Last month, when Ali shared her and her wife’s struggle to decide whether or not to have a child, the personal stories that popped up in the comments inspired me to reach out to other moms and ask what surprised them most about motherhood.
I loved seeing how moms interpreted the question—the answers ranged from big picture to the all-consuming details of early motherhood and everything in between. I identified with many of the answers, and others not as much, which is exactly the point: This experience is both universal and unique. I find it helpful to hear these perspectives, and even though you can’t truly prepare for motherhood, we’re definitely not in this alone.
For me, I didn’t expect to mourn the loss of my “old life” when I became a mom. I was in my mid-30s, long past late nights at bars and sleeping in until noon; we had fled the city for the suburbs two years earlier. And yet, when Emme arrived, I was so blindsided by the intense loss of independence that my adjustment to motherhood was a rough road. Eventually that passed, and now, what surprises me most is how much I love having a toddler—a stage that I was sure would be a nightmare.
Here’s what the other moms had to say.
I was most unprepared for how much I needed a support network. It’s different for everyone, but I’m still building that network and learning its benefits. I had my son before most of my friends started families, and I needed other mom friends who lived nearby for my own sanity. This was a challenge when I had an infant who wasn’t old enough to be involved in activities. I found local mom groups via Meetup and later on a newcomer group via a conversation with another parent at the park once we moved into our new house. These groups were (and still are) goldmines and godsends.
Jennie, mom to a 22-month-old son
I always imagined I would feel this insane amount of love for my baby, and I didn’t at first. I was more amazed by her and still am, but being excited to be with her at all times took a little while.
Mom to an infant daughter
Shortly before my daughter was born, a friend told me that having a child is like going on a faraway trip for the very first time. You can read all the books and hear stories from those who have made the same voyage, but your experiences will be your own. It’s just not possible to prepare for everything. I feel very grateful that I get to be a mother—I know it’s an opportunity not everyone gets or wants to experience, by choice or otherwise. That said, there are so many surprises that come with being a parent. Over the past two-and-a-half years, my daughter has given me the gift of a new perspective on my own life and the passage of time. Before my daughter arrived, two years didn’t seem like much, but look how a sleeping newborn can transform into a walking, talking, singing, dancing, beautiful little girl in just 30 short months. I have become less selfish and more aware of the huge responsibility my husband and I share to help our daughter to learn, grow, smile, and care about the world around her. I find myself thinking about my own childhood a lot and have a renewed appreciation for my own parents in a way I wasn’t anticipating.
Mom to a 2.5-year-old daughter
I was surprised that motherhood made me more laid back in many ways. Everything became more unpredictable and instead of going crazy trying to control something that’s uncontrollable, I decided to just relax and take it day by day (sometimes hour by hour).
Sarah, mom to a 2-year-old son
This is probably going to sound naive, but despite having carried the baby for nine months, doing the heavy lifting (all the lifting?) in the birth process, and knowing that I would be attempting to breastfeed, I somehow had this idea that my husband and I would be equal partners in caring for a baby. Turns out, those early weeks and months are pretty mama-centric. There’s just an absolute limit to how much a dad can do to ease the burden of constantly breastfeeding, baby-soothing, and night waking. With our second baby, I’m not as angry about the uneven burden because a lot has obviously changed. Also, I expected it, and I know there will come a time when the balance will shift. And my husband is busy enough with our toddler when he’s home that I can hardly complain.
Angela, mom to two daughters, ages 2 years and 6 weeks
As a whole life experience, having a baby becomes your entire world, and you realize that nothing else matters. As for technical things, baby sleep schedules, or lack there of, are shocking. And once you think you’ve got it down, it changes.
Anne, mom to two sons, ages 5 and 8
Before we had a kid, my husband let me run the show. Once our baby was born, all of the sudden he had an opinion about everything involving our child. That was kind of annoying and hard to get used to.
Mom to a toddler
I have always had a healthy appetite, and when I got pregnant, it took a lot to fill me up. In fact, I had been a vegetarian for years, and my acupuncturist told me to start eating meat. I sprinted to Whole Foods and got a tray, ahem, plate full of meat. Meat became my best friend throughout my pregnancy. What I wasn’t expecting was that I would be eating more after I gave birth. I was eating around the clock. And with all the breastfeeding and pumping, it actually helped the pregnancy weight come off. The other thing that surprised me is that early on in my pregnancy, I was up for a good roll in the hay at any given moment. As I grew, not so much. My daughter was breech, so I ended up with a Cesarian birth. It was a rough recovery, and I had no interest in sex for almost a year. I had healed very well and relatively quickly, my sex drive just took it’s sweet old time returning. It was an uncomfortable return to the bedroom, but it had to happen sooner or later. A few months after the initial return, things were much better, but the whole experience was very unexpected.
Sarah, mom to a 2.5-year-old daughter
No matter how much you read or how many people you talk to there’s no preparing or being ready! Your experience will be unique, and it’s best to embrace that rather than trying to think you’re ready for it–you never are.
Janeen, mom to an 18-month-old daughter and four months pregnant with baby #2
I nursed and supplemented with formula, and I had no idea that breastfeeding, pumping, and formula feeding would be an all encompassing process. I look back now, and my husband and I were so sleep-deprived that we probably wasted a ton of money on formula because we couldn’t wrap our heads around the fact that we could just put the formula in the fridge and save it for the next feeding. Instead we keep throwing it away and remaking it. I was just too tired to figure some of this stuff out.
Meg, mom to a 2.5-year-old son
I didn’t have much (read: any) experience with newborn babies. I even had the nurse in my hospital room demonstrate changing a diaper for me because I’d never done it before. I was a little afraid of even holding a newborn. So I was surprised at how quickly I got comfortable holding my baby, changing her and being alone with her. And although I love being a mom, it can be a little boring. I thought I’d be crazy busy. But there’s a lot of time where you’re just sitting and watching a baby play on the floor. Or watching them take forever to eat. Or reading the same book for the 50th time. That surprised me too.
Mom to a toddler
The change in my marriage was a shocker. I resented my husband at first, and I have to consciously work at not resenting him because what can he really do? He can’t get up and nurse, and he can’t soothe the baby like I can.
Mom to an infant
I was shocked at how hard breastfeeding was. I was certain this was something that would come naturally and be blissful bonding time with my baby. Naturally, it came not. Nor was it blissful–at least not in the beginning. I remember rolling my eyes at the idea of taking a breastfeeding class before having the baby. In retrospect, I would have hired a private boob tutor before my daughter arrived if it meant making breastfeeding easier. That said, in the end, I’m pretty proud that we stuck it out. We supplemented with formula and I pumped, but being able to primarily breastfeed turned out to be an awesome experience. I also never thought I would co-sleep, but Ellie and I did a lot of that. It was the only way we could function for the first six weeks. So I think my big life lesson was: Don’t have any preconceived ideas. You never know what your little one might have mind.
Gena, mom to a three-year-old daughter
Being a new mom has been such an amazing feeling. I never knew love like this. I truly feel the whole experience is a blessing. The one thing that has surprised me the most as a new mom is that constant feeling of worrying for another life. A life that I created. It’s like always having that feeling that your heart is outside your chest.
Rosalyn, mom to a 4-month-old son
Typically everything I heard and read when I was pregnant was more focused on the negative parts of being a mom: How crazy labor is, how much breastfeeding sucks, how little sleep you get. I remember lots of people telling me “just you wait” sort of in a mocking way right before I had my first daughter. My advice would be to not be scared, because it’s going to be amazing. And it gets easier.
Maggie, mom to two daughters, ages 6 and 2, and two sons, ages 4 and 2 months