From the day our own mothers brought us into the world, us girls have been conditioned to dream about our futures. What will my husband be like? What does my dream wedding entail? I wonder what I’ll name my kids. Our imaginations create these future lives for ourselves and before we know it we’re 20-something, wondering when all of these plans will take effect.
I am certainly no exception to this. Planning my life out is my favorite hobby. If you asked 14-year old me where I saw myself in 5 years, I would laugh and tell you I had the next 10 years already written out:
What’s the issue with this plan? I was convinced I wouldn’t enjoy my life or be successful until I had a litter of children to show for myself. Nowhere in my plan did I have room for traveling, hobbies, or personal growth until I had beautiful babies and an equally beautiful husband to bring meaning to my existence.
Enter in the maternity unit. As an aspiring physician assistant, I was pumped to get some experience working in the specialty I hope to practice in the future. Perhaps it’s because expecting moms epitomized my life plans of having a family, but Obstetrics & Gynecology has always been the most fascinating specialty for me. I had the expectation going in that childbirth was a glamorous celebration about bringing new life into the world. I was excited to work with the new families living out my potential future. What this unit had in store for me was far more important than some medical experience. I firmly believe that anyone who wants to be a parent should spend a day or two in the maternity unit. It changes your perspective on life:
1. Your happiness cannot and should not depend on another human
If you’re not happy with the core of your being, no person or possession is going to fix that. You have to fix that. Self-esteem is a real problem for a lot of women. Thankfully, we have come a long way from the oppressive sexism that our parents and grandparents grew up with, but it does not diminish the absurd expectations society sets for us girls. We’re told we need to be skinny, so we restrict our diets and spend hours at the gym. We’re told that we can become doctors, lawyers, businesswomen, and we pursue these goals only to find out that the demands of these careers aren’t always conducive to having a family. We change our paths, quit our jobs, let our men provide for us and in the process lose our identity. We become moms, bringing babies into the world to give us a purpose and to love us unconditionally. Your life revolves around feeding your baby, your money goes to supplies, your friends become the other moms in the neighborhood, and your confidence comes from the success of your children. Well that sounds like a great way to bring some meaning to your life…until your kids develop their own personalities, their own schedules, and suddenly you’ve got an empty nest with nothing to focus on but yourself. I bet now you wish you had something, some activity, some hobby, to occupy your lonely days. I bet now you wish you had spent some more time learning how to make yourself happy.
2. You and your partner need to be a team
There’s a reason why it takes two humans to make another human. A baby is a physical union between you and your partner’s DNA and while this will forever unite you, it will not guarantee your success as a team. Babies have needs that must be met and that is all they care about. They don’t care that it’s 2AM and you have to work in the morning. They don’t care that you haven’t been on a date in 3 months, and they certainly don’t care that diapers and formula are tying up most of your income. This is where your partner comes in. The two of you have to operate so in-sync that you could win Dancing With the Stars. If one (or both) of you had a long day at the office and needs an extra hour of sleep, understand that someone will still be getting up to supply 2AM snack time. If the passion is lacking in your relationship, both of you need to take extra time off so you can get a sitter and a night out of the house. If money is causing resentment, there should be a conversation to align your spending priorities. You and your partner are no longer just responsible for yourselves, you are now dependent on each other to make sure your baby is taken care of. This changes the dynamic and it is very hard to remember when you’re both nearing exhaustion. Communication is key and from the multitude of couples I have observed, the most successful ones are those that work together through everything.
3. And if you met him on Tinder, he’s probably not The One
Somewhere along the line our generation got the idea that swiping photos will lead us to our soulmates. There are plenty of articles out there, I’m sure, that support this idea and will advocate for online dating until you’re ready to download every app available. While this may be a convenient way to meet people, and while it is growing in popularity, it is still the exception not the rule. It is totally possible that you could find Mr. Right on Tinder, but you’re probably just going to meet Mr. Right Now. This is not to discourage you from your next Tinder date, I implore you to keep swiping. The more dates you have, the more experience you have and the best way to find what you want is to find out what you don’t want. Just take it from someone who has been there and done that, I have still not met a couple in the maternity unit who found each other on Tinder. Mutual friends, bars, college, even church, is a safer option for the long haul.
