Some 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.