• Thu, Nov 7 - 9:00 am ET

Study Confirms First Time Motherhood Is A Bitch

shutterstock_127886180Some people (like me) dream of being a mother from a very young age.  As far back as the age of three I can remember hugging my stuffed animals, feeding them and putting them to sleep like any practicing mother would.  Even if you didn’t fantasize about being a mother while you were a toddler, you still had nine months to imagine what it would all be like.  Maybe you read some books, perused some blogs and bugged friends and family with incessant questions.  Or maybe you did none of that and just assumed that motherhood would come naturally for you.  Maybe you had false expectations because you babysat for decades before having your own (that would be me too).

Then it actually happens and all the walls come down.  I know I was a mess, wondering what the hell happened to me.  A new study confirms I wasn’t alone in feeling completely overwhelmed by new motherhood:

  • 65% of first-time mothers find initial 12 months “incredibly stressful”
  • 52% said the negative aspects of parenthood (such as sleepless nights, the feeling of being lost, lonely and bewilderment) outweighed the positive
  • They describe first year as ‘chaotic’, ‘tiring’ and ‘stressful’

Dr Pixie McKenna explains these high percentages:

‘It is easy to underestimate the impact having a baby has on a woman’s life. Before embarking on parenthood, many women are settled in a job, know what they are doing on a day-to-day basis, and are confident in the role they have carved out for themselves.They have independence, aren’t responsible for anyone but themselves, and their abilities and decisions aren’t questioned constantly. The minute a baby comes along, a woman’s world is turned upside down – with that initial rush of love and joy comes the unknown, and it is this which can throw women completely off balance.’

You know that scene in “500 Days Of Summer” when Joseph Gordon-Levitt is walking up the stairs to Summer’s rooftop party and they show a split screen?  One side is his expectations — Summer gives him a big hug and kiss, they share a moment when he gifts her the book he read on the train, they spend the whole night whispering into each other’s ear and make out under the stars.  The other side is reality — Summer doesn’t give a crap about the stupid book he brings, she ignores him all night and the best part (spoiler alert) the woman who insisted she doesn’t believe in marriage, gets engaged before his eyes.

Someone needs to make a movie or an illustration that shows the side by side reel of new motherhood.  Expectations — breastfeeding will be simple, I’ll have no guilt over formula, my baby will sleep LIKE A BABY (what asshole made up that simile?), and I will introduce colorful fruits and vegetables early so that my toddler will love his eggplant quinoa.  Realty — leaky breasts, massive amounts of guilt, complete sleep deprivation and a toddler that won’t eat anything that’s not Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese orange or Wonder bread white.

Of course the good news is it does get better (I mean, how could it get worse?).  The study reports that most mothers gain confidence around 11 months.  For me, it was definitely closer to 18 months, but it did come and things got much easier.  With my new found strength I then took to the internets to tell everyone how hard it was on my personal blog Welcome To The Motherhood (ridiculing ‘the stork’ and other horrendous myths of motherhood, but please don’t submit anything there to STFU Parents, I was just fumbling through my days).

Even better?  Although every child is different, I found my second crack at newborn care to be so much easier and more enjoyable.  It’s just that first step from being childless crossing over to motherhood that’s a real bitch.

(photo: Semmick Photo/Shutterstock)

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  • chickadee

    Heh heh heh…I read the original article, and the British study was executed by Nurofen for Children, so it’s pretty heavily invested in worrying about those poor mothers who have fussy babies…who probably need Nurofen. I’m not sure that this is entirely scientific.

    Having said that, I’m pretty sure most mothers would say there was a huge disconnect between their expectations of motherhood and the reality. I was amazed by the lack of sleep. And the way a ten-pound baby could double her body weight when I had to carry her up a flight of stairs. And how useless many highly-touted baby products turned out to be.

  • keelhaulrose

    I didn’t want to be a mother, I dreamed of traveling and having a job that worked with children but didn’t require sleepless nights or being home with a sick little dependent, so when I found myself pregnant I think I expected much worse, and was surprised that it wasn’t so bad.
    Of course, it could be what my mother warned me: the first one is easy so you think a second night not be so bad, not realizing the second is going to be like trying to raise a mini Godzilla.

    • chickadee

      The laws of math go haywire when it comes to children. Having two children does not equal twice as much work/worry/stress as one. It equals three or four times as much. I still don’t understand that.

    • Carinn Jade

      I was watching my nephew while my SIL was in the hospital giving birth. I thought to myself — well I have two, how hard can a 3rd be? Exponentially is the answer.

    • chickadee

      Never let the children outnumber the parents, is my policy.

    • LadyClodia

      Before we moved my friend and I used to babysit for each other sometimes during the day. She had 3 kids and I had one; one more for her didn’t make much of a difference, but I could barely keep it together with the 4 for just a couple of hours.

