Last month my baby turned one.
I am a mix of happiness, sadness and everything in-between. It’s a bittersweet feeling that I’ve only heard other moms talk about before…until it was my turn to actually experience it.
Now I understand it for myself. I understand the sadness, like time is slipping right through my fingers and I can’t stop it. But I also understand the immense joy that comes with seeing my baby experience new things. It’s like I want to freeze her this little forever, but I also ache to know her as she grows.
It really is a miracle when you think about creating life and bringing a little soul into the world. It seems surreal to think that the same tiny, pink baby I first met is now this babbling, silly little thing stumbling around our house.
Becoming a parent is wild and incredible.
So in honor of my baby, Hadley, turning one, I’d like to reflect back on the last 12 months and what I learned as a first time mom.
1.) Babies aren’t nearly as fragile as you think (AKA you’re not going to break them!) I remember the nurse plopping my daughter on my chest after she was born and staring down at her. I was in pure shock and I tried not to move. We laid skin-to-skin for about an hour and then a nurse told me it was time to switch rooms. The nurse instructed me that she would help me up (hello post-leg epidural!) if I could cradle the baby. Instantly, I began to cry. I was so terrified to pick Hadley up! Where do I place my hands? Didn’t I have to hold her head? What if I drop her or hurt her? …Now listen, I’ve held a baby before, but this was different. This was MY baby and I was responsible for her. My sweet husband and the nurse helped me get adjusted and talked me through it. Looking back I laugh at this story, but as a first time mom and someone who did NOT have much baby experience, this was overwhelming. Even in the day or two that followed I didn’t have much confidence picking her up. I will say though, by day three it quickly changed! You learn that babies are pretty reliance and solid. Sure, they are soft and tiny, but they aren’t made of glass.
2.) Your confidence as a mom will grow. As scared as I was of breaking Hadley the first several days we had her, that fear quickly faded. People aren’t lying when they say you develop a mother’s instinct. I was lucky to have my husband home with me on maternity leave for 10 of my 12 weeks (yes, I understand how lucky we were). As soon as my maternity leave started I began to fear the last two weeks when I would be solo. In fact, my husband had to go in for an emergency dental procedure when Hadley was just three days old and I was terrified of being alone with her (spoiler alert, we were fine). I used to feel the need to ask my husband “Should I pick her up?” or “Do you think I should try to feed her?” before I did anything because I had ZERO confidence in myself. But take it from one amateur first time mom to another – you will get there. The confidence will come. You are their mother and you know this tiny little baby better than anyone else in the world!
3.) Breastfeeding is a marathon, not a sprint. We were extremely lucky that breastfeeding was easy and natural for us. (Yes, I know that’s not typically the case.) But around six months I began to feel restless about it. I was back in the groove at work, Hadley was starting to be a little more independent, I was back to pre-pregnancy weight and I just felt…over it. My original goal was to make it six months, which felt like a sprint to the finish line. I had tunnel vision just to make it to February 2022. But once I hit six months, I realized I could keep going. That and a national formula shortage fueled me to continue. And I’m so glad I did! I realized that six months was nothing in the grand scheme of things and neither was 12 months. I knew that one day I would look back and miss it. Breastfeeding is a ton of work. It requires patience, discipline and consistency. It’s truly a marathon that you have to take day by day. But I adore being Hadley’s safe space, I love providing for her and I cherish our breastfeeding bond. So here we are almost 14 months strong! Yes this marathon is long, but it’s SO worth it. Try not to view breastfeeding with an expiration date. It really is a journey.
4.) It will take about a year to feel “normal” again. I mean this in terms of both your body and your life. I heard this on a podcast once when I was pregnant and I figured that a year was probably on the longer side…but nope. It’s pretty freaking accurate! I will say that every month of postpartum I did inch towards feeling a little more normal, but it’s a solid year (or longer) to finally feel like you have some sort of grasp on this new life and body. The first 3 to 4 months were the hardest. I felt frustrated because I didn’t FEEL like I did before I was pregnant in terms of my body. Things were…softer…slower…rounder. It was just different. And in terms of life, well, it really did take a solid 8 to 9 months to fully comprehend that we have another member of our family. I imagine it’s like this for every kid you add to your family, but for a first timer, the shock of you entire world getting turned upside down is intense. I remember crying one time when Hadley was probably two weeks old because I was just so shocked by how much work it was! (LOL.) I couldn’t even recognize our life! But guess what? If you give it time, it will become normal. It will become less daunting and scary and slowly it will start to feel less crazy. I promise you will feel “normal” again in some aspect of your life and body, but it will likely take a while.
