I sat in the mommy-and-me group feeling completely out of place. All the other moms cheerfully held their babies. They gushed about how many hours their baby slept. They giggled at their rare feeding mishaps.
They were so in control. So confident. And I? I was a mess.
You wouldn’t know it on the outside. I managed to smile and commiserate and not have (too much) vomit on my shirt. While the other moms made parenting seem effortless, I felt like I was in a triathlon (it’s important to note I dislike running, biking, and swimming.).
As I look back on those early days, I see the truth. They were hard yet gratifying. Overwhelming yet manageable. Mostly they felt confusing. My head was split in two as I tried to make sense of the opposing feelings battling in the foreground of my mind. There were so many things my mind didn’t know but my heart sensed instinctively.
I didn’t know that I could feel so alive at the same time I felt so exhausted. Every day felt equally like a gift and a chore. Basic things like eating and sleeping temporarily became advanced skills. My exhaustion felt like a trap that prevented me from living.
I didn’t know that spending all of my time side-by-side with another person would feel so lonely. Seems impossible to create another person, love that person with all your being, and then feel lonely being with them. Surrounding myself with family, friends, and other moms drilled in the isolation further. The physicality of support couldn’t unlock the emotional shackles I created in those early days.
I didn’t know that I could feel like I was going to lose my mind but still have infinite patience. Some days it felt like my mind was at war with itself. I wanted to scream and stomp and kick and cry. Yet I didn’t (at least not most of the time). I breathed in. I breathed out. I spoke calmly. I learned patience.
I didn’t know that being a working mom would feel so dreadful yet be just what I needed. Just when I started to get in my groove and gain confidence of being mom, I was back at work. Correction: I forced myself back to work too soon, dreaded every day, and spiraled into uncontrollable-postpartum depression. Yet recently when a mentor asked “why do you work” I didn’t hesitate to genuinely say, “working makes me a better parent. And a better person.”
I didn’t know that I was a great mom from the start even though I had no idea what I was doing. Up until becoming a mom I thought being great at something meant mastering a skill. Being an expert. I was no expert at being a parent (still am not!) but I did realize at some point that love and patience trumped talent and expertise. At least some of the time.
I didn’t know that one day I would long for the days I couldn’t wait to escape. The no-sleep-can’t-function-why-won’t-she-stop-crying-phase seemed endless yet today I look at baby’s snuggling up in their mom’s necks and I want to experience that moment again. Then I remember the crying (me and the baby), look at my tween girls, and feel grateful that we can have a logical (somewhat logical) conversation and express love in both words and actions.
The early days got me ready for the rest of the days. I still am not entirely sure that I’m doing this parenting thing “right”, but I am (more) certain that there is no right way to do anything (including parenting). I’m positive our girls know that we love them like crazy. And really, that’s half of what I’m supposed to be doing. The other half is better said by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
“There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings.”