What I wish I knew on my first Mother’s Day as a mom

Molly and her wife hugging their new baby on their first mother's day
Molly (right) and her wife hugging their new baby on their first mother's day Photo: Provided

Last Mother’s Day – my first as a mom – is a blur.

I mean, I remember it happening. Sort of. I remember knowing it was so special that my son had been born only a few weeks before the big day came around. I could recognize on an intellectual level that the day should feel doubly extraordinary as a family of two new moms with one beautiful new baby.

But all I felt in my body was chaos.

I was happy and in love and all of those wonderful things, but I was also afraid. Here he was, this defenseless two-week-old little boy whom I loved more than anything in the world but had no idea how to care for. I was sleep deprived, of course, and I could still barely walk after a 27-hour labor-turned-C-section. I was still bursting into tears at the drop of a hat, my torrent of post-pregnancy hormones channeling themselves into an unrelenting fear that we had ruined our dog’s life.

I hated when anyone outside my family touched my too-young-to-be-vaccinated child, but I didn’t know how to tell them no. And when I couldn’t speak up for him, I was ashamed. I had thought the “mama bear” instinct would kick in naturally, but it turned out I would have to train for it. I’d have to consciously unlearn that politeness engrained into women since birth and step out of my comfort zone to stand up for what I felt was best for him.

On top of it all, my son wouldn’t latch.

It wasn’t like breastfeeding had always been a dream of mine; it was just something I always assumed I would do. It never occurred to me it wouldn’t happen. I’d heard the stories, sure. I knew people who said their babies weren’t into it or their supply was insufficient, but I shrugged them off as a rarity. I knew that wouldn’t be me. I never prepared myself emotionally for the possibility, and I never imagined it would hurt so much.

No matter how many lactation consultants we met with, no matter how much I pumped to maintain my milk supply, my son only wanted the bottle. He’d scream when we worked on breastfeeding, which in turn made me cry along with him. I felt like a failure, and I was so worried I was traumatizing him for trying. I also felt rejected, like my inability to make this work said something about his connection to me.

I remember whispering through tears to my wife as she tried to help my sobbing child balance on a pillow and latch to “just take him,” to “just feed him.” I couldn’t bear to keep making him so sad.

Fast forward to today.

We have just celebrated our son’s first birthday, watched him smash pizza and cake into his mouth while dancing and lapping up the attention as friends and family sang him “Happy Birthday.

He is a happy, energetic, adventurous little boy who will break into dance at the slightest indication of music. Even the ding ding ding of our washing machine inspires him to bust a move. He is obsessed with playing catch and is a shockingly good swimmer. His hair is starting to form the most delicious-looking curls, and he can crawl almost as fast as I can walk. He spends his days smiling at the people around him with a mouth full of tiny teeth, and I swear that giggle could save the world.

He loves to say uh-oh and woof woof and ball, and he eats absolutely anything and everything. He’s tried cake and pizza and chicken fingers, yet his favorite food is zucchini. He is more than a little bit attached to me, and luckily, I cannot get enough of him.

Here’s what I would tell that frenzied new mom:

You don’t realize it now, but you’ve actually just begun the greatest year of your life so far. People talk a lot about the challenges – and of course, those are real – but soon you’ll see that the magic eclipses all that.

You were prepared for the lack of sleep and that alleged loss of “freedom,” but not for the most indescribable wholeness that fills you up each morning when you awaken to that tiny little face smiling up at you.

You didn’t think you could be so enamored watching someone stare endlessly at a ceiling fan or try to work out what their hands are for. Soon, your chest will physically hurt when you think about how much you love him.

You will learn more than you ever thought possible about sleep, food intake, and motor skills. You will know too many songs by heart. You will become a baby product expert and will wonder every day how parents used to survive without being able to order things online in the middle of the night.  

It’ll take a little time, but you’ll soon see it doesn’t matter how he gets his milk, that your bond with him has nothing to do with that. Especially because when he is six months old, you’ll discover a passion in feeding him solid foods. You’ll spend hours each week trying baby-friendly recipes and feel an unexplainable rush when he enjoys something you made for him. Mealtime will become the most special time of day as you sit across from him and make silly faces while he experiments with different flavors and textures.

Sure, breastfeeding didn’t work, but this kind of feeding, this bond you’re building at the high chair, will last a lifetime.

You’ll also learn that the “mama bear” skill is one you’ll always be honing, that it’s never not scary to set a boundary or draw a line in the sand. You’ll come to understand when you have to do it anyway and also when it’s okay to give up some control.

Eventually, you will settle into a life of uncertainty, a life of routines that constantly change and new skills and behaviors to confront on a regular basis. It won’t always be so stressful not to know everything. You’ll realize it’s okay to figure things out along the way through trial and error and mistakes and triumphs. You’ll never stop getting it wrong, but you’ll stop feeling like a failure for it. You’ll still worry all the time, as parents do, but you’ll come to learn that most things aren’t as consequential as the parenting apps make them seem.   

You’ll quickly understand the wonder of watching your child go from a tiny lump sleeping all day on your chest to a crawling, laughing, curious little explorer who can’t sit still for more than five seconds and whose high-pitched shriek of happiness could break glass.

Parenting isn’t for everyone. You know that. But this year, you will discover that it is so deeply for you.

And as you watch him enjoy his first birthday party, his face covered in frosting as the myriad of people who helped you get to this day lovingly look on, life before him will feel so distant as to almost seem like it couldn’t possibly have happened. For how could the world have turned before he was in it?

Your second Mother’s Day won’t be a blur. It will be a day to relish the beautiful boy you brought into this world, to appreciate how far you’ve come, and to wonder with delight about all that lies ahead.

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