5.) Be patient and kind to your postpartum body. I remember sitting at my desk at work the first week back from maternity leave and just feeling….uncomfortable. My pants felt tight and I felt like I had a muffin top. I just felt weird and out of place. Of course that little voice in the back of my head was losing her mind. Why do you still have this little stomach pooch?! Don’t you feel it hanging over your pants?! You look so bad in these clothes!! But thinking back to that time, I was just three months postpartum. My hormones were still going crazy, I was still learning how to take care of a baby (and myself), I was adjusting to becoming a working mom and I was still in the thick of breastfeeding. I was trying my best and I was at a point in my life that I had never been at before. I wish I could go back in time and hug myself. I was feeling so overwhelmed and I needed to show myself some grace and kindness. Your entire life and body just went through this massive change, be gentle with yourself.
6.) The first year is all about adjustment. Hormones, sleep, time management, learning how to be a parent, learning to put someone else’s needs before your own – it all takes adjustment. Sure, there are days where I feel like I have it figured out. I clean the house, I pump 12+oz, I’m patient and kind all day, I prep dinner and I kill it at work. Then there are days where I hand the baby to my husband and drink a White Claw in the basement while crying (yes, true story!) Some moments I feel completely lost and overwhelmed in this new world of motherhood and other times I feel so stupidly happy and obsessed with Hadley that I feel like I’m dreaming. I never understood people before when they said that becoming a parent is the best and hardest thing in the world. But now I get it. I had lunch with a friend when Hadley was about 7 months old. My friend and has two little kids and is a big gardener. I asked her how on earth she finds time to garden while being a busy mom. I confessed that once we had Hadley last summer, all of my plants withered and died because I didn’t have any time. “You’re still in the first year,” she explained. “Once they get a little more independent and older, you get a little more time and yourself back.” …And I am just now finding that to be so true! Don’t get me wrong, you don’t suddenly get hours each day to do whatever you want again, but you find little pockets that were pretty much nonexistent before as a newborn or young baby. Like a standard nap and bedtime, some sort of routine, a little bit of independent play…that sort of thing. It gets easier with time and the phases don’t last. You just have to become good at adjusting.
7.) It’s OK to ask for help or a break. Many people want to help when you have a baby, they just don’t know how. When Hadley was a few weeks old, I remember calling my mother-in-law and asking if she could come over for an hour for me to go running and shower. I felt bad, but I desperately needed the time for myself. I just wanted to feel the sun, get my heartrate up and shower without hearing and worrying about phantom cries. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever jumped out of the shower soaking wet and ran to your baby who was peacefully sitting in her swing because you were CONVINCED you heard her crying. . .Oh just me???) Anyways, my mother-in-law was thrilled to do it and I continued to ask for this from time-to-time. Needing a break isn’t a big deal. You take breaks with anything else you do in life and parenting is no exception. And guess what? When you get a break, you show up as a better, happier version of yourself. I learned pretty quickly that ALL parents need breaks and there is no shame in that, nor does it mean you love your baby any less.
8.) It’s OK to admit it’s difficult. Remember when I said that one time I handed the baby to my husband and drank a White Claw by myself in the basement? I also started crying once when we attempted to go for a walk and got about five houses down the street when Hadley lost it and we had to turn around. I remember feeling so frustrated and trapped because we couldn’t even go for a simple walk, but then feeling guilty because I felt that way…LISTEN. Even though you become a parent, you’re still a human with valid feelings and emotions! Becoming a parent is freaking hard and just because we signed up for this doesn’t mean we can’t admit that there are challenging moments. Learning to put someone else’s needs and wants in front of your own is a GIANT adjustment and it’s difficult to get into that mindset. Almost all of my friends told me that during the newborn phase they questioned what they had done (LOL). It’s a natural reaction. You know you’re in the thick of postpartum and the “fourth trimester” when you Google “How to put my baby back inside me.”
