision and what it means for Vivian and me. But when you have defined yourself by your career for much of your life, it’s weird to suddenly change course.
Fortunately, I’ve learned to handle these changes better than I did five years ago (remember this?)(also, remember when I thought I was leaving journalism for good? lol), so I’m not panicking or even all that worried. I’ve learned that life is rarely finite decisions. Instead, it goes in seasons, and right now, I’m just in a new one.
I’ve had a tendency in the past to throw myself completely into things, only to later wonder if I had given up too much of myself for this new self. But this feels different. I think, with a baby, you really are made over new in almost every way. So even though I’m so different than I was even a few years ago, it doesn’t feel like something I’ve put on so much as something I’ve become. I don’t feel like I’m really giving up any part of myself.
In a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve had some kind of metamorphosis into what I was always meant to become.
That sounds deep and heavy. It also sounds kind of silly or overly poetic. But, regardless of all that, it feels right now that I’ve finally put it into words.
So, for now, I work from home. I ignore the slight flutters of nervousness over this new, less certain career path. And I revel in every second I get to spend with my daughter, watching her become who she will become.
And that office life? Wouldn’t ya know, I don’t really miss it that much at all.
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?
One of the hardest parts of getting pregnant and becoming a mother for me has been feeling like my brain has literally been poked full of holes. I first noticed the effects of “pregnancy brain” late in my first trimester when I started losing words.
I would go to say something or write something, and I would know the definition of the word I meant — I would even be able to recall another time I had used the word in conversation — but I could not for the life of me tell you what the word was. I started googling the definitions or looking up synonyms (that I could remember) on Thesaurus.com, following my own linguistic treasure map back to my own vocabulary.
For a writer, losing words is a very big deal.
My mom loves to tell me a story from my own babyhood about our babysitter, Irene. Apparently, Irene had a habit of looking me in my little baby eyes and telling me, “Words are power.” I don’t know if this infant inception was the direct cause of my becoming a writer, but it’s hard to deny the plausibility.
The point is, I’ve always believed the sentiment of the phrase. Even now, I make excuses to tell Vivi the same thing. She doesn’t have to be a writer (unless she wants to be), but I want her to be able to communicate and express herself the best way possible. It’s part of why I spend a few minutes each day reading to her, even though it’s hard to believe she’s really paying attention as she carries on with her regular baby antics.
Anyway, all of that is a long way of getting around to the fact that pregnancy brain was a little scary for this logophile. It’s gotten marginally better since actually pushing out the baby, but now I just find myself suffering the effects of “mom brain.” (Which, spoiler alert, is the same thing. Babies make you dumb, folks.)
I also feel like it has been affecting the quality of my posts on here. Granted, I’m usually just trying to fling a few words together in a somewhat coherent sentence in between naps, freelancing, and keeping a semblance of order in our apartment, but I can’t shake the feeling that the quality is slipping more than I feel comfortable with.
Of course, this little blog is hardly a priority in the grand scheme of things (sorry, blog; the baby wins this round), but I would be sad if I felt like I let my most consistent creative outlet completely lose its shine. Besides, I feel like I have so many stories in my head from this one-of-a-kind experience I’m going through, and I’d hate to lose those just because I can’t make the time to write.
So while I might not be blogging as often, I’m going to try to brush up the quality of my posts. I’m not going to worry about consistency because, frankly, I can’t promise there will be any, but when I do post, I promise to really have something to say or share.
And hopefully I’ll be able to find the words to do that.
Being covered in puke and not flinching.
Thinking you cleaned off the puke and noticing half an hour later there’s still some on your forearm.
Taking every toddler toy commercial personally. (Will my baby never walk if I don’t buy that?!)(Answer: Your baby will still walk, psycho.)
Spending most of the day with your nursing bra unhooked before finally hooking it again. Most likely in public. Because you don’t even care anymore.
Planning your DAY around a stubborn burp bubble.
Being either half an hour early or an hour late to everything.
Truly believing all is lost if we lose this dang binky.
A tiny bit of guilt at what a relief it is when someone else wants to hold the baby. (Yay! Five minutes where no one is touching/clawing at me!)
The rush of love (and secret relief) when she really just wants to come back to you.
Reveling in every nap that lasts longer than twenty minutes. (He-llo, brushed hair and a cup of coffee!)
Wondering at least twenty times a day if you’re doing it right.
Praying for the next stage of development.
Wishing she could stay this way forever.
Writing blog posts in the back of Uber cars because it’s one of the few places your baby sleeps soundly.
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.