In February my daughter turned one. The last twelve-month journey started with the doctor putting a screaming newborn on my chest, and ended with a babbling baba pushing her toy tractor around the lawns at Blaauwklippen’s Family Market. As I sat there on the picnic blanket, paying actual attention to the conversations around me, prepped with baba’s lunch and snacks, and wearing a dress that was only sort of covered in food, I realised that I had made it out of the trenches.
The first year of motherhood has taught me a lot about myself, my own resilience and my ability to grow. So I thought it was a good time to reflect on the things I have learned.
Lesson 1: I can’t do it alone
Those first three months nearly broke me and I honestly don’t know if I would have made it without a support network. Family and friends helped with the heavy lifting, and an online community of mothers helped me feel a little less crazy in all the craziness. This last year I made peace with the fact that I need help, that it’s okay to not be okay, to reach out and admit that I’m struggling.
Lesson 2: Motherhood is lonely
There are those 2 am feeds when you’re sitting in a dark nursery, mentally rearranging the furniture for the hundredth time, when the sense of isolation becomes stifling. Motherhood brings a heavy weight of emotions, responsibility and commitment, and it’s not always easy to explain what you’re dealing with – to yourself or to other people. I am slowly learning to put these struggles into words, communicating them with the people in my life. It makes a difference knowing that someone is at least aware of these storm clouds.
Lesson 3: Friendships are going to change
There is life before becoming a parent, and life after. Before having kids, we’d often complain about our friends who’d become consumed by parenthood. The fact is that having children is consuming; it’s the most significant responsibility you’ll ever have. Someone’s life literally depends on you. Not all your friends will get that. On the flip side, it’s probably a good idea to find conversational topics that don’t always involve diapers or baby food. It takes some work to recover or re-establish connection points with close friends, allowing the relationship to grow in a new direction.
Lesson 4: It’ll get there
In the beginning, the task of parenthood felt completely overwhelming. I couldn’t imagine a world where I was proficient in toddler meals, angst-free travelling and effortless bedtime rituals. Yet here we are. Luckily there is time for everyone to grow up bit by bit.
Lesson 5: It’s important to be selfish
It’s easy to throw yourself wholly and completely into the responsibilities of motherhood. But I’ve found that it’s just as important to invest in my own wellbeing. Sometimes I need to selfishly take a day, spending my time, energy and thoughts on myself. You can’t pour from an empty vessel.
Lesson 6: It gets better
In the beginning, I could never believe other moms when they reassured me that things would get better. And then it did. Motherhood is at once both the most challenging and most rewarding experience. It didn’t just get better. It’s the best.