You have heard people say that it is hard. You have heard people say that you can’t understand what it’s like until you’ve been through it. You have heard people tell you to enjoy each moment.
Yet, you are still blindsided when it happens: The four days of labor. The unfamiliar baby. The alternative reality of not knowing whether it is day or night. The feeding and diaper changing and feeding again. The tears the first time your daughter spits up. The trying and trying for a good latch. The lectures from the midwives. The feeling of hopelessness when your nipple bleeds at four a.m. The loneliness as you struggle with your baby in the middle of the night as your husband sleeps.
You become consumed by The Wondering.
Wondering how women have done this for millennia. Wondering how people do it now. Wondering how something so common can be so hard.
Wondering when your stitches will heal. Wondering when you will stop wearing the stretchy hospital panties and incontinence pads.
Wondering if you will ever be able to go to the supermarket without everyone staring at your screaming baby. Wondering how the other moms seem so together. Wondering why your baby cries so much.
Wondering if you have done everything you can for your daughter’s bloody diaper rash. Wondering whether to trust your midwife’s opinion or your GP’s or the public health nurse’s.
Wondering when the baby in your arms will feel like your own. Wondering if you will ever be able to watch TV again or write or talk to a friend or read a book.
Wondering if you and your partner will ever feel close again. Wondering when your husband will realize that coming home from work an hour late drives you from exhaustion to insanity.
Wondering when you will know how to soothe your baby’s cries. Wondering when every comment your mother makes will stop feeling like an insult.
Wondering when or if breastfeeding with ever come naturally to you. Wondering who will judge you if you use formula.
Wondering when you will be able eat lunch in one sitting.
Wondering if you have lost your value as an individual and are now only an appendage to your baby.
Wondering if you made a mistake.
Wondering if you’re a bad mom.
Wondering if you will ever come back to yourself.
And then slowly, it happens. After a walk around the block you can last a few more hours. After a long shower you can smile again. After a TV show and a cuddle you remember your pre-baby life. One day when the baby is with your husband you miss her. One night you have your first dream about her. The next day you notice her birthmark. You learn her diaper cry. Eventually she smiles. You learn what makes her smile. One day changing the 10th diaper of the day stops feeling like an assault on your soul but just an everyday task. One day you realize that your natural reflex is to hug your baby. One day she makes a gurgle. She grabs your hair. She pulls the string on a bunch of helium balloons and stares at them in amazement as she pulls them down. One day she looks at you and only you. One she smacks you in the face. One day she stops hating tummy time. One day your go on a date night. One day someone stops you in the grocery store to tell you that your baby is the prettiest one she’s ever seen. You agree.
You still miss your old self. You still miss your old life. You still feel like a piece of you gets taken away every time you have to cancel plans because of a sleepless night or you can’t listen to your friend’s problems when your daughter throws a screaming fit. You still wonder who you would be if you had time to think, time to study, time to create, time to work on your career. You miss the life you haven’t lived. But you smile. You smile when your daughter blows spit bubbles. You smile when she grabs onto her feet during a diaper change and doesn’t let go. You smile when she belly laughs as your niece does jumping jacks in front of her.
You’re still exhausted. You’re still not the person you were, but you can smile again.
You will be okay. This is hard. This is the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but you will survive.
Ask for help. Ask for kisses and hugs and food and babysitting. Ask for time to journal and time to walk and time to sit in a coffee shop by yourself.
This new life—it’s hard but there’s also magic. Go easy on yourself. When people tell you to savor each moment, know that they have forgotten the hard moments. The magic doesn’t come right away. The good parts are interspersed with laundry and diapers and meal planning and intrusive relatives and pushy nurses, but they are there and they will come more and more often.
You can do this. Be patient with yourself. Show yourself love and slowly, bit by bit, you will smile again.
Julia Mais is a communications professional with an interest in social justice. She recently joined the ranks of motherhood where she has found exhaustion, love and hilarity in equal measure. You can follow her on Instagram at @JuliaKMais