The 12 Things That Surprised Me Most From The First 12 Months Of Motherhood
I didn’t know what to expect from motherhood, but every lesson learned has been a blessing.
Before we had our baby boy last May, I had hardly been around babies. None of my close friends or family have little ones, so although I always knew that I wanted kids, I truly did not have much experience with anyone under the age of 4. Having babies someday was such a priority that it was a deal breaker in dating for me, but I didn’t really know what having them would look, feel, and be like.
I did know what our culture was telling me – that I would be giving up a lot of personal freedom and dreams, that I would be up all night all the time, that I would lose friends and hardly get to see the ones who did stick around, and that my babies would be a financial burden. It’s almost confusing to want something that seems so demanding, draining, and expensive. Yet, I did – I really wanted them!
Our little boy has already surprised me so much with his lessons in our first year together. Other than the basics – like the best toys aren’t toys, changing diapers really isn’t that bad, and that he’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in the world – he’s had several other important things to teach me that run counter to the current popular narrative on motherhood.
1. I’ve Had Basically No FOMO
This one definitely surprised me. I have had basically no time for watching or going to movies, attending concerts, or meeting friends for brunch or drinks (let alone drinking much in general as a breastfeeding mom). I’ve also had to say “no” to opportunities I would have taken in the past, like adding students to my music teaching roster or performances to my calendar (I’m a singer/songwriter). Most nights, my husband and I are in bed reading by 8:30 p.m., lights out by 9 p.m. The shocking thing is that we actually don’t mind any of this at all. Yes, it’s been crucial to sneak in a date night here or there and to stay in touch with friends, but overall, the change of pace is refreshing, and we have never felt like we’re missing out.
2. I Feel Like I Belong, Like I’m Always in the Right Place at the Right Time
I think that one of the main reasons that I haven’t had any FOMO is that I feel like I truly belong, like I’m always in the right place at the right time. When you build a nest and have a little one in it, you find a deep sense of calm on an existential level. Of course, other things that you do still matter, like your passions, relationships, and career, but no matter what else is going on, you know you’re doing something important because you are providing for another human being. While I have sometimes felt isolated from other adults, I’ve never felt lost or lonely, because I’m grounded in my identity, my role as a mother, and the purpose that gives me.
3. I Waste Less Time and Money
If you aren’t eating out, aren’t able to get out to shop much, and you aren’t attending concerts or movies or traveling much, you are bound to save money. Even with the added expenses of food, clothes, and toys for a baby, I’ve been surprised by the amount we’re saving. In addition, if your free time is cut down to little 5-30 minute chunks each day while baby is playing happily or napping, you’re probably not going to choose to spend that time scrolling social media. Or, if you do, you know it’s going to be capped by a little one needing something after five minutes, rather than turn into a binge scroll-fest.
When I’m not able to say “yes” to every opportunity, I’m very intentional about the ones I choose.
4. My Goals and Focus Have Sharpened
With our baby trimming the fat off my days, I’ve been able to sharpen both my goals and my focus. If I have five minutes to get emails done that would have taken me 15 minutes before, I get them sent in two. The same thing has been happening on the macro level as well, as my vision becomes clearer on what is a priority project and what is not. When I’m not able to say “yes” to every opportunity, I’m very intentional about the ones I choose. This means I’m no longer burning myself out with things that take more from me than they give or running myself ragged to take on extra work. Instead, I spend my precious free time on what matters most, and have thus been able to make progress that has truly surprised me.
5. My Creativity and Imagination Are on Fire
Another reason I’ve still been able to get so much done while having significantly less time is that my creativity and imagination are on fire. It must be the constant state of play that little ones crave that sparks endless ideas and inspiration. I’ve had multiple ideas for children’s books, a guitar instruction book, and written and improvised countless songs. I’ve poured myself into crafts with my baby and into decorations for his first birthday party. I might not have time yet to accomplish all of my ideas, but I have plenty of time to dream and stockpile them for years to come when things slow down and I ask myself, okay, now what? In the meantime, I’ve written several articles during naptime and have loved getting back into writing as a creative outlet.
6. I’m More Confident
This one has been interesting to notice as well. I’m an introvert, so I have never loved things like phone calls, asking store clerks for help, or small talk. Now that I’m responsible for someone other than myself, I’ve found that I’m much more confident in these situations. Maybe part of it was all of the self-advocating I had to do while I was pregnant to set myself up for the care and birth that I wanted, but I think most of it is from just being a mom and having someone I see as more important than me in my care. What might feel awkward on my own feels natural and necessary when I’m doing it for my little one. This confidence has translated into other areas of my life as well.
