Before I started writing this post, I went looking through old photos I could use here, because people like photos.
I came across a photo from about two weeks before I got pregnant – taken in Las Vegas when we were surprising my brother for his 30th birthday. And truly that is a story all on its own – we all showed up on his doorstep at some late hour because we were all giddy and excited, having flown/driven in from New Jersey and San Francisco. This was a whole trip of adventures – seeing the west. Seeing moose. Surprising my brother. Oh yeah, and moving cross country. With a new husband and an old dog.
It was an adventure before an adventure, if you will. Two weeks later I was pregnant but I wouldn’t know it for another six weeks or so. Denial is a strong one – when you suddenly hate the smell of garlic, and only yesterday you didn’t. When you are over a week late. Nope, not pregnant! No, siree! Must be stress? It must be something else entirely. Something that changes you.
Something that changes you on a cellular level. All of you. All of you that loves all of them, as John Legend might say.
I did not read a lot of books about motherhood before I had kids, but I wish I had read “Then I Became a Mother”. I was immersed in her graceful and comforting words. I read it while eating breakfast and while oblivious to noises and messes all around me. I read it with a lot of cups of coffee. Coffee with whipped cream. The good stuff. The graceful, comforting stuff.
Robin’s book is separated into nine chapters, which is equated to nine pieces of toilet paper – modeled after a baby shower game in which you pull off pieces of toilet paper, and that’s how many toilet-paper-sized snippets of wisdom you’re supposed to give to the mother-to-be. In Robin’s case, one of the most self-assured, experienced and happy mothers at the party took only one piece of toilet paper and said only one thing. “Just love her.” And now my parenting secret is officially out. I just love them.
As Robin mentioned in her book, it was hard for me to see beyond the impending labor and delivery when I was pregnant, which seemed IMMENSE. And of course, it is, and of course the love, care and hardships grow from there. If I had read a book about motherhood while pregnant, it would have been this one. I think Robin delicately explains exactly how your life and everything in it will change, and she does it in nine steps/chapters/pieces of toilet paper:
1. It gets easier.
I remember wanting to sob when I was discharged from the hospital after Scarlet’s birth. I felt…nostalgic for this strange, clinical place. I was afraid to leave the confines of the hospital with my baby and settle into our new life. I felt so many emotions at once, but still, we left. My first venture out was a walk among buzzing summer insects. I couldn’t believe life was still going on. On the fourth day, we had Scarlet’s one week doctor appointment. That was bewildering. Over time, my comfort with a child in the world, while navigating the world, grew and grew. It got laughably easier to leave the house.
Although why would we want to leave Han Solo??
2. Learn as you go.
I remember the first time I left the house without Scarlet. Cassidy had been doing it for weeks and said it was a disorienting feeling – like leaving home without something vital – as if you were missing a body part or your clothes. And it was a bit like that, the first time I got behind the wheel of the car without a pregnant belly or a baby. We didn’t even have pumped milk that early on – I was just racing out to a hair appointment while she napped, and hoping she wouldn’t wake up while I was out of the house. I swear my chest was expanding at visible speed from milk coming in and I felt empty and anxious for the whole thing. Over time, I would learn how to take Scarlet with me. In fact, she slept during my appointments! Then I would eventually learn to take both kids to all appointments – Des sleeping in his infant car seat and Scarlet sitting quietly on a couch. I also had to learn to leave them both behind, with plenty of food and a caring sitter, because neither of them sleep through life anymore..
In Robin’s case, she went alone to get drive-through ice cream. Drive-through ice cream?! Where can I find this??
3. Say goodbye to personal space.
I was just going on about this today. I still can’t get used to the constant poking, prodding, hair pulling, bumps, etc. that come with having two kids and a dog. This photo was from a time with only one kid and a different dog, but it cracked me up tonight:
4. Remember your former self.
I’m still figuring those parts out. Me by myself. Me with just Cassidy. Me with just one kid. Mainly, me with just me.
5. Redefine accomplishment.
I love this one, although there are days that I work several hours while taking care of the kids.. there are also days in which the house is messy, but the kids are happy, and I feel like I deserve a medal.
6. Build a support network.
Robin made me laugh in her story when she said that she used to title the couples in her birth classes. I did the same. I didn’t really bond with anyone in those classes. I did eventually became friends with people who had been in classes with me, but not until after the birth. I wasn’t ready or open for it quite yet. With Scarlet came many friendships in our post birth class. Some seem lifelong. Some faded away as we grew separate interests or became better friends with the people we see at camp or preschool, and it will happen with elementary school too. I have my network of family and in person friends, as well as a huge network of blogging friends. I couldn’t walk any of these paths alone.
7. Avoid comparison.
With these groups of friends, we have all needed one another. We have gone through autism diagnoses, mental illness, deaths of family members and friends, job losses, pet losses, child illnesses and injuries, divorces, etc. Sometimes I needed help. Sometimes my friends needed help. Everyone struggles at some point. As Robin says, “Nobody is helped when we pretend as if we’ve always got our act together.” This parenting thing can be hard. This living thing can be hard.
8. Partially dirty is the new clean.
Did I ever tell you about the time I was at a baby group and Des audibly crapped his diaper, and it blew out of his diaper, onto his clothes, and onto my dress? I did some damage control in the bathroom, but I hadn’t brought a change of clothes for ME. Only him. And I still had to go pick up Scarlet before I’d be able to get home. The new normal. Although that was an extreme case and I’m often more put together.
9. Just love them.
From Robin: “Because this is what mothers do. We love our kids, even in our imperfection. Even in their imperfection. We always will.” You will have to read the book for more beautiful and humorous stories. For more info, link HERE. This book was a breath of fresh air and a jolting reminder of the enormity that parenting is, and the enormity that our hearts are capable of handling.
“No matter how hard we try, we can’t stretch it out or hurry it along. But we can live it fully, ride out the highs and lows, and let ourselves feel the aching beauty of it all.”
— Robin Kramer