9.) Your relationship will change, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. My husband and I were married for almost six years before we had Hadley and we’ve been together for 10 years. It’s always just been us and I’ve cherished that. But the truth is, your family dynamics change when you have a baby. After all, there is suddenly a third person in your house and another seat at the dinner table. Watching your spouse become a parent is so special. You’re seeing them in an entirely new role and they you. But when you both become parents, things shift and you gotta learn to shift and adjust together. If you thought communication was key to a relationship before kids, just wait. When Hadley was first born, my husband and I promised each other that we would be honest about everything we’re feeling. I remember coming home one day from shopping and showing him some new clothes that I had bought for Hadley. The clothes wouldn’t fit her for another six months or so. “I’m feeling a little overwhelmed right now thinking about six months from now” my husband confessed to me. And I instantly understood. His brain couldn’t compute and we were already in the thick of adjusting to parenthood. My advice would be to share all of your feelings with your spouse, even the ugly ones and especially in the beginning. You will feel less alone and overwhelmed and will feel united by the conversations. Your relationship will look different after adding a baby to your family, but that isn’t a bad thing.
10.) You will never be the same person you were after having a baby. And that’s OK. Sure, you will see and feel familiar things about yourself, but your heart is now walking around outside of your body. The concept of never being the same person again scared me at first, but after the past 12 months, I know that I don’t ever want to be the person I was before Hadley. The day she was born was the absolute best day of my life. Parenthood is a love you can’t comprehend until you feel it yourself. It’s intense, overwhelming, bittersweet and a joy I can’t explain. I think about the girl who walked into the labor and delivery room at the hospital and the girl who walked out holding a baby. One minute you’re carefree and childless and the next minute, there’s a little baby crying on your chest that YOU are now responsible for. What an honor it is to be a little baby’s everything.
11.) Your will learn about the “mental load” of parenthood. I need to pack the diaper bag…I need to do the baby’s laundry…I need to schedule her six-month checkup… I need to order more baby Tylenol…I should pick up diapers on my way home from work…Do you think she’s eating enough?…the list goes on and on and on. Add in baby toys that light up and play music, a messy house, a dog following you around, a career and pinging emails, a relationship and marriage to maintain, friendships to foster, workouts to squeeze in – it’s A LOT. Sometimes I struggle thinking about balancing it all with two kids, but I know I’m getting ahead of myself. Still, I had no idea about the mental load of motherhood before it happened. It’s quiet, but it’s always there. My best advice is to share your thoughts and feelings with your partner. Chances are good that they are carrying some of the mental load too, it just might look a little different than yours.
12.) You will run out of time very easily, so pick your commitments wisely. I feel like since giving birth, someone has hit “fast forward” on my life. Days seem to be gone in the blink of an eye and every time I turn around I feel like I have to pump, breastfeed, change a diaper, send an email, preheat the oven, do a load of laundry – the list goes on! That’s why I try to outsource what I can. Think – hiring someone to cut the grass or hiring a cleaning person to come by once a week. I’ve also had to rethink commitments as a whole. I only say “yes” to events outside of work that are absolutely necessary or that I truly want to attend. Shortly after returning to work from maternity leave, I made the mistake of taking on too much. It was between running from meeting to meeting, trying to pump, going to an after work event and rushing home to try to make it for bedtime that I realized I needed to be more selective on what I said “yes” to from then on. I was exhausted and on the brink of a breakdown and something had to change. Remember, once you become a parent, your time and energy has never been more precious – don’t just spend it on anything! Be intentional about what gets your time and attention.
Still, parenthood is the greatest adventure and love I’ve ever known. It’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done before, but it’s so beautiful and worth it. Enjoy every step of the journey – especially your first year as a new parent – because you will never be in this space again.