Our little one is about to celebrate his first birthday. One whole year. Of getting to know each other. Of loving him. Of being a mom.
At times, it felt like the longest journey. But really, it went by in the blink of an eye.
Seeing the changes in him in the past year, and knowing how in the next 12 months, he will change even more, blows my mind. Before my eyes, he will -- he has -- become less and less of a baby and morph, somehow, into a little boy. A talking, walking, tantrum-throwing, sloppy-kiss-giving little boy.
Getting to the end of the first year has a bit of a "We made it!" feel to it. As in -- we didn't have a fricking clue what we were doing one year ago. We were exhausted, anxiety-ridden and clueless, but somehow, we figured it out and we are here. We have a happy, healthy boy, and holy crap -- we kept him alive!
I've been reflecting on the past year, thinking about milestones we hit and those we didn't. (Like how is it possible we went 12 months without him rolling off the bed or changing table?!) I never thought I could experience so many emotions, and I never could have anticipated the ways life would change. The happiness, anxiety, joy, worry, guilt. The way a baby changes a marriage. The way a baby changes your priorities, and your outlook on life and the world.
But I'm also reflecting on my first year of motherhood. The ways I've changed. The ways I am a different mom than I thought I'd be, and how I'm a better mom than I thought I'd be.
I can't say I would change a thing about the past year. But I do know that hindsight is 20/20, and if I could, I would say these things to the hugely pregnant, in-unbearable-pain, waddling, heavy-breathing, freaking-out me who walked through the hospital doors one year ago:
Your body will be different. For nearly 10 months, you grew a human. Then, you either pushed that human out of a small opening, or you had it cut out of you while your internal organs looked on. So give yourself grace. Don't be so horrified when you aren't back to your pre-pregnancy weight right away. You may never really feel like you are "back," and that's OK. Be proud of your body and embrace it -- it has done an amazing thing.
Ask for help when you need it. It takes a village, they say. Ask your husband, friends, parents, siblings, caregivers, doctors -- ask whomever you need, if you need something. You're not alone, even if you feel like you are, and you don't have to do everything yourself.
Your marriage will be different. Inevitably, having a baby brings a slight imbalance to your marriage. The way your spouse does things will never be quite "right" at first. You'll feel like you do everything, and he does nothing. You'll be jealous of the sleep he gets. You'll get angry that he doesn't have boobs. You'll wish he understood the hormonal imbalance and anxiety pulsing through you. Date nights will be few and far between. Your sex life will bottom out for a while. But, you'll also gain a new respect for one another. You'll fall in love in a new way, marvel together at how you created the most amazing person either of you has ever known. You'll accept that you don't have to do things the same way, as long as you're doing things with the same goal in mind. Tell him if you need help. Trust him. Do not keep score. Appreciate each other, and be grateful.
Try not to obsess so much about sleep. You will be tired beyond measure. You will be amazed at how refreshing a four-hour stretch of sleep can feel, and also at how you wake up at every breath or movement from that baby when you used to be able to sleep through a freight train. The four-month sleep regression will be a game-changer. You will drive yourself crazy over when your baby will sleep through the night, and the things you can do to get him there. Don't. Sleep will eventually find you again. And when it does, it will probably not stick around for long. So until then, take naps when you can, trade nights with your partner and drink coffee. You will survive.
Stop Googling. The Internet is your best friend and your worst enemy. While you can find some helpful information, many times, you'll also end up finding the worst-case scenario and calling your doctor in a panic because you're sure your baby drank too much bath water and has drowned his internal organs and is going to die in his sleep. So just don't. Talk to your mom, your sisters, your brother, your friends, your Facebook groups. Find real advice and information instead of relying on Google.
Stop reading tragic, sad stories. Perspective on the world changes the moment you become a parent. The world becomes scarier. Life is more fragile. The saddest story takes on new meaning because now you imagine it being your reality. Try to focus on the happiness in the world. Pray for those who have gone through something, and embrace every precious day you're given.
