The phases of motherhood

Just read another blog article about motherhood. (Link if you’re interested. It’s cute.) I could kind of relate to it, but not really. Because I no longer am a new mom of a newborn; motherhood changes after the first year. Instead, what it brought up for me is how very different life is pre-baby, post-baby, and once the new-baby smell wears off.

(Why doesn’t that smell last longer? It’s one of the best parts of the newborn phase. Now my kid smells like whatever she ate last, plus the things that are sticking to the residue of whatever she ate last.)

Pre-baby, my life was pretty chill. I stayed up too late, dragged myself into work, dragged myself home, and spent hours doing things like cooking and working out and watching Netflix and reading books. I had time to be bored. My house was always clean. I ate well-rounded, nutritious meals on a regular basis. I had a closet full of nice clothes, none of which had stains. I did not lead the single life most mommy bloggers I’ve read describe; I’m more of a homebody, and I’ve never had much of what you’d call a social life. I didn’t realize I had much of a life at all, to be honest, until it was gone.

Post-baby was chaotic. Post-baby is, I imagine, always chaotic, but less than two weeks after giving birth by surprise c-section, we moved an hour away to be closer (next door) to my parents. Roughly six months after giving birth, I ditched my office gig (which now came with an hour commute) to work from home part time, making up the rest with freelancing gigs while my partner tried to find a job out in the boonies (where we now live). The first year of my daughter’s life is thus a blur of stress, pain, financial hardship, and indescribable joy. Also desperation, both quiet and not. The highest highs, the lowest lows…all the cliches. You learn who you really are in times like that. (I’m not always a nice person, but I get things done.)

After the first year, things settled down somewhat. Slightly lower levels of stress, pain, and financial hardship. But the joy is still there, so they seem even lower yet. With each passing year, I prove that I can indeed keep this child alive, so I relax a little more. (I don’t even bat an eye when she rubs the stall door in a public restroom anymore – just wipe her hand with a wet wipe and keep going.)

Still, it’s amazing the impact one little person has had on my life.

Pre-baby: I read books — at least one a week. Sometimes two or three at once. When the urge struck, I reread old favorites.
Post-baby: I squeezed in a book here and there, but had to be very careful about the subject matter; Sarah’s Key had me sobbing for 6 hours into my baby’s sparse hair. I started rereading books I knew did not depict sick, injured, or dying babies to keep myself from reading anything emotionally distressing. Mostly, though, I was too tired to drag my eyes across a page. I watched a lot of reruns.
Now: I occasionally get to read a book. My kid peels book covers like some kids peel wings off flies, though, so mostly I read on my phone. Still, my reading time comes in short jags, so I read more blog articles than books. I miss books.

Pre: I kept up with current events through office scuttlebutt.
Post: I have no idea what happened in the world for the first year of my child’s life.
Now: I keep up with the world through Facebook and Twitter.

Pre: Outside my social circle, I wasn’t much of a talker; I could go all day without saying a word, and often did. My social media use was me ranting about work. I had a few close friends I kept up with regularly.
Post: I’d talk to whoever would listen about my baby. Including my baby, once the postpartum loneliness set it. My social media use was me posting pictures of my baby. I kept up with friends sporadically through email and text. We mostly talked about my baby.
Now: The only time I get to be silent is while I work. Aside from the internet, all of my conversations are with people to whom I am related. My social media use is almost exclusively pictures of and cute stories about my kid. I keep up with friends through Facebook, where we like, and occasionally comment on, each others’ pictures.

Pre: I tried, and failed, to blog — I just didn’t have much to say.
Post: I was too sleep deprived to blog.
Now: I’m reattempting blogging so I have somewhere to put my thoughts, because I no longer have time for philosophical conversations with friends and my family is tired of being my only sounding board.

Pre: I did not own enough jeans to pack for a week’s vacation. I made up the difference with dresses and cute skirts. I wore yoga pants to do yoga, and occasionally to sleep in.
Post: I lost the baby weight quickly, but was stuck in yoga pants for months thanks to post-operative pain. After returning to work, I tried to wear only things that hid spit-up well. (The stain, not the smell. Nothing hides the smell.) Skirts and dresses were out because wearing them requires shaving, and shaving while sleep-deprived is inadvisable.
Now: I wear mostly yoga pants, hoodies, and sneakers; jeans are dress clothes. My main criteria when shopping for clothes are that they hide stains (now stains usually come with food coloring, so I wear a lot of black) and be easy to run in. Wearing skirts is still out because it’s too hard to keep from showing the world your underwear while wrestling a flailing toddler from the supermarket floor.

Pre: Sneakers lasted for years, because I wore mostly heels. Even shopping.
Post: Sneakers became my shoe of choice because I was too afraid to carry the baby while wearing heels; what if I tripped?
Now: I’m lucky if sneakers last a year. I’m considering a second pair just for working out, so I’ll have a “nice” pair. I have trouble walking in heels. Hell, I have trouble walking in flats.

Pre: My purse was pretty much a wallet on a string. In it were my wallet, cell phone, keys, and lipstick.
Post: My purse was a backpack; when the straps on that broke (within the first year!), I switched to a weekender tote bag. In it was a disaster survival kit, with gear to deal with any problem that could possibly arise with a newborn. Plus enough formula, diapers, and changes of clothing to last several days in the wild. Yet almost every time we left the house, we encountered a situation for which I was totally unprepared. (My stuff could still fit in a clutch purse.)
Now: I am relishing my post-potty-training freedom by once again carrying a tiny purse. In it are my wallet, cell phone, keys, lipstick, plus little toys, crayons, and toddler snacks.

Pre: I pursued hobbies to pass the time.
Post: Hobbies? I was lucky to shower twice a week.
Now: I pursue hobbies so I can occasionally talk about something that is not my kid.

Pre: I planned menus two weeks in advance, carefully read labels in the grocery store, and cooked everything from scratch. I made my own peanut butter.
Post: I ate only things you could eat one-handed. Once I even tried my daughter’s formula. It was awful.
Now: I save recipes on Pinterest that I will never fix. My daughter is happier with steamed veggies and mac and cheese anyway. I eat a lot of granola bars. Store-bought ones.

Pre: I wore makeup on special occasions.
Post: I wore makeup when I left the house, because I wanted to feel like an attractive human being on occasion.
Now: I wear makeup for the sunscreen, and because it makes my daughter happy.

Pre: I went for long drives when I was upset, needed time to think, or just to try out a new CD.
Post: Commuting was my only alone time.
Now: I am not allowed to go anywhere alone. If I want to listen to music, I take a walk. At 4 a.m., while everyone else is sound asleep.

Pre: I pictured parenthood feeling like a stronger version of what I felt holding other people’s babies, because that baby would be mine. I couldn’t imagine ever wanting someone else to hold my baby.
Post: What I felt towards my baby involved more panic and exhaustion than I anticipated. I gladly asked other people to hold her so I could do things like pee, shower, and sleep.
Now: I would throw anyone, up to and including her father, under a bus if it meant ensuring my child’s health and well-being. I hold her as often as she’ll let me, dreading the day when she no longer wants me to.

I have no illusions that adding a second child to the mix won’t change things; I imagine some day I will reread this post and laugh at what I thought was chaotic. Still, this is quite an impressive impact for someone who’s barely over 3 feet tall.


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