9 things I didn’t know before I had my daughter

Lena is almost 13 months old . Like most moms, I found her birthday bittersweet. My baby is no longer a baby, all of those first year firsts over and done with.

But I’m excited about this new phase. She’s walking, talking, and in my opinion, more adorable than ever. And if I’m completely honest, I’m glad it’s over. This first year was so. damn. hard. Scott and I have been talking a lot about what we learned and how clueless our pre-baby selves seem now.

I resolved to write something to sum up my thoughts. So here it is, my little list of what I didn’t know but now do:

1. The pain of labor, delivery, and postpartum recovery. I knew I wanted an epidural long before the first contraction. And after nearly 24 hours of active labor, I finally got that sweet, sweet relief. Only it didn’t last and after an hour of pushing, I was wishing for death. I was sure they’d have to C-section that baby out of me because I couldn’t do it any more. Sure, once she finally arrived my focus was on her, but I knew something was wrong. The doctor muttered something about second degree tearing and promptly left. Recovery was long and hard. I bled for over a month. I had a terrible case of hemorrhoids that still occasionally plagues me. At three months postpartum I still had regular pelvic pain if I sat or stood too long. And sex? Please. At 7 weeks postpartum I was told I was “healed” and cleared to have sex. Really?! Who are these unicorn women who are begging for sex 7 fucking weeks after pushing a baby out of their vagina? For 6 months, I was pretty sure my vagina was now an exit only door for eternity.

2. Growing, birthing, and nursing a baby gives you superhuman powers. Okay, so while this experience left me feeling physically decimated, I have never felt as empowered as I did in the days following Lena’s birth. I don’t understand how you CAN’T be a feminist after becoming a mother. Seriously, our bodies grow, birth, and feed other human beings. I’ve pushed past a lot of physical limitations in my past life as a competitive runner, but all of those feats pale in comparison. Women’s bodies are absolutely incredible and I hope my daughter grows up knowing that.

3. Sleep deprivation is no fucking joke. People like to joke with soon-to-be mamas by saying, “Sleep while you can!” At least I always thought it was a joke. It’s not. Sleep deprivation, and by that I mean months of sleeping 1-2 hours stretches, is mentally and physically debilitating. Many mornings I drove to work on auto pilot only to arrive and have no memory of how I got there. Because you can’t just walk away from a screaming baby, crawl into bed and fall asleep. You are a hostage until that baby finally conks out.

4. Babies are born with personalities. Pre-baby me stupidly assumed that newborns are human lumps who eat, sleep, occasionally cry, and that their little personalities are developed after months of being out in the world. NOPE. Some babies are sure of what they want even before they leave the womb. But since they can’t communicate those feelings yet, they get frustrated and the emotions are INTENSE. Such is my lovely daughter. In hindsight, I should have known. She was an active bugger in utero who kicked and kicked through the night. (Which is why I wasn’t sleeping well even then).

5. Modern parenthood is a political minefield. As if getting to know your new little baby and adapting to your new life wasn’t hard enough, you have a slew of other parents, new and old, waiting to not-so-secretly judge you. Cry it out? Baby led weaning? Vaccinations? Clothing choices? It doesn’t matter what you choose, someone has an opinion. Thank god for those rare communities of mamas who support and encourage instead of tear each other down. My new motto is “If it works for your baby and your family, DO IT.” I also now recognize that I was an insufferable childless prick (ICP) who had definite ideas about what kind of parent I would be.

6. Friendships change, often in unanticipated ways. Pre-baby, I assumed there would be initial distance in my friendships as I figured out this whole mama thing. I also assumed that I would become closer to my friends who were also having kids. In some cases this has been true. But surprisingly, I’ve seen many of my childless friends even more since Lena was born and they’ve become superb aunties.  Some acquaintances who are also new parents have quickly become close friends as we’ve bonded over shared experiences. And some formerly close friends with young kids have drifted away as we focus on our own families. In any case, this is where we are now, and like all phases of life, I’m sure it will change up again. But I’m supremely appreciative of the awesome friends who helped us through this first year.

7. Marriage will be tested. I’m pretty damn lucky in the marriage department. If we had major fights during this first year it was because my husband wanted to help MORE and felt like he couldn’t be effective. (To be fair, he doesn’t have boobs). Also, the sleep deprivation. I have a supremely patient husband and I realize that more than ever. That being said, it’s easy to see how parenthood tests a marriage. We easily could have devolved into the blame game, name calling, and other cheap shots. And it’s not like we’re in the clear–we’re parents forever now. We’re always working on it. Always.

8. You can have it all. Kinda. And not really. I never in a million years dreamed that I would be a stay-at-home mom. I would have the job, the kids, the house, the marriage, and the social life. After returning to work I quickly realized the precarious nature of the work-life balance. And the fact that I didn’t have it. I felt like an absentee employee, a stressed out mom, a distant wife, a shitty friend, and a totally unbalanced human being in general. Not to mention a neglectful housekeeper. Something had to give. I wanted to be home–I always did. At least for a little while. So we’re making it happen, though it’s tough. Some days I think about how I’d like to be back at work, get caught up in a new project, eat hot lunches, poop in private. But many days I look at my baby and want to eat up every second with her. I want to have the time to watch her watch the world. And I feel like I do have it all, mostly. But I found my balance and this is where I’m happy right now.

9. Parental love is indescribable. If the world is as it should be, you grow up knowing that your parents love you. I did. But you don’t really, truly understand what that love means until you’re looking at your own baby. It’s overwhelming, all-consuming, and ineffable. I don’t expect Lena to fully get it, but I want her to feel the security of that love every second of every day. I want to wrap her up in it like a protective armor as she faces the world. Childhood is scary and unnerving, even in the best of circumstances. I think adults tend to forget that. But I’m working every damn day to hear Lena’s frustrations and fears and do the best I can to guide her. Pretty sure I’ll have another list next year as I learn to parent a toddler. Yeesh.