Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mom. I loved playing with dolls; I was always their doting, caring mother. When my baby sister was born, I secretly pretended she was mine. I held her whenever I could and helped care for her as often as my mom would let me. I started babysitting as soon as I was allowed. It was my favorite job.
Everyone said I’d make a great mom someday, that I’d be a natural.
They were wrong. All wrong. No part of motherhood resembled my childhood fantasies. Not one bit. I expected someone to hand me the baby, that he’d latch on like a champ, and I’d instantly fall in love and float off into star-studded mommy-dreamland.
Well, the baby wouldn’t latch. Every time I placed his tiny, squirmy body next to my breast, he would clamp his mouth shut, turn away, and fall asleep. I was instructed to express my milk into a spoon and feed it to him. Breastfeeding was completely unnatural and foreign to me. I felt disconnected from my body, and my son.
I didn’t instantly fall in love with my baby. I thought he was sweet, cute and darling, but I didn’t get that “I would lay down my life for him” feeling at first. I wholeheartedly expected that to happen right away, and I felt horribly wronged when it didn’t.
Nothing happened the way I thought it would. I felt blindsided; I had no idea what I was doing. My life was forever and irrevocably changed. I wanted my old life back. Between nursing, pumping, not sleeping, and barely finding time to eat or bathe, I thought I was going to lose myself completely.
But more than any of that, I was angry at myself for thinking it would be easy. I thought I would know exactly how to be a mom, that I would fall into the role with comfort and grace.
Why hadn’t anyone told me it would be this way? Why hadn’t anyone told me that motherhood would look completely different than what I thought it would? Why hadn’t anyone told me that real motherhood is worlds different from how it looks in the books and movies, different even from the experiences of other mothers you’ve met in real life?
Maybe nothing could have prepared me for those first few months. But sometimes I wish someone—anyone—had told me a few basic things about becoming a mom:
I wish someone had told me that motherhood looks different for everyone. There is no right way to do it, and everyone feels like they’re making it up as they go along.
I wish someone had told me that the struggles of motherhood are constantly changing. You think you’ve mastered it, and then you are presented with a new challenge. Motherhood is a journey, not a destination.
I wish someone had told me that motherhood is chaotic, cluttered, exhausting, confusing and sometimes awful, and that all of that is normal.
I wish someone had told me that nobody comes into motherhood knowing the answers. It’s all about expecting the unexpected, and developing a sense of humor about it all is a must.
I wish someone had told me that some mothers fall in love with their babies right away, but sometimes the love comes slow (and sweet) as molasses.
I wish someone had told me to wait—to try to muster up all the patience I had—because the newborn phase is over in an instant. Things get a little easier on their own, and all you have to do is show up and try your best.
I wish someone had told me to ask for help. A new mom don’t need more visitors to dote over her baby. She needs someone to get her a few groceries, wipe her kitchen counters, and do some laundry (a lot of laundry).
More than anything, I wish someone had just sat and listened to me. No advice—just holding the space with me, listening to my thoughts and worries, and making me feel less alone.
I don’t remember when it hit me that I could do it—that this mess my life had become was motherhood and that I was doing just fine.
Maybe it was a few weeks in when nursing got easier. Maybe it was a few months in when I started to sleep several hours in a row. Maybe it was that moment one night when I looked at my son cooing on the bed, kicking his little legs in the air. Something passed through me like lightning then, and I felt a maddening love, a deep desire to protect him, to never let him go.
When I think about new motherhood, it’s all a bit of a blur. I think it’s supposed to be that way: an exhausting, beautiful haze. But when you’re in it, it can feel totally terrifying and overwhelming. I think all new mothers need a whole lot of love and care, and most of all, reassurance that motherhood doesn’t always pan out as expected, but every mother finds her way, in her own time, and encouragement to hang tight because that time comes before you know it.