I recently discovered I had a lot to learn about pregnancy. From bouts of depression and anxiety to giving up foods I used to love and craving ones I previously avoided, there was a learning curve even bigger than my expanding belly. But I had no idea during those nine months just how much more I had to learn about motherhood.
In high school, I was required to take home a doll that mimicked a newborn baby. The doll cried, screamed, needed diaper changes, and ate from a bottle. After checking out the baby for a few days of fake parenthood, I was given a wrist band that would allow me and only me to care for my new baby. Eight years later, I laid in a hospital bed after a particularly rough childbirth and received a wrist band that chimed when my new baby was near. I thought, hey, I remember this… I can do this… no problem. A few hours later, I realized an electronic bracelet was the only thing my scholastic mommy experience and my real life motherhood journey would have in common. That’s when I reevaluated the great expectations of a first time mom.
Expectation #1: A Birth Fit for the Movies
The doll I took home in twelfth grade didn’t come with a childbirth experience, but that didn’t stop me from having grand expectations for my hospital stay. I knew childbirth would be scary, painful, and maybe even messy, but Hollywood led me to believe that I’d spend a few hours smiling with my husband, sweat through some powerful pushes, and then hold a swaddled bundle of life in my arms. That was the expectation. The reality was being admitted to the hospital unexpectedly, a 20-hour labor, oxygen masks, a flurry of nurses, and a recovery more graphic than a Saw movie. There are things no one tells you about childbirth. Many, many things.
Expectation #2: A Sleeping Angel
When I was pregnant, I longingly dreamt of the days my newborn baby would fall asleep in my arms. I’d hold hands with my husband as we placed our new baby in his crib, kissed him goodnight, and crept away to bed. The baby doll I took home in high school slept in her crib, after all. All the babies in those Pampers commercials sleep in their cribs. So, my expectations were that mine would too. The reality is that my newborn will not sleep in his crib. Or on the couch. Or in his swing. Basically, he will only sleep in my arms. It makes for long days and even longer nights. After hours of trying to get my baby to sleep (holding him in strange positions, pacing, shushing, standing on one leg, holding my breath), one second in his crib means a screaming fest is about to start.
Expectation #3: A Few Days of Feeling Down
I knew about the “baby blues,” but I didn’t know how serious they were. With the doll I took home, I had some sad times following the three days I had to care for her. Mainly, I was sad that I missed a friend’s birthday party and angry that I only got six hours of sleep. But my new motherhood journey has had far more ups and downs. In fact, more downs than ups. People always told my pregnant self to “sleep when baby sleeps.” Now I realize they really meant “cry when baby cries.” There have been many nights when I find myself rocking my crying baby, bawling right along with him. The worst part is – I often don’t even know why I’m crying. Hormones are a seriously dangerous thing.
Expectation #4: A Happy, Smiley Baby
Sure, the doll I took home cried. And I’ve been around babies who cry, even scream, from time to time. Still, I expected my baby to have many hours of being awake and happy. I imagined he’d play in his bouncer seat, happily hitting the toys that dangled above his head, reacting to my attempts to make him smile. The reality is that my baby has colic. If he’s awake, he’s usually screaming. And by screaming, I mean hitting a decibel louder than all the girls at a 1998 Hanson concert. He screams until he wheezes, breaking my heart with every tear I am powerless to prevent. While my friends brag about their happy babies, I’m sitting in the pediatrician’s office hearing that my son has colic, acid reflux, a milk allergy, and constipation. He will outgrow the nights where he screams from 5 to 10 p.m., but it doesn’t make it any easier to know I can’t fix his pain.
Expectation #5: My Friend, Mother Nature
There’s a lot about motherhood that is supposed to come natural – love, intuition, comfort, breastfeeding. But, that’s not always the case. For something that should be the most natural thing on the planet, breastfeeding is actually really hard. I mean, really hard. It’s not just about getting the stranger you just birthed to latch on properly, it’s also about keeping yourself healthy. And if your baby has a sensitive tummy, it’s about eating things you don’t like and eliminating things you do so that your little one doesn’t get sick. It’s draining, tiring, and frustrating. On top of that, people have opinions. When I started supplementing with formula (high five to all my fellow formula mommies), I got a lot of judgment. “You’re not even going to try to breastfeed?” people would ask. Or, “Oh, so you can’t breastfeed?” This whole new mom thing is hard enough without being judged. I also thought comforting a sick baby would be easy. I’d just pick him up, cuddle him, tell him I love him, and he’d stop crying. In reality, I’ve had to seek help from friends, family, pediatricians, and strangers on how to comfort my new baby. It doesn’t come as naturally as I thought.
Expectation #6: I’d Like My Baby
Before my son was born, I always expected that I’d like him. We’d bond, cuddle, laugh, and make memories together. At the end of the day, I’d like the little person I created. The reality is much different. Because I love my baby in a way I could never have predicted. My greatest expectations in the world couldn’t have prepared me for the amount of love I have for the person I hold in my arms every day. He is everything I’ve ever needed and he fills holes in my heart I never knew existed. There is no love like a mother has for her child, and there is no way to fully understand that until you become a mom.
The biggest difference between my real baby and the doll from high school is that I could give the doll back after a few days. My life wasn’t changed by that doll. I can’t give my son back and my life is forever different because of him. That is something I would never change. My expectations and my reality are very different animals, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.