Nothing can prepare you for motherhood. Not even a type-A personality like me who read every top rated baby book on the market while pregnant, and then re-read them when the baby was born. You hear people say it, they warn you that life as you know it will never be the same, but you don’t really consider the impact it will actually have on your life, especially not when baby fever locks you firmly in its grip!
When I had that baby, a part of me wanted to say, “Just kidding, now let’s call the whole thing off!” But of course, there is no going back. And everything everyone tells you is true: it gets easier and it’s the most amazing thing in the world and you will never know a love like the one you have for your child.
But the first year is rough, no matter who you are or what kind of baby you end up with (albeit, it’s much rougher for those with colicky babies, I feel for you mamas!). It’s a wild ride filled with uncertainties, doubts, tears (yours and the baby’s), sore boobs, sleepless nights, and a lot of “what did I get myself into?’
It’s probably the toughest year because you don’t know what you’re doing and there’s no stability. Every month, sometimes every week, is a whole new story with a whole new set of challenges. And just when you feel like you have this motherhood thing down, everything changes and you need to find a new stride. It’s exhausting. Rewarding beyond your wildest dreams, but so exhausting.
And with that, let’s look at some of the biggest challenges the first year brings:
1. The recovery
OK, so everyone talks about how hard childbirth is, and it is, but that one is so obvious we can leave it off the list. But I don’t think anyone warned me how tough the recovery would be! You’re sore. It hurts to sit. It hurts to walk. It hurts to use the bathroom. It just hurts. And while normally such a level of pain would necessitate rest, you can’t really do that because you have a newborn to take care of, so you just gotta tough it out (a common theme in motherhood!).
2. Figuring out what the heck is wrong with your newborn
I think when we’re pregnant we all have this vision of this sweet cuddly little baby that coos and smiles and only cries for a clear, discernible reason: hungry or tired. But I’m convinced that every newborn is born with some mystery ailment that you are forced to uncover. A food allergy or sensitivity, reflux, tongue tie, digestive issues, muscle issues, almost every baby has their something. You cut out dairy, soy, greens, garlic, and work your way down through every food group until you find a winner … you spend a fortune on lactation consultants, you ask questions at all hours in the night on the Facebook mom groups you google and google and google your life away.
Newborns are finicky little creatures, and it’s easy to write off their fussiness as colic (AKA, the baby screams a lot and we don’t know why), but a lot of the time there is a reason … and they will scream and scream until you figure out what it is!
3. The blues
Not every woman gets postpartum depression, but pretty much every woman gets a slight case of the blues after the baby comes.
A first pregnancy is filled with such excitement and high hopes, it’s really a magical time. The reality of life with a new baby, while amazing, is a little less magical. Aside from the recovery and exhaustion, you have no idea what you’re doing and you’re terrified. It’s overwhelming beyond belief and even the most confident, most got-it-together, most on top of her business woman will crumble, at least a little bit and for a little while.
There is just no preparing you for the torrent that is about to swallow you whole, and pair all that with raging hormones and you’ve got one sad mama. But like everything, it’s just another storm to weather and before you know it, you’ll be a mommy pro, nursing with one hand while paying bills and cooking dinner with the other!
For something so natural, it’s amazing how unnatural and complicated this whole process can be. I’m sure some women have a baby who just magically latches and nurses like a champ. Her supply is always high and her baby is always full and satisfied. But that’s just not what it looks like for the rest of us!
There is low supply, oversupply, bad latch, tongue tie, engorgement, mastitis, plugged ducts, milk blisters (adorably named “blebs”), too fast letdown, too slow letdown, and let’s not forget about the cracked and bleeding nipples! (As I write this, I realize most of these terms will make no sense to a childless person, and all of them are way too familiar to anyone with child!) The point it, it’s a challenge. And everyone tells you it will be, but you don’t really believe them because how hard can it be? Oh, just you wait and see! But, like everything else, it does get so much easier with time.
5. The four month sleep regression
So you’ve been a mom for a few months now and you’ve kind of got it down! You’re kind of starting to understand this little creature you created, and instead of being baffled by every cry and whimper, you can anticipate his/her needs. You may even be able to distinguish what each cry means! And your baby actually sleeps at night, for the most part!
Just as you sit back and begin to settle into complacency… bam! The regression hits and now all of a sudden your baby is waking up every 45 minutes all night long and you have no idea what to do! You expected a newborn to wake up frequently, but you thought that would end when the newborn phase did. No one tells you about what happens after, about what happens when your baby’s brain starts to mature and their sleep patterns become more adult like. Fortunately, just like every challenge, this too shall pass, and until it does, stock up on lots of coffee, on all the coffee!
6. The constant exhaustion
You survived the newborn phase, you made it through your baby’s first regression alive (yes, I said first. There will be more so don’t get too comfortable), you finally taught your baby how to self-soothe, you night weaned, and you actually get uninterrupted sleep every night … and yet, you are still constantly, chronically exhausted.
