As I sit here with my 3-month-old beside me, both of us covered in spit-up and in a continuous cycle of passing yawns back and forth, I can’t help but wonder how I got here. I have a college degree, I’m only 22, and I have always been career-oriented. Let me preface this with saying that I like where I am now, and I love my little family. But I certainly didn’t expect to find myself here as a young mother This is not the life I was planning for.
Four short years ago, I was wading through a sweaty, swaying crowd of half-dressed kids in a run-down house at the edge of my college campus. Four years ago, I was a half-dressed kid, too. My hobbies included hosting hookah parties, bike riding from my dorm to the town nearby for a $7 coffee, drinking (yes, underage, I know) until I embarrassed myself, and doing just well enough in school so I could graduate somewhere in the middle of my class. I was invincible. I had every opportunity to make mistakes in the present and get my shit together later—much later, after grad school later.
Well, grad school didn’t happen. I didn’t even bother applying. On Christmas morning last year, I took a pregnancy test. At the time, the positive test was devastating. My life was over, and it hadn’t even really started. That’s how I saw it, and that’s how I broke the news to Craig, whom I’d only been dating for a year.
As the weeks flew by, I traded my spontaneous lifestyle for a mundane one. I learned to live on a budget, pinning recipes and trading in my skintight party dresses for yoga pants and maxi skirts—anything with a flexible waistband would do. I set aside my unhealthy obsession over remaining skinny and focused on the new life blossoming inside me. I quit smoking. I quit drinking. I skipped my yearly snowboarding trip. And when my pregnancy became complicated with threatened preterm labor, I quit my job. I finished my thesis, sat through my graduation wishing it would end so I could just use the bathroom, and hung my degree on the mantle.
I was placed on bedrest at 29 weeks. Most days, I didn’t even step outside. I was so stir-crazy and anxious that all I could do was hope the baby came before his due date so that I could be off bedrest and get labor over with. When he finally did come at 39 weeks, life with a newborn demanded more than I was prepared for. Between nursing, diaper changes, cuddling, soothing, swaddling and unswaddling, I never slept more than an hour and a half at a time. I was a mombie. But this mombie was just beginning to realize that this is the greatest accomplishment of my life. I can do this, and young mothers do this all the time.
While I occasionally mourn the loss of my original expectations, I can’t say I regret where I am now. Being pregnant when I expected to be at my wildest was a challenge. A forced sedentary lifestyle for a few long months was a challenge. Dealing with endless advice from strangers was a challenge (how can everyone tell I am a first-time mom at a glance? Do I exude naivety, or do I just have resting nice face?).
Somewhere along my pregnancy journey, while perusing various online communities for pregnant women, I realized I shared many of the same parenting fears of first-time moms 10 or 20 years older than I. Some moms were giving up their career for several months or years to stay at home with their baby. Some had to adjust their diet to account for gestational diabetes. Some were putting in hours at work up until their labor began.
Whether young or old, moms make both planned and unplanned sacrifices for their kids. I gave up a lot of valuable time to be young and spontaneous. I missed out on partying or putting in long hours at work to be more financially comfortable. I estranged myself from my friends because we no longer had things in common. But I’m not unique. So my perspective on being a mother is that you’re never ready—it’s just your turn.