The following guest post is written by Alison Solove, who lives in Silver Spring, MD. When she isn’t busy chasing her toddler around the house, she blogs about being a better woman and wife at Experimental Wifery.
On the eve of my son’s first birthday, I sat down and reflected on the last year of my life. Even though I’ve wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember, nothing about being a parent has gone the way I expected. Yet after a year with my son, I can say that it’s in those moments when all my hopes and dreams about motherhood are dashed that I learn the most about my son, about being a mom, and about life.
- You can’t script labor and delivery. My husband and I spent hours practicing for a natural childbirth and writing up a comprehensive birth plan. Not only did it seem like a better idea because I react so strongly to morphine, but it seemed like the safest and most peaceful way to deliver our baby. (Maybe we should have followed Tiffany’s advice and used hypno-birthing techniques instead.) We tried. Really. My husband coached and rubbed my back for more than twelve hours of full-blown labor before I started falling asleep between contractions and couldn’t do it anymore. In the end, it didn’t really matter because I needed an emergency C-section after a twenty-six hour labor. yet for all my fears about epidurals and surgical deliveries, my beautiful son came into the world perfectly healthy. Even things that spin out of my control usually turn out fine in the end.
- Living with a newborn is really, really boring. It never occurred to me that life with a newborn would be so incredibly dull. I’m a part-time teacher, so our early July delivery left me two full months to spend all day, every day with my son. He slept well and fell asleep at least every two hours, usually for at least two hours at a time. Even when he was awake, he just sat there, aimlessly punching and kicking the air. Here I was with the kind of sleeper every new mother dreams of, certain that I was doing something wrong because I felt so bored. I was so fearful of failure that I didn’t enjoy the blessing I had.
- It’s harder to live up to your principles with a baby around. I thought my husband and I were fairly committed to sustainable living. We’re a one-car family. We eat local foods when we can and organic foods when we can’t… We thought it would be easy to make eco-friendly and non-toxic choices for our new baby, too. That was before our curious infant put everything plastic he could find in his mouth. Before he drank so much breast milk I couldn’t pump enough for his bottle at the sitter’s. Before individually-wrapped foods became a necessary staple in the diaper bag. And before his lactose intolerance made keeping up with cloth diapers virtually impossible. I still feel guilty about the concessions sometimes, but I’ve had to realize that principles are ideals we strive for—not realities we always accomplish.
- Having children makes it more difficult to live far away from family. My husband and I left our Denver and Atlanta homes almost ten years ago to go to college and eventually settle in Washington, DC. We’ve missed our parents, siblings, and relatives, but neither of us ever really felt at home in our native cities. We were unprepared for how much we would regret not living near our son’s grandparents. It’s not the free babysitting (or at least notjust the free babysitting) we miss—it’s the ability to share every accomplishment and setback our son makes with our families. Our native homes are part of who we are, whether we like it or not, and we will have to suffer the consequences of leaving them behind.
Along with these disappointed expectations, there have also been unexpected blessings, too.
- Living with a newborn was really, really peaceful. My mother refers to the way newborns can ignore everything around them and sleep as “Baby Zen.” I didn’t realize that peace was contagious. Even though they were dull, those first few months with my son were some of the most peaceful and worry-free of my life.
- Infants grow more fun almost daily. Just as I had no idea how boring newborns were, I had no idea how much fun infants could be. I’ll never forget the first time my son played a game along with me—or the first time he initiated a game on his own. I love watching him grow and figure out the world around him. Just today, he crawled up to my husband and traded one of his blocks for a cracker on my husband’s snack plate before he excitedly crawled away. I can never predict what he’ll do next and that’s part of the joy of being a parent.
- Babies unite communities. We will never be able to replace our parents as part of our son’s life, but we have been overwhelmed by all the surrogate grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins we have found among our friends and neighbors. A baby’s warm smile is wonderfully inviting. Even people I couldn’t get to say, “Hello,” after several months of trying now stop and have a “conversation” with my son.
I guess the lesson I’ve learned from all these unexpected surprises, both good and bad, is that parenting is just one other thing in my life that isn’t entirely under my control. And that’s okay. I may never know what’s going to happen next as a parent, wife, or teacher, but things usually turn out better than I could have imagined.