You knew the exhaustion was part of the job, but you didn’t know it was forever, you thought it was just a part of the training period. The fact is, keeping a tiny human alive is just exhausting. Making sure they’re fed and changed and comfortable and stimulated and healthy and happy and clean and breathing is a 24-hour job. There are no breaks. And there is always something new to worry about! At first it’s SIDS, then you pass the risk zone and they’re eating solid food so now you’re always worried about choking, then they learn how to move and you’re worried about all the death traps in your house and about all the disgusting stuff they’re picking up off the floor and putting in their mouths, oh, and because they stick everything in their mouths, they start to get sick all the time so now you have something else to worry about!
This tiny person is 100% dependent on you to meet all their physical needs and they simply cannot survive without you. You need to consistently meet the needs of someone who is incapable of expressing those needs. I don’t think people really consider that before procreating but the reality of it hits you fast and hard.
7. The lack of spontaneity
The birth of a baby is the death of spontaneity in your life. There is no more, “Let’s pack up and go away for the weekend!” or even, let’s go out and grab a drink (unless you want to drag the baby to said activities, but babies can be major buzzkills!).
If you want to do these things, you have to plan them in advance. That’s all well and good, unless you’re not a planner and live spontaneously in which case, well that sucks because you just can’t anymore.
You have to plan, and then you have to expect that the plan will unravel because they always do. The one night you and your partner manage to get out of the house for a date night is the one night the baby who’s been sleep trained for months will wake up screaming and be inconsolable while your sitter frantically calls you trying to figure out what to do. That weekend you’re supposed to go away is when the baby will come down with some crazy illness that you’ve never even heard of until now. The plan will never, ever, go as planned. And just deciding to do things at the spur of the moment just won’t be a thing anymore.
8. Your relationship changes
Remember in the beginning how you and your partner wanted each other so badly all the time? How you ached for one another? How you couldn’t get enough? Well you’ll still feel this way… about sleep! All you will want is sleep. That is the new object of your intense desire. You’ll even probably want it more than sex, especially in the beginning.
When you morph from woman to mommy, you will change as a person, it’s inevitable. And your relationship will change. The love you have for your baby just can’t compare to the love for your baby daddy. The love for your partner grows and develops over time, the love for your baby is instant and all consuming. But it’s so important not to forget about your partner and your relationship. But it’s not easy, it takes work. The things that came so easily before (like spending time together!), are much more challenging now. You’ll have to work on your relationship in a way you never had to before.
9. The loss of identity
You really are actually gaining a new identity, you are and forever will be “Mommy,” but what about the old you? What happened to her? It’s so easy to completely lose yourself in your new role, because it’s an all encompassing one to say the least! You spend way more hours of the day thinking of someone else’ needs than your own, if you even think of your own needs at all!
Before, your only concern was yourself, and maybe your partner, but he wasn’t relying on your for his very survival! Your life takes on a whole new meaning when you have someone dependent on you for everything. You are in charge of making sure this little creature survives and thrives and while it’s profoundly rewarding, it’s also terrifying. And in the midst of thinking about when they last ate and how many ounces and nap schedules and how much they’re pooping and peeing and if they’re getting enough stimulation … when exactly do you have the time to think about yourself? You officially come second in your own life. It is the most giving you will ever do, and one of the main things you give over is yourself. Your priorities just aren’t the same anymore, nor should they be. And while you may embrace your new role, it’s also kind of painful to see your former self disappear. Yes, you’re still you. But you’re also mom, and that title simply changes everything.
10. Where did my friends go?
When you have a baby, you will inevitably lose some friends (unless your friends also have babies). You are in a whole new world right now. All you think about and want to talk about it baby, and while they care a little, they don’t really care that much. They can’t relate and they can’t understand and that’s fine. You’re also busy, and have I mentioned you’ll be exhausted all the time? You can barely find time for yourself or your significant other, let alone your friends. You’ll try, but it won’t ever be the same. You won’t have the energy for those late nights and fun times. Maybe once in a blue moon you’ll have a wild mama’s night out, but that will take you at least a month to recover from!
You aren’t the same person anymore, and while your friends will still love you and will be there for you when you need them, they won’t really be there the rest of the time. This isn’t true of all your friends, just a portion of them. I don’t think anyone really makes it through motherhood with all their friendships intact. That’s also just a part of growing up and moving on in life. With each stage comes new changes, but it can be hard and sad.
This article was mostly negative so I want to end on a positive note and say that while motherhood is challenging, it is also so beyond amazing, more than anyone can ever tell you. You made this little creature who started out as a little potato that didn’t really do much and in the span of a year blossoms into an actual mini human, chock full of personality and opinions! It’s amazing and awe-inspiring. I look at my toddler sometimes and I just can’t believe he exists and that he’s mine. Yeah, he drives me crazy sometimes, but he is just such a spectacular little person and I feel so lucky every day (except during the witching hour, jk… kind of!).
What they say is true, you really love that baby more than you ever thought you could love anything, and you will do anything for them.
My life before baby feels so far away, I almost have a hard time remembering what I did with my time and what my life looked like. Things change and you adapt and suddenly it becomes the new normal and you could never imagine going back.