My whole life, I have been a lover of sleep. I'm, admittedly, a night owl but I've always required a minimum of six hours. Ten keeps me honed to exist in the world with gusto. I can go without a lot of things for long periods of time: food, water, creature comforts like showers and toilets, but sleep has always been my deal-breaker. When I was in college pulling all-nighters during exam week or binge-reading books for writing projects, I only thought I understood sleep deprivation. Motherhood has taught me that real sleep deprivation starts with a thirty-six hour labor and delivery and is then followed by five days of being awake with a newborn (seriously, five whole days virtually winkless) before taking your first three-hour nap. I spent the first two months of my daughter's life periodically sobbing because all I wanted to do was sleep. That first four-hour stretch at the start of month three... Good Gods! It was like the world came into sharp focus and things started to make sense again. I didn't even know people could live on so little sleep. I don't think I dreamed for the first six months of my daughter's life. Now, if I get four consecutive hours of sleep I feel amazing. Experiencing real sleep deprivation due to the introduction of an infant really informs ones understanding of sleeplessness.
|Photo by Meghan Murphy|
2. There's No Anxiety Like That Of A Mom Trying To Feed Her Child
Breastfeeding is hard. It may be natural, but it isn't a skill that comes to all mothers naturally. So many things can start wrong and go wrong, especially without the right support. Breast may be best but bottle keeps a Mom from going insane. I struggled for my milk to come in after I was handed a lip and tongue-tied baby who lost over a pound the first week and didn't gain weight for nearly two more. My girl and I overcame the odds and we actually maintain a breastfeeding relationship at almost one year. It's a small miracle and a testament to my bullheadedness and, quite possibly, my lack of good sense. As a breastfeeding advocate I also understand why bottle feeding is important and necessary for mothers. Watching food move into your child keeps you from losing your mind when you have no idea if they are eating enough or at all. Breastfeeding didn't come easy or fast for us, I pumped and bottle-fed, and I very nearly gave up trying to breastfeed. I was a wreck every day for six weeks before we hurdled the major obstacles in our way and baby and I both finally learned how to breastfeed. That said, there is no anxiety like that of a mother trying to feed her child. It is an all-consuming, guilt-ridden vortex of self-doubt and self-deprecation. No one can prepare you for it and, whether true or not, it feels like everyone from your doctor to your mother-in-law to your Great Aunt Ethel is judging you for any choices you make with their well-meaning advice. The pressure of that kind of anxiety (life or death of your little one) could shake a normal person apart. It's a wonder mothers survive.
3. You Can Not Shower For Three Days And Still Go Out For Tacos
Seriously. Hygiene standards shift drastically when you have a child. I remember a time when I wouldn't go to the mailbox without having showered and brushed my teeth. Now? Sniff test. Swish some day-old coffee. Good to go. Because if a new mom wants tacos bad enough a new mom throws a sweater on over her pjs, packs up the baby, and goes to get tacos--shower be damned. It's amazing the things a new mom can get away with when they have a baby under age one in tow. Like poop-splattered jeans in a bookstore. (But that's another story for another day.) Society seems to give new moms a year long pass on the whole hygiene thing, and even if it doesn't, as a new mom you don't really give a flying fart what any one thinks... because tacos.
4. Motherhood Makes You Want To Be A Better Human
Self-reflection takes on new meaning when you have a baby mirror sitting in front of you. Looking into my daughter's eyes makes me want to be the kind of person she can be proud to call Mom. Right now she thinks I'm the most amazing thing in the world. Food comes out of my breasts at her beck and call and that is fairly amazing. But at some point she's going to learn the truth about me. That's a reality I have to embrace. Part of that embrace is realizing I need to be a better human if I'm going to close the gap that is her inevitable future disappointment. The things I've neglected to do for the betterment of myself become a priority for the betterment of my child. She will watch me, how I treat others, how I treat myself, my planet and my passions, and scrutinize how I attend my challenges and defeats. This will be the first bar by which she measures her world and her experiences. A new mom sees all her flaws, failures, and shortcomings with startling clarity when the birth of a child places her at the apex of that child's world. That encourages me to want to become more.
5. Having A Child Can Stitch Together A Broken Heart
My mother died suddenly and I fell to pieces. Only a few people truly know how terribly my grief consumed me. I lost my way. I felt I would not recover. I felt nothing could mend the gaping hole that opened up inside me. My mother was what I used to define me. I was lost without her physical presence as a touchstone in my daily life. Despite my remaining family and loving husband, I felt my existence was without purpose. In my grief, I planned two funerals for my mother. I spent four months putting my hands on everything in her house that she ever touched trying to give something meaning. I traveled over 10,000 miles to her homeland and spent a month trying to heal whatever broke apart inside me by seeking her footprints in long ago eroded soils. I couldn't shake the image of me and Mom holding hands in front of that damned window after my miscarriage crying together. My husband indulged me and we bought a whole new house because of my need to open a new chapter, erase those memories, and try to step forward without her. It wasn't until I learned I was pregnant, one year and twelve days after her death, that I felt anything outside the purview of my grief. First, I felt fear. How could someone this broken become a mom? Then I felt a different kind of sadness. How could I enter motherhood without my own mother here to guide me? And then, one day, I felt hope. A baby was coming. Day by day, piece by piece, my daughter's existence knit together the severed shards of my heart and it began to beat once more with purpose. After a year of heartbreak, I had been gifted nine months of hope and now nearly a full year of pure joy. My child came to me when she was needed most. I'm not one who easily believes in divine interventions, but there is a part of me that often wonders if my mother sent me a daughter to dry my tears. At the very least the universe seemed to know that I'm made for a mother-daughter pairing. With my daughter by my side my heart, though still aching, feels suspiciously whole once more.