A few of my mom friends were chatting about pregnant women the other day (everyone I know is pregnant. Everyone.) and we were talking about how when we see first-time pregnant women we all kind of smile and nod and say ‘congrats!’ but we can’t (or just don’t) say everything we’re really thinking.
I’ve already written a post on how nothing anyone says can prepare someone for motherhood, but I also think women unintentionally do a disservice to other women who are preparing to become moms by sheltering them from some of the ‘truths’.
I think it’s because moms tend to get a little extreme about things. (Or perhaps moms-to-be only hear what they want to hear.)
Either moms say they love everything about motherhood and it’s hard but so, so, so worth it all of the time and they feel blessed every second. Or moms say that motherhood is hard and then burst into tears because their hormones are still all wacky or they’re suffering from PPD or are really, really sleep deprived.
To be honest, I’m not sure moms-to-be actually want to hear about what the transition to motherhood is really like. I think moms would rather spend time planning out every detail in the nursery than listening to stories about the difficulty of the transition to motherhood. I think pregnant women would rather talk about their registries (oh, the stress!) than listen to other moms talk about their newborn experiences. Maybe moms-to-be think that they’ll handle motherhood better than their friends, or maybe they think they have some sort of secret up their sleeves, or maybe they just don’t want to think about it because they don’t know what to expect and every baby is different, anyway. Or, most plausibly, maybe they just don’t know what to ask or what they should be thinking about.
Does a pregnant woman want to hear how hard it can be to recover from childbirth?
How traumatizing some birth stories are?
The pain of sleep deprivation?
The problems babies and kids can bring into a marriage?
That no amount of reading will prepare them for parenthood?
How difficult it is to do every little thing while recovering from childbirth or while hauling around a baby or while chasing after a toddler, etc?
About the challenges of cabin-fever if she chooses to stay at home?
How boring it can be?
And how tiring?
I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s all bad, because clearly I love being a mom. I love it (almost) every day. But (and maybe this is because I didn’t know many moms before I became one myself), I don’t remember hearing much about motherhood until after I delivered Clara. And I still think a lot of my mom friends shy away from complaining or voicing their honest thoughts about motherhood because they don’t want to seem ungrateful or be labeled a complainer, and they certainly do not want to upset a pregnant lady!
Whatever the reason, I worry that I’m not sharing the absolute truth with my (pregnant or maybe-going-to-be-pregnant-one-day) friends, either. Some of my girlfriends have come over while Clara is being especially clingy or they’ve talked to me on the phone as she’s screaming in the background, so they’ve heard my frustration and impatience in taking care of a fussy baby/toddler. It’s tiring. So tiring.
But a lot of my (long distance) friends only see us for brief periods of time, a few times a year, and may have seen a happy couple with a happy (albeit restless) baby and probably made a quick judgement that babies can be easy. They may have seen us at a restaurant with Clara when she was tiny and concluded that their social lives wouldn’t need to end with the birth of a little one (even though we now barely take her to restaurants with us because it’s just not worth it). They see the joy in our faces and think of how fun being a parent would be. They see pictures of us traveling and might remind themselves that they will still be able to go places with a baby! But all of these things are hard.
*Friends who have seen us more recently do not have these types of illusions, which I know because we’ve been asked things like “Does she always move this much?!” and “Doesn’t she ever sit down?” and “How do you keep up with her all day?” (Questions only asked by non-parents, obviously.)
I guess my caveat to soon-to-be-first-time-moms is this:
Babies do not and will not fit into your old life easily. Yes you can still do things with a baby, especially a newborn. You can travel and go out to eat and see friends and live a relatively ‘normal’ life, but it will not be the same. Eventually your world will revolve around nap schedules and sleep schedules. Even if you’re one of those parents who doesn’t adhere to a strict schedule or you’re one of the lucky ones whose baby will fall asleep anywhere, you will want to get your sleepy child home before a meltdown if at all possible. You will stop taking your child out to eat (eventually) because dinnertime will be too late and they’ll throw all of their food on the floor and only sit in the highchair for 0.2 seconds before needing to be entertained. Sometimes you’ll long for the days when you could watch hours of TV or read books without interruption or even leave the house by yourself. You’ll miss these days even if your spouse is super-supportive, and even if you are able to do these things sometimes – you’ll still miss being able to do them whenever you wanted. Your body may look amazing (eventually) after you deliver your baby, but it will never be the exact same as it was before. You will lose your patience. You may even yell. You will have days when you will cry in frustration because your baby is crying and it seems like no one ‘gets it’. You will wonder if you’re capable of handling the awesome responsibility of parenthood. You will get mad at your spouse. You will feel isolated, even if you have a great support system. Whatever type of parent you think you might be, well, you may change your mind as you get to know your child and this different side of yourself. Your baby will absolutely not fit perfectly into your old life. You aren’t just adding a family member, you’re changing your entire world.
Of course I’m only listing the ‘negatives’ because the positives are well-documented on Instagram/social media: Babies are cute & cuddly, toddlers are hilarious, and there is nothing better or more magical than watching a baby grow into a little person (in my opinion).
I guess I wish that the articles about what being a new-parent is really like weren’t all so ‘oh it’s not really that bad’ or even with a lighthearted twist. Sometimes I just want to tell pregnant ladies, “What you’re about to go through is hard. It’s actually really, really difficult. And I am here if you want to talk about it because you’re going to need someone to talk to. But you can do this! You can adjust and you will learn so much about yourself and this may be the most important role you’ll ever have, so I hope you’re ready!”
(I would also tell them to have a date night every week and to hire a cleaning service – but I’d probably tell couples without kids that same advice.)