    • keelhaulrose

      I think it’s because One, who to that point enjoyed an exalted position as The Most Loved Thing Ever, think that the little wriggling, bald, screaming thing is attempting to usurp their position, and they try to hold onto it in the most militant way possible, making more work for mom in the process.

    • EX

      Oh lord. Being pregnant with number 2, this is the stuff my nightmares are made of…

    • Carinn Jade

      Number 2 is a crap shoot too. I thought everything (even the stuff with my first) got easier when I had #2.
      http://www.mommyish.com/2013/01/18/having-two-kids-parenting-tips/

    • Bethany Ramos

      I totally agree. Maybe it’s perception, but 2 kids is easier than 1 for me.

    • chickadee

      Mine thought that the new baby was going to be like a time-share baby, and she kept trying to take her away to ‘be the mommy.’ That was not our best time. She sabotaged nap times on a regular basis, trying to get her fair share of baby-time.

    • keelhaulrose

      My oldest was awesome with the baby until she said “I’m going to be sad when baby goes back to the hospital”. After explaining that baby was here to stay the attitude changed. She still helps when asked, but it’s pulling teeth to get her to do so.

    • chickadee

      Bwahahahahaha! Baby loan!

    • ElleJai

      I love the phrase “time-share baby” :D

    • Carinn Jade

      Isn’t it funny that you had the opposite result, but still the same problem — expectations don’t align with reality. Why is so hard to get it straight?

    • keelhaulrose

      Because you can’t have realistic expectations for a baby. All the children you’ve met before might be colic-y messes, but yours might be an angel or vice versa. They’re similar, but individuals, and you can never have a real expectation of what a person is really like.

  • LadyClodia

    I definitely thought that things would be easier for my first than they actually were. I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t even close. And I was expecting things to be much worse with my second than they actually were. Was it because I had more experience or because he was an easier baby? Probably a mixture of both. It also helped that my first son was excited about his little brother and surprisingly tolerant of all of the things that I had to do for the baby.

    • Bethany Ramos

      I swear my expectation for an easier baby #2 made him soooo easy. The first kid obviously was challenging, and I think he’s there to teach me every new parenting thing that totally baffles me. Baby #2 lets me practice again and makes me feel like a “good” parent, haha.

    • LadyClodia

      My first was a difficult baby but a pretty easygoing toddler and has been a rather difficult preschooler. My second was an easy baby, and I was pretty confident with him, but he is a precocious and sometimes challenging toddler (we’ve had to toddler-proof things that I never would have dreamed of.) He and his older brother lulled me into a false sense of security going into his toddler years, hah.

  • Madame Ovaries

    Ah, interesting, I wish to peruse these revelations further. If I wanted to look up the full study, it will be filed under “No Duh,” correct?

  • kay

    I have to say the best thing for me in my first-time-mama life is going to a moms group. Because when you’re tried, your baby suddenly wakes up all night long, you’re lonely, you have the worlds coolest stretch marks, and that baby you were so excited for has decided she wants to nurse for about 12 hours a day you feel like you’re doing it wrong. It shouldn’t be so hard, it shouldn’t be so frustrating.

    Getting out and seeing what other moms are dealing with gave me such a good dose of perspective-it’s not just me, what I am going through is normal, my issues with breastfeeding are not that bad, and it turns out what I thought was a pathetic sex life is an infinitely higher amount of sex than other new parents are having. You can end up in such a little bubble with a newborn and not realize that everyone else is going through the same stuff

    • lea

      Sooooo this.
      I’ve just started going to parent’s group with my now 6 week old son. I swear that those weekly meetings with other first time mums are what gets me through the week.

      My husband, though fantastic, is just as bewildered as by this parenting caper as I am. And most of our friends have kids that are just old enough for them to have forgotten so much of the newborn stage.

  • cesp

    My daughter is 8 months old and even though I babysat for years and worked daycare with ease I am finding myself feeling, at times, like a shitty mom. I am currently a working mom and am very fortunate that my mom is able to watch my daughter while I work but I am constantly wracked with guilt that I dont get more time with her. So my husband and I decided that after December we will restructure everything so I can stay home and while I was terribly excited at first Im finding the idea more and more daunting. What if Im not as good at parenting as my mother has been? I went into motherhood with all of these firm ideas on how I would do everything, sleep training, homemade meals, but with my schedule at work I have found myself cutting corners just to get by. I feel like a failure. I just want to cry and I always worry that Im not giving my daughter enough. The funny thing is that the first few months came so easily, (I was also on maternity leave). I felt like super mom….now I just feel like I am not good enough for my daughter.

    • Guest 123

      Every single mom feels that way. You are a great mom and you are not alone. :-) I never feel like I am doing enough or getting it right.