February 11, 2019

What I Wish I’d Known about Early Motherhood.


“I feel like I’m imprisoned,” I whined to my husband.

As my words reached my own ears, I snickered.

I was responding melodramatically to life with a new puppy and two kids smack in the middle of a New England winter. My husband was recovering from a bad cold, which had left me responsible for all the caretaking for several days.

Temporary inconveniences, but the feeling in my body and mind was vivid. I felt trapped.

The puppy was the tipping point. She’s brought all this new love and delight and sloppy doggy kisses to our household. I’m glad she’s joined our family, but as a work-from-home mom, having a puppy has reminded me so much of early motherhood: the intense tethering, the evaporation of freedom, the suppressing of my own needs.

I’d wanted to be a mom. The urge was visceral, biological, a deep craving. I wanted to nurture and love, to teach and raise. I’d gazed at pregnant bellies in the grocery store, cocking my head and pressing my hand to my heart. I’d daydreamed about what my husband and my children’s faces might look like, what constellation we’d create. I imagined being a stay-at-home mom, cuddling and reading books to my kids, singing to them, watching them take their first steps.

So when my son was born, I wasn’t prepared for the duality I experienced. Love for him bloomed brightly in me. My lips were drawn to the top of his head, planting kisses on him dozens of times each day. I was captivated by his steely blue eyes, by the grin he doled out at just the right times—like at 2 a.m., when he’d already been up seven times. “Okay, I’ll totally buy you a pony,” I’d whisper to him, charmed and softened and more exhausted than I’d thought possible.

But I also felt caged.

For the bulk of my 34 years, I’d been bestowed with immense freedom and hadn’t even realized it. I could hop in my car and drive anywhere. Pull on my tennis shoes and take a long walk. I could take long showers, cook myself meals, or go see a movie on the spur of the moment.

Now, suddenly, I was responsible for a fussy, sleepless baby who needed constant nursing and holding and diaper changing. And reading a book to him took about three minutes—which left about 11 hours and 57 minutes for us to fill each day.

In five and a half years, I told myself, he’ll start kindergarten. But how will I make it five and a half years?

“Enjoy every minute,” strangers in the grocery store told me. “It goes by so fast.” I nodded and pulled my mouth into a fake smile. Their words felt like a gut-punch.

Time was dripping by, and I certainly wasn’t enjoying every moment.

A thick, mossy layer of guilt grew over me. I’d wanted this so much. Maybe I’m just not cut out for motherhood. Maybe I don’t deserve him, I thought.

Somehow, I survived. My son is almost 10 now. I still don’t enjoy every moment, but time has sped up, reaching an alarming velocity. The fact that I’ve been a parent for a decade now, combined with the inconveniences of caring for a new puppy, have brought those feelings of early parenting whooshing back.

It’s okay to feel like this, I wish I could tell my younger, new-mom self. It’s okay to wish time away. It’s okay to sometimes envy your childless friends, your old life. It’s okay to change your mind about being a stay-at-home mom, and it’s okay to want and need breaks from your son. It’s okay for motherhood to not be enough. It’s okay to want more.

It’s okay that in a few years, you’ll put him in day care two days a week, and then three. It’s okay that after your daughter is born, the urge to write burns through you like a wildfire, and you put her in day care, too. That when your kids each start kindergarten, you cry tears of both aching tenderness and utter relief.

See how you cradle and kiss him, how you nuzzle and nurture? How love shines from you, even as you feel trapped?

He will be okay, and so will you.

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