Focus on what works for you. A lot of people will tell you what you "should" do. Take it with a grain of salt, and instead of overanalyzing what you SHOULD do, just keep doing what works for you. That's all that matters. Don't let all the nebulous "shoulds" out there weigh down your instincts.
Breast milk is not the be-all, end-all. Breastfeeding and breast milk, while important, are not the only way to feed your baby. Do not stress yourself out if it takes some time to figure out how to do it. Don't feel guilty when you decide to stop pumping and breastfeeding because your milk supply is down, or because you just don't want to do it anymore. You do what you can, for as long as you can or want, and stop beating yourself up about it.
Don't be so hard on yourself. You will criticize and question every choice you make, from your choice to use a pacifier to whether or not you should go to dinner with your girlfriends. But remember that every decision you make is with your baby in mind, and for that reason alone, you're amazing.
Stop comparing your baby to others. It is so incredibly easy to look at other babies and compare your child to them. Stop. Literally every baby is different, and yours is not any better or worse for hitting milestones early or late.
Take time for yourself. You want to be there for every bedtime, every bottle, every moment. You don't want to miss a thing. And that's OK. But it's also OK if you do. Time for yourself may take a backseat, but do your best to have dinner with friends every now and then, or happy hour with co-workers, or a pedicure on the weekend. You aren't a bad mother for doing this -- in fact, you'll be a better mother because of it.
About maternity leave... It's OK if you don't "do anything" with the baby all day. It's OK if you take a shower and leave babe in his crib. It's OK to wear the baby around the house. It's OK to put him down for a nap. It's OK to lie in bed all day nursing and sleeping and watching DVR. It's OK to take walks and leave the house. Remember that, to your brand new baby, every ray of light, every dust particle, every movement is new. Don't put pressure on yourself or your baby to get everything figured out in the time you have off work. Don't freak out about getting baby on a schedule. Just relax, and try to enjoy your baby. And if you don't enjoy your baby some days -- or being home all day, every day with him -- that's OK, too. But the weeks will go by incredibly fast. And also, know that going back to work will be horribly hard, but will get easier with time.
Always remember, this too shall pass. There will be so many hard moments in your journey as a mother. And each time you encounter one, it will seem horrible and never-ending. But try to remember, in every moment, hard or not, good or bad, this too shall pass. You will get through it and figure it out.
You will be different. Suddenly, the eyes with which you view the world are skeptical and worried. From this point on, you will forever see the world through the eyes of a mom. You will long for parts of your former self, and try to find a balance between her and this new person you've become. You'll long for time alone, but when you get it, you'll miss your baby. You'll be super overprotective, but think that you're actually pretty laid-back. And over time, you'll realize that you can't control anything, and that expectations have no place in parenting. You'll surprise yourself with the things you care about now. You'll wonder what you cared about before. You will grow. You will adjust. You will re-adjust and adjust again.
Know that you are enough. Do not compare yourself to other moms, especially the ones on Instagram whose babies are dressed in adorable outfits every day, whose babies are never crying or dirty, who share pictures of 24 oz of breast milk from one pump like it's no big deal, or whose babies are sleeping peacefully. Do not start or end sentences with "Mom Fail," or "I'm a bad mommy," or "I'm a lazy mommy, " or any similar phrasing. You are a GOOD mommy. The best mommy. Nothing more and definitely nothing less.
More than anything, I'd want my pre-mom self to know this:
You will be filled with so much love you won't know what to do with it. You'll feel like you're spilling over with it. You'll feel it all the time, and it will find you at random moments. While you're watching him take his first steps. When he first smiles at you. When he gives you a slobbery, openmouthed kiss. When he shares his food with you. This kind of love can feel paralyzing, but embrace it. Embrace all of it. Find humor where you can, and smile, because you are the luckiest to be this child's mother. And he's the luckiest to have you.