You may remember the scene in the movie Office Space where the character Milton is left passing out pieces of cake to everyone else until the cake runs out. He never ends up getting any and is left to exclaim, “I was told there would be cake!” This is sometimes how motherhood feels to me.
Motherhood is hard. I think most of us enter into it knowing that. If we didn’t, not to worry, lots of well-meaning strangers will tell us repeatedly about how we will never sleep again and what will happen to very intimate parts of our body.
We expect the exhaustion, the stress, and the worry, but motherhood is also hard in sneaky little ways. For me, it was the unexpected hard parts — the parts of motherhood I expected to like but didn’t. Or the parts of motherhood I didn’t like as much as I thought I would or was told I would like that left me feeling frustrated and honestly, a little cheated somehow. I felt a little bit like Milton: I was told there would be cake and felt disappointed that there was none.
I expected breastfeeding to be hard but I also expected to like it.
Before I am crucified on the altar of La Leche League, I will issue this caveat: my breastfeeding experience was a little atypical as I almost exclusively pumped. My son was born early via emergency C-section and it took a while for my milk to even come in. We supplemented with formula, and I started pumping as a way to increase my supply. By the time I was producing enough, he was doing so well using a bottle it seemed silly to start from scratch. So I pumped. And pumped. And pumped.
I am grateful to live in an age where we have the technology that allowed me to breastfeed in a way I wouldn’t have been able to years ago. However, pumping is really hard. It is isolating and confining and you definitely miss out on the bonding that goes along with nursing a child.
I definitely think had I been able to nurse I would have a more positive attitude about breastfeeding but if I am being really honest, there were other little things I did not enjoy about it either. I felt frumpy, top heavy, and always a little uncomfortable. I missed wearing normal bras, normal tops, and not having to plan out an outfit based on its risk of inadvertently flashing someone.
Despite all of this, I am glad I made breastfeeding work in my own way. It was not easy, but if I had another baby, I would be willing to do it again if needed.
I also think it is absolutely OK to admit it was not my favorite thing and I was not sad at all to be done with it.
I expected the baby stage to be exhausting, but I did not expect it to be so lonely.
There is no better feeling than holding your baby against your chest. Those cuddles are what have sustained parents for millennia, the oxytocin produced more powerful than any drug. I firmly believe that parents who miss baby snuggles are what lead to second (and third) kids.
I did not dislike the baby stage per se, but I did find it to be surprisingly lonely. When I first had my son, I was surrounded by help and visitors, and people bringing me food. It was awesome, and I was so thankful for it. Then everyone had to go back to their own lives, and it was just me and a newborn.
The days were busy but I often felt isolated. It is hard to get out those first few months when you are catering to an infant’s eating schedule on top of pumping. I was also leery about taking my son out during one of the worst flu seasons Las Vegas had ever seen before he was old enough to be vaccinated.
As a society, we are much more open now with the struggles women face as new moms. Postpartum depression is no longer a taboo subject, and I am thankful we can be more open and honest about it. While I never felt depressed, I was surprised by how lonely I felt. I want other moms to know it is normal and it does get better. The baby stage is a short season. I wasn’t expecting the loneliness, but I am thankful I was able to be with my son during those early months. Plus, I have all those baby snuggles in my memory bank and can draw on them any time my now 2-year-old is being a “turdler.”
Which brings me to…
I expected raising a toddler to be hard, but I didn’t expect to take it so personally.
Toddlers are demanding. They require constant supervision. They have no chill and no sense of self-preservation. Which means as their parent, you always have to be “on.” You must be consistent because they can smell BS a mile away.
There have been a few particularly trying days. Days where I felt like all I said was no, where I cleaned up poop more than any person should ever have to, and where I was literally locked out of my house by my child. It is usually on these days where he only wants his father for anything (traitor).
More than once, I have found myself crying on the couch after bedtime, feeling like I have completely failed as a mother (said in my best Beverly Goldberg voice).
As a stay-at-home mom, sometimes the really hard days feel like double failure. I feel like I am failing as a mom but also at my only job.
On the plus side, despite the difficulties, this age is by far my favorite. Sure it’s hard, but it’s also incredible to watch my son learn, grow, and blossom into his own person. Plus, now he is old enough to sweetly say, “mama,” grab my hand, and kiss it, which makes me temporarily forget that he just took out all the toilet paper from under the sink and unrolled it.
I expected to love my child. But I did not expect the depth of it.
Perhaps this is the sneakiest hard part of motherhood: the crazy love you feel for your child. It is irrational, all encompassing, and sometimes terrifying. It is letting your heart live and beat outside your body.
This is also the sweetest part of motherhood. What a gift to be able to love another person like this. This is the cake, and it is better than what was promised.