I can hardly believe my son is about to start kindergarten. The past five years have flown by even as some moments felt never-ending. My tiny baby has suddenly become a kind, outspoken, sweet, compassionate and funny little boy.
The first two years of motherhood are a weird time; the most beautiful, joyous months of your life, and also a marathon of exhaustion and change. You realize on about the seventh day that the reality of parenthood is entirely different from your glowing pre-baby daydreams. It's better and harder. The love is just as heart-exploding as they say it will be. But the love also carries an equally huge weight of responsibility, and for me, a feeling that I had to do it all perfectly.
No matter how many moms try to explain it to you beforehand, you cannot understand that kind of sleep-deprivation until you experience it. You can't understand the milk-drenched mattress, the painful recovery, the giant hospital underwear, the hunger and thirst and loneliness of 3 a.m. feeds and the strange feeling of needing help but also wanting everyone to go away for a minute so you can figure out who you have just become and who this baby is.
You realize on about the seventh day that the reality of parenthood is entirely different from your glowing pre-baby daydreams. It's better and harder.
In those early days, I struggled with the loneliness of new motherhood and the pain of experiencing a separation. With a long-distance co-parent, and working full-time at home while raising my son, I was unbelievably tired.
While my son brought me more joy than I ever could have predicted, the loss of the idea of being a family unit with two parents was tough. I longed for more support, more friends, more laughter. I went to every baby group I could find in hopes of connecting with other parents.
I know now that I was not alone in feeling isolated. Most new moms feel that way; married or not. Even some of the most supported moms are up in the night all alone wondering if they're doing things right. A simple Google search for "loneliness new motherhood" yields 454,000 results.
Here's what I wish I'd known in those days: it gets so much easier. Once you start to get a little more sleep, and especially once your baby is ready to go down to one nap, something lifts. You begin to feel more human. It's easier to make plans. The baby becomes more social. You start to remember who you are. You remember what you used to like to do and it becomes easier to do those things.
Once I wasn't as tired and my son was ready for it, I hired a sitter and started taking a weekly yoga class to reconnect with myself. This was a huge step in creating a little corner of my life where I could let go a bit and get enough perspective to see that I was doing all right.
Don't let the hard moments steal the beautiful ones. It will pass faster than you know.
A few months later, preschool created a profound shift for us. It opened the door to a new level of independence and confidence for my son and it provided instant mom friends for me. Suddenly we had more birthday parties and playdates, and were greeted by friendly faces three mornings a week. Our social life became more predictable. I found myself laughing more, and became more relaxed knowing that there were moms in my day-to-day life who understood.
Once my son was old enough that his activities went from parent participation to parents on the sidelines, even more doors opened. Suddenly there were little windows of time where I could watch and cheer for my son while also having adult conversation. The best of both worlds.
I wish I had known all of that in those first two years, when everything was groggy nursing, swollen body parts, poop, exhaustion and learning to be a mom. In those days you can't see the light at the end of the tunnel. You cling to the beautiful moments when it's dark and quiet and all you can hear is your baby's little sleepy sounds. You try to get everything right even though no one possibly can.
I wish I'd realized that I didn't have to try to do it all perfectly. I wish I'd known that I wasn't alone in my aloneness and that in a few short months the world would open up again.
Don't get me wrong: the memories of those early years with my baby are precious. I was very happy in them despite the loss and loneliness. All I'm saying is that if you are a new mom and you feel you will never be yourself again; that it will always feel like climbing a mountain just to get out of the house; that you will always feel overwhelmed: please hang in there. Don't be so hard on yourself. It gets so much easier.
One day you won't have to wonder why your child is crying. He will tell you exactly what he wants (and how and when and where!). One day you will be making breakfast and your daughter will walk into the kitchen fully dressed and with brushed teeth, and you will wonder how the hell that happened. One day you will look in the mirror and realize that while you've been so busy and worried, the new-mom-you and the old you have somehow integrated in the most wonderful way.
You'll watch your child kick a soccer ball, read a book, walk off to his first day of kindergarten, and you'll see that you've done a good job even when you thought everything was a mess. You'll look around and see that you're surrounded by friends. It will feel like all of those moments that seemed impossible passed in a split second. I promise you, you'll be OK. And your baby will be better than OK.
Don't let the hard moments steal the beautiful ones. It will pass faster than you know. Be where you are, one day at a time, and know that the light at the end of the tunnel is so much brighter than you think.