Can you remember your first pregnancy? My oldest is 12 now, but I still recall that feeling of anxious anticipation (or was that heartburn?) like it was yesterday, and the sheer amazement when I felt my baby kick for the first time (before that I was bent over a toilet most of the time so it felt more like food poisoning). I imagined our future with a baby, imagined different scenarios (boy? girl?) and read every baby book I could get my hands on. My favorite, by the way? The Girlfriend’s Guide To Pregnancy, by Vicki Iovine. Super cute and funny.
As I grew larger (and more beautiful), we adjusted our environment to prepare for the baby. The nursery was painted, furniture assembled and little onesies washed (in Dreft), perfectly folded and placed in the dresser/changing table combo. Foreign objects like breast pumps and snot suckers (the books said I would need them) joined the black/white/red dangly toys and military grade folding stroller with the 21″ wheels. I was ready!
In the last weeks before our first daughter was born, I entered a sort of dream state. My mind played a constant loop of different I-have-a-baby scenarios. Most of them centered around baby and me engaging in intellectual pursuits such as early childhood music classes and long evenings relaxing in the glider with a literary classic (it’s never too early for Thoreau!). I played classical music with a gadget designed to be placed on my pregnant belly so the baby could hear (What? Why are you laughing? the book said it boosts intelligence and soothes the baby pre-birth). Looking in from the outside, I’m sure the edges of my world were all soft and glow-y. I was the perfect last trimester mama-to-be. My nursery was perfect. The baby was perfect. And I was already dilated a few centimeters! This was going to be a fairy tale.
Then something happened that would change absolutely everything.
I ended up giving birth to an actual baby.
We have a filter, as pregnant mamas-to-be, that prevents us from grasping the enormity of change that comes with the birth of a baby. We invent romantic scenarios – not unlike those we engage in pre-marriage (we’ll tackle that another time) – which somehow disconnect the logical part of our brains, allowing the imagination to take over. In our delicate state we do not realize this and therefore begin to accept imagination as reality. It does not matter how many people tell you otherwise; you won’t listen. Every harried, exhausted mama in the world could line up and give you a little one two punch of reality and it wouldn’t matter. YOUR baby is going to be different. YOU will have it under control.
Present-Day-Reality-Check-Alert: Don’t you feel kind of stupid now? We bought into the fairy tale. We thought we had some industrial strength intelligence/intestinal fortitude that set us apart from all the other new mamas, and that our infant rearing experience would be superior to that of our forebears. During our pregnancy we would shrug off the stories of sleep deprivation and 4-foot high laundry piles. Those moms were just disorganized, we thought. We would create order through proper scheduling. We assumed nursing would be easy. We actually believed that we would get back into pre-baby shape within a few months, and we pooh-poohed the moms who were still wearing maternity pants at their kid’s first birthday party. Doesn’t a little bitter piece of you snicker conspiratorially when you see a pregnant mama these days? Because they’re thinking all of those same things as they look on in disdain while your 2 year-old throws a tantrum in the cereal aisle. You may not want to admit it, but part of us look at those new mamas-to-be with their far away dreamy smiles and think ‘you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into‘. We’re in it up to our eyeballs now and the view from inside is awfully different. Join us, clueless pregnant mamas. It’s all good.
Needless to say, entering the alternate universe of actual parenthood isn’t quite like we imagined. First there is the physical drain of having a baby. That kid is either pooping, eating or trying to fall asleep -24 hours a day. They always need something. Luckily they have mercy on us and occasionally throw in a cute behavior just to keep us from sticking our head in the oven. I’m convinced that if babies were born ugly, we would have ceased to exist as a species.
Mentally we become Professional Worriers. We worry that they will smother in the crib; we worry that they’re not getting enough to eat; we worry about the size, quantity and color of their poop; we worry, we worry, we worry. All of this worry weighs us down and centers our focus on the baby even more. We are now in it body, mind and soul.
From the second you leave the hospital, every waking hour is spent thinking about the baby, tending to the baby or trying to rest and get ready for another day with the baby. Before we know it we have completely metamorphosed into a ‘mommy’. Our world is so consumed by this baby that we [erroneously] assume that everyone else must be captivated as well. This may be an evolutionary coping mechanism, designed to make us feel like this is indeed ‘the most important job in the world‘. We probably can’t help it on some level. This is unfortunate, because it is the reason all moms of new babies are extremely boring.
What’s that? Yes, I did actually just say that. Out loud.
The thing is, we need to hear it. If someone had sat me down and explained this to me from the outset, the trajectory of my life with young kids may have been different. I probably still would have been boring, but maybe not quite as tedious. I allowed myself to get sucked into the mommy vortex, eventually walking away from my career, buying a minivan and focusing solely on the needs of my babies. I went to playgroups. All of this (well, some of it) is admirable and important, but the fact is we use it as a reason to completely depart from our true selves and withdraw into the task of mommyhood completely. And the fact is, most of being of a mommy of babies is tedious and boring (and repetitive, and exhausting, and thankless). And there is nothing unique about it because if you look around? Everyone has kids.
When we unknowingly settle into being mamas, we begin to draw from a rather banal and repetitive repository of common subject matter – breastfeeding, sleep cycles, poop, pediatricians – and lead with these topics regardless of our audience. Our co-workers can’t go a single work day without being forced to look at a photo series (look, he rolled over!) or hear the latest height/weight/head circumference stats, and our childless friends receive a hearty helping of the previous day’s fascinating baby exploits (his poop looked like mustard!). You can’t see their eyes glassing over because you are too caught up in the rapture of your own mommy-ness. Even other mamas don’t really care about your experiences; they’re too wrapped up in their own.
‘Mommy’ is a state-of-mind. It’s an alien that invades our bodies once that first kid hits the ground. It is an intense form – maybe the ultimate form – of self-centeredness. We have an important job. Their future is in our hands. We look at that baby as our reason for being, and we believe that everyone else sees it that way too. In fact, there are probably a handful of people in your social circle that kind of liked the old you. They miss your clever banter and unique perspective on life. They can’t relate to this new, mama version of you.
But here is a revolutionary thought: the two – being interesting and being a mama – don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
It takes some work, self-exploration and discipline, but holding on to who you are sets a great early example for your children and the role they will play in your life (and vice versa). Society tells us that once the kids are born, it’s all about them. I have repeated this on more than one occasion. I’m telling you now, society is wrong. I was wrong.
Take the pie that is your life and slice it up into pieces. Your kids are piece of that pie (a very important piece, but still just a part of the whole). Your husband/relationship/extended family/friends is another. Then there is your career, hobbies or passions. Obviously they all bleed into one another and overlap at times, but in general your life should be balanced and not overly heavy in one area. The danger in allowing yourself to be swept up into an all-consuming motherhood mentality is that you are training your kids early on that you exist for them. They will grow up to be incorrigible and – worse – you will continue to become even more boring. Your life will be all about living vicariously through your kids. Yuck.
So put away those ultrasound photos (yes, pregnant mamas…you’re boring too!) and resist the temptation to tell your book club about the projectile vomit incident. It’s not that we don’t care – we do! – it’s just that you’re boring us.