My Parenting Expectations Pre-Birth Were Pointless

Parenting is hard. It is a full-time job that requires you to keep a tiny human alive while you adjust (and let’s face it, sacrifice) many, if not all, aspects of your life. Now, you may already be thinking, Well, duh! Any one could have told you that! And to be frank, I was one of those people prior to having my child. What I did not anticipate prior to becoming a parent was what that really meant.

Yes, I knew I would no longer be sleeping. Yes, I knew that I would be changing diapers at an exorbitant rate. (How can someone less than 10 pounds poop that much?) And, yes, I knew I would have to prioritize my time, deciding which of my many hobbies I would have to minimize (or just plain eliminate). But what I did not realize, however, was what all of this would actually feel like.

The phrase “looks good on paper” comes to mind as I reflect on the countless hours spent reading before and during my pregnancy, researching and deciding how I wanted to parent. I enjoyed Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe for her research-based parenting suggestions as she compared the French versus American way of raising children. I devoured the tips in Connie Simpson’s The Nanny Connie Way: Secrets to Mastering the First Four Months of Parenthood who has found success as the lifestyle guru and super nanny to celebrities. I also took pages of notes from the classic text What to Expect When You’re Expecting by Heidi Murkoff. (I should mention that I am a high school English teacher and reading is a large part of my life.) I. Was. Ready.

Ugh. I was so not.

Could I change a diaper? Of course! Did I know how to store, defrost, and warm breast milk? You betcha! Did I know the weeks and months my child would have growth spurts? Absolutely! I was not, however, prepared to lose every semblance of the woman I believed I would be as a new mother. I quickly realized that I lacked the stamina to be the person I had set out to be at the start of this journey. The mother I expected to be. 

My son, Theo, was born two weeks early via C-section (I had preeclampsia). He was 5 pounds and 12 ounces. After that first week, his weight went down to 5 pounds 4 ounces (not uncommon, but still not something I was happy about). My doctors suggested supplementing with formula to help him gain weight as I wasn’t producing enough milk (this was one of my “expected mother traits” that dissipated quickly — not that I am against formula, it just wasn’t what I had anticipated, having spent so much time preparing to be a breast-feeding mama). The following weeks taught me that any fragment of the mother I expected to be would have to be saved for the next kid (if that happens, because I’ll be honest, Theo is trying really hard to be an only child).

From week four on, Theo seemed to be having difficulty with his bowel movements (sorry, here is your late warning that this blog contains talks of poop). Anytime he would try to poop, he would kick and arch his back and cry. Wait, no. He would scream. And, as I mentioned earlier, babies poop A LOT. So, a screaming baby became a normal part of my life. This is not abnormal for many parents (colic anyone?) nor is the lack of sleep that accompanies it. Having previously imagined (role-played even) how I would combat these drastic lifestyle changes, I used to think I could handle it. I would just figure it out.

While I have “figured it out” (Theo’s daily existence is proof that I must be doing something right), I still have yet to figure out who I am in the mess of parenting. What I was not prepared for, going into motherhood, was that I would no longer be the person I was before. I am not talking about sacrificing friends, hobbies, or sleep. I mean my very core — my views of life, my demeanor, my beliefs. I didn’t know that I would have to relearn how to manage my anger when Theo is testing my limits with three hours on inconsolable crying (I used to think I was a very patient person). I didn’t realize that anytime I watch the news I would have a deeper emotional reaction to stories pertaining to shootings, kidnappings, suicides, and abuse (how do I protect Theo in this world?). Even my profession, which I love, is something I began to question (is it really possible to be an effective teacher with 100 other children while still giving my child 100%?). I didn’t realize that parenting would cause a personality crisis.

And that sucks! But, it is OK.

I may not be the person I envisioned, or hoped, to be. But, perhaps one of the best aspects of parenting is that it makes you become (plug your ears if you’re sensitive to cursing) one strong motherfucker. Truly. The adventure of parenting will test you and change you in ways you never planned. You will be pushed to the edge of your sanity and may even have you question whether or not adoption would have been a better option. There are times (if you’re lucky) when going alone for a ten minute walk or going to the coffee shop makes you cry because you forgot what it felt like to feel human. And you may even evaluate your choice in a spouse (if you have one) when you’re arguing about sleep training methods. Yes, you are tested, but those tests are catalysts for new levels of resolve, passion, and love. They create something in you that is someone you never knew could exist…at least for me. 

As a parent, there is no guarantee that you will be able to hold onto the parts of you that you considered to be permanently ingrained into your character. And that is hard. It is messy. It is confusing, scary, and sometimes just down right depressing. Still, it is exciting and bewildering. It is…humbling. 

I don’t know what Theo will bring out in me as we continue our lives together, but I know it will new. And, it will be welcomed (even if it takes a while).