7. Aging Matters Less
Speaking of confidence, I’ve found that as a mom I mind discovering new gray hairs or fine lines on my face a lot less. I’ve already got stretch marks from watching my body transform into and out of various new shapes, so what’s wrong with a few more signs of aging? Just like some call stretch marks “mama marks,” I feel like each new silver hair is a reminder that I’m giving my youth and beauty to someone with so much spark, someone so precious and with so much life ahead of him. These signs are a reminder of my new role as mother, as I leave behind the days when I had only myself to take care of for something more meaningful.
Caring for someone this much makes everything meaningful.
8. I’m Able To See the Meaning in Things More Clearly Now That Life Is About More Than Just Me
When you get married, you learn to live with someone in a way that honors and respects both of you as individuals and as a couple. In a way, someone has finally become at least as important to you as you are to yourself. When you have a kid, though, someone now is even more important than you. Most parents would probably rather die than see their children die, and that incredible fact changes everything. This is what outlines my ability to make sacrifices, to reprioritize, and to feel good about it, even when it’s incredibly hard. Caring for someone this much makes everything meaningful, both in an enchanted way as you get to see the world fresh from their eyes, and in an intense way as you worry about all potential dangers and give up parts of yourself for their benefit. No matter what, your frame for seeing the world will never be the same.
9. My Marriage Has Gotten Stronger
I’ve been so lucky to get to go through all of these experiences with my husband. We’ve both cherished raising our little boy from his first day through to his first year (so far) and have only gotten stronger as husband and wife because of it. When one of us is at our wit’s end with bouncing baby back to sleep or trying to keep him from eating all the cables in the house, the other takes over for a bit. When I was in natural labor for 48 hours, including 7 hours of pushing, my husband was there holding my hand, hips, or legs as needed the entire time. The amount of sensitivity, the skill level of negotiation needed for parenting together often on little sleep is so high. If you do rise to the occasion, your relationship will be stronger than ever. By the time you find time to be alone together, you will appreciate one another all the more and your moments of intimacy will hold a new kind of magic.
10. My House Is Cleaner Than Ever
Other than the toys that seem to discover new corners of the house to spread into throughout the day, my house is actually cleaner than ever. In part I credit our dust-finding baby, who inspires me to sweep regularly enough to not have to constantly pull clumps of random fluff out of his mouth (which I still do have to do). He also deserves credit for being a go-go-go kind of guy who doesn’t tolerate sitting around, whether it’s you or him. We’ve found it easier to clean as a family than to sit down to watch a show as a family, because at least cleaning involves movement! This definitely surprised me, and may change as our family grows, but for now I’m enjoying having at least some sense of order.
11. I Love Being Home
We are lucky in that my husband and I are able to work opposite schedules so that someone is always home with our baby. For me, this means I’m with him until 3:30 p.m. or so most days before I teach a few music students. Other than the end of winter when cabin fever really started to kick in, I absolutely adore spending most of my time at home with him. We get so many chores done together, although very slowly and sporadically, and I savor the fact that I’m the one raising and nurturing him through his early moments. Each day holds new wonder for us both as he discovers how to clap, what it means to go outside after a long winter, or stands on his own for a brief first moment. Although when I’m teaching older kids and adults in the evening it can feel like a break, I don’t wish I was doing anything else with my days.
12. My Investment in the Future Has Increased
As someone always dreaming up and getting lost in artistic projects, I can’t say I’ve always been the most aware of world events or my greater surroundings. Now that I have a baby, though, I’ve noticed that I’m much more invested in the future of our neighborhood, country, and world. I want things to go well because I am invested in his future. He’s helped me open my eyes to bigger concrete issues, rather than just abstract philosophical ones, and I’ve learned so much because of my newfound interest in local and world affairs.
Yes, having a child involves incredible sacrifice. I have been up many hours of many nights and cried in frustration more than a handful of times this past year. I have seen my friends less and taken a step back from the pace at which I was pursuing my music career. However, I wouldn’t trade any of that for the sense of meaning, belonging, and purpose I’ve gotten in exchange. Nor would I trade it for his sweet eyes studying my face with so much intention while we’ve sat together for countless hours of nursing. The biggest surprise I’ve had is that having a baby is exactly the sacrifice I have always longed to make.
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