Motherhood is much harder than I thought it would be—but not in the clichéd ways you hear about before giving birth. I could care less about changing a million diapers, no matter their contents. That’s a breeze.
Even giving birth was a totally different kind of difficult.
What I found was that the challenges and trials of early motherhood were intense and awful enough to make me question my fitness as a mother.
When breastfeeding was a painful, dozen-times-a-day battle, and when nothing I tried helped, I felt as if I weren’t up to the task of meeting my child’s most basic needs. I felt like a failure. That feeling and those doubts worsened when my supply dropped and Edith’s weight plateaued.
When she took up the practice of biting me whenever she ate, I wanted to whisk myself and my poor nipples far away. One morning I just leaned against her crib and cried. I couldn’t support my own weight all of a sudden; it felt as the architecture of my body had collapsed under the pressure.
More recently, every nap time and evening felt like a game of chicken, in which we were hurtling toward each other at dizzying speeds, wondering who would give up first. I felt like I was losing it. I was getting maybe two hours of continuous sleep at a time, and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. “I just want to get in my car, drive away and not look back,” I texted my sister-in-law. And for a little while, it truly felt that way.
But I also learned that those times pass.
Not long before we graduated from mom’s group, I noticed a woman, brand-new to the group, wince as she nursed her two-week-old. I knew the pain that makes you curl your toes and arch your back whenever your baby latches. I wanted to rush over to her, hold her shoulders, look her straight in the eye and say, “I understand.”
The chorus of “Hang in there, this isn’t forever” sometimes made me roll my eyes when I was in the thick of any given crisis. “You don’t get it,” I sometimes thought to myself, or “It sure as hell feels like forever.”
But even the most trying of situations have been temporary. Some lasted days; some stretched months. But I have the perspective and experience to tell other mothers that I understand.
The other side to my realization that motherhood is hard is the surprise at how wonderful it is, too.
The other morning, I set Edith down on my bed. I lay down next to her, my face inches from hers. I could see all the perfect details of her face: the crease under her eyes where her chubby cheeks push upward, the tiny ridges that top her two teeth, the new skin growing where she’d scratched her face earlier in the week.
I kissed her fingers and hands. With each smack she giggled. She looked me in the eye, and I looked right back at her.
I can’t say how long we stayed like this. It could have been two minutes or twenty. Time had become arbitrary, irrelevant.
I get lost in pockets of pure contentment like these. Playing with Edie, nursing her or listening to her babble sometimes inspires a Zen-like state of flow. Thoughts of nap schedules or my outsized credit card balance or the passport I can’t find remain respectfully on the sideline. Nothing encroaches on the pleasure of the now.
Finding myself immersed in that beauty is one of the biggest gifts I could ever hope to receive.
As I just wrote, it’s a tradition for women graduating from mom’s group to share what they have learned, how they’ve changed and what advice they have for other new mamas. Stay tuned to read how motherhood has changed me.