4. Who you are is not what you look like
Modesty is a thing of the past, sista. You think your annual trip to the gyno is bad? Well imagine being spread eagle for not just your doctor, but for a room full of nurses, technicians, students, your mom, and your husband, all while your lady bits are being blended into Niagara Falls and the Red Sea. And that’s if everything goes well. If something goes wrong you might end up with an episiotomy (that’s when they take a scalpel to your nether regions), or a cesarean section (when your organs are quite literally on display). Yet here we are self-conscious about our periods, our pimples, our farts. Let me tell you honey, if your boyfriend/husband/best friend doesn’t love you when you’re sweaty from working out, or when you’re a little chunky from when you don’t, he’s going to flee the country when your hair is matted to your head, your nipples are cracked and bloody, and you’re waddling around in granny panties and a hospital gown. He doesn’t love you for your appearance, he loves for you who you are. Make sure you get to know that girl, and love her too.
5. Life is a disposable privilege
Seriously the fact that we’ve all lived long enough to be reading this is an amazing accomplishment. When you start to see what goes into creating a new life, you realize that there are so many opportunities for failure. Infertility can be devastating, and when pregnancy does finally happen there are a whole host of defects and diseases that can cause things to go sour. The human body is truly a fascinating conglomeration of machinery, all working in perfect harmony to keep you chugging along. There is no loss comparable to losing the hopes and dreams attached to a new child. The chance to enter this world and make it thus far with your health in tact is something you should never take for granted. Thank your parents, give them a hug. They’ve worked hard to bring you this far.
6. Motherhood is not an item on your to-do list
It’s not required. Remember that. Nothing is required of you, it’s your life to live. College, marriage, parenthood: they are not milestones you have to reach or experiences you have to have in order to level up in life. Some women travel for years or pursue their careers. They realize they would rather continue their journey alone or with a partner rather than a mini-me. Life is not one size fits all. Some may find parenthood to be the most fulfilling experience they have, while other may see having a baby as an obstacle to living a fulfilled life. It is personal decision, yours to make, but be understanding that the choice you make is the choice you make for you partner as well. Parenthood is a two-person endeavor and if you’re not on the same page, it’s more often than not a dealbreaker.
7. You have a maternal instinct even if you think you don’t.
The first time I held a baby, I was 16. The next time I held a baby was my first day on the job in the nursery. The nurse assumed I knew what I was doing and I proved her wrong as soon as she saw me pick up the kid like a diseased Simba. It took me a few tries to figure out swaddling and I still don’t understand the difference between Enfamil and Similac but as soon as a baby cries, I become an automated baby soother. It’s certainly not because I’m a baby whisperer with lots of experience, us girls just know what to do. Some younger first-time moms can be overwhelmed when they’re thrown into the responsibility of caring for their new baby, but with plenty of reassurance they soon realize that babies aren’t as fragile as they thought. Being able to sustain another human’s life is a huge confidence boost.
8. But it’s still okay to make mistakes
Just like with anything in life, you’re going to mess up sometimes. The baby isn’t fragile, you’re not fragile, and the parenting police are not going to come to your door. You’ll survive, probably with little sleep, but it’ll just remind you of those all-nighters you pulled in college. Don’t sweat the small stuff, you’ll have much bigger fish to fry when the kid starts walking and talking. On the bright side, you and your partner will bond over the mistakes you make and by the end of it you’ll have a collection of embarrassing stories to tell.
9. One baby is more work that seven cats.
Your cat is like your part-time no-strings-attached practice baby. It’s always there to keep you company and in return it doesn’t require much effort. Cats are content with a clean litter box, food, water, and the occasional snuggle-sesh. You can leave the house for days at a time and your cat probably won’t notice. It’s relatively stress-free yet couples seem to assume that their ability to parent their low-maintenance pet is proof that they can handle parenting their new baby. Wrong wrong wrong. Please refer to #2. Babies don’t care if you have a trip planned for the weekend, if you leave them home alone for more than an hour, you’ll probably come home to a house covered in poop as well as the authorities reprimanding you for child neglect. Know that you’re signing yourself up for a lifetime of responsibility, but while the stakes are increasing, so are the rewards.