Great Expectations

My sister and her husband are expecting their first baby in nine days. I remember that tail-end of pregnancy very well – feeling swollen in body and anticipation, telling myself, “any day, any day, we’ll get to meet our little girl any day.”

My sister and me. Doesn't she look great?

My sister and me. Doesn’t she look great?

They have no idea how their lives are about to change, but that’s part of the fun – the not knowing, the wondering, the dreaming. It’s all so surreal. One day, your baby is curled up inside you, snug in your belly. The next, she’s on your chest, with skin warm against yours and eyes blinking before her mouth opens in her first quivering wail. There are no words to describe that exquisite, heart crushing moment of seeing and holding your child for the first time.

Now I’m no expert on motherhood (is anyone really?), but as my sister is getting ready to cross the threshold, I want to share a few things I wish I knew before my daughter was born almost 11 months ago.

It’s easier than you think it will be.

Before Isabelle was born, I had never changed a diaper. I was someone who needed solid sleep at night to properly function. I was overwhelmed by all the baby product choices and parenting methods. I didn’t want to make a mistake or “mess her up.” But once she arrived, we just figured it out. And it was fine. So what if we couldn’t get the swaddle right the first ten times? Or if we tried to put a diaper on backwards? (Not that I ever did that…) Isabelle could not have cared less, as long as she was warm, dry and fed. And the lack of sleep was easier than I thought it would be too – you just adjust and keep moving. And coffee is your friend. Your very, very dear friend.

It’s also harder.

When you have a new baby who takes up so much time, energy and room in your heart, how do you give due attention to all the other important things – your marriage, job, family, friends, exercise, personal projects – that used to fill your life? I didn’t mentally prepare for that shift, and I really struggled with it. Because, unfortunately, when you have a baby, you don’t get more than the 24 hours previously allotted to you per day. And you’re more tired, so it actually feels like you get less. I am still making my peace with the fact that I can’t do all of the things all of the time. But I’m getting better at giving myself a break.  Try to be gentle with yourself!

However you feed your baby is really, truly okay.

I put so much pressure on myself in regards to breastfeeding. It went great until I went back to work, and then it got really hard to keep up. I became so focused on making it work at any cost, that I didn’t take proper care of myself and I sometimes missed out on connecting with my daughter in favor of trying to fit in extra pumping sessions. When I finally cut myself some slack, and realized that supplemental formula is not the devil, things got WAY better around here. Again – be gentle with yourself. Yes, breastfeeding is truly wonderful – and I loved it – but your worth as a mother is defined by so much more.

There are a million decisions to make – and hardly any of them matter.

Which stroller? Which bottles? Should we try this pacifier or that one? Should we start solid foods at four months or six? Should we sleep train or not? The questions go on and on and on, and I spent a lot of time stressing over most of them. But as we pass through each phase into the next, I’m starting to realize that so few of those decisions really matter. The only thing that really does is love – holding, kissing, talking to your baby as much as possible.

You will not love every moment.

I’m sure that many people have told you: “Enjoy every moment. It goes so fast.” Well, it does go really fast. But I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news – you won’t enjoy every moment. Like when your baby stops nursing, turns her head to the side and projectile vomits down your chest. Or when you’ve changed her clothes for the third time in an hour. Or when she’s crying-crying-crying for two hours in the middle of the night for no apparent reason and FOR-THE-LOVE-OF-GOD, you are so tired that you just want to start crying with her. There are some dark moments where frustration and fatigue get the best of you. But it’s okay, and it’s NORMAL to feel that way, and this too shall pass. You are not alone – all mamas (and papas) walk those weary walks sometimes.

But you won’t regret a single one.

Yes, life becomes a juggling act, it’s harder to find time for yourself and sleeping in becomes a distant memory, but it is all so worth it. Because her smile, her little chubby hands wrapping around your neck and clutching your hair, that sweet baby smell and those little giggles and big guffaws – they will make your day, every day. And all of the hard stuff is worth it because she is yours and you are blessed with such an incredible gift – bearing witness to this new life while experiencing a love you never imagined possible.

Buckle up, mama. It’s a wild ride. And an amazing one. You’re going to do great.

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