Now that I’m over two years into motherhood (counting pregnancy), I can look back and see so many things I didn’t know. Being a parent has taught me so many lessons the hard way, and I can only wonder how life would have been different these past couple of years had I known some of these things in advance.
Today I’m thinking back through many of those lessons and unveiling them for you in a very personal way. Essentially, this is my journey into motherhood.
If you’re a mom friend, I’d love to know how you relate, so be sure to compare notes with me in the comments below. If you’re not a mom yet, I hope this post sheds light on some aspects of motherhood you might not have thought about before.
Things I Wish I Had Known About Life Before Becoming a Parent
How to manage a home
Sure, I knew how to wash dishes and dust bookshelves and clean toilets, and to do them well (thanks Mom!), but I hadn’t yet built a home management system before getting pregnant the first time.
This caused so much stress and overwhelm for me, starting during my pregnancy and continuing through my baby’s whole first year.
Because I didn’t have a cleaning routine or a housekeeping strategy, I had no idea how to get things done and keep up with my responsibilities when my baby arrived. And I was only in a 700 square foot apartment! It shouldn’t have been that hard!
Looking back, I practically laugh at myself. I was so lost that first year postpartum, and simply having a cleaning system would have made such a huge impact in so many areas for me.
Related: How to Get Things Done with a Baby
What love feels like
Before meeting my baby the first time, I had NO CLUE what love felt like. I thought I did. I was married, after all. I have friends and parents and siblings.
But as any parent can tell you, when you see and hear and feel your child for the first time, you realize all at once after opening the door to Oz that you were Dorothy living in a black and white Kansas.
I don’t mean to offend anyone who doesn’t have children, or doesn’t plan to have children with an elitist “you don’t know what love is” stance, but it truly is the most incredible shift once you become a parent.
How meaningful motherhood is
I wish I could go back to 21 year old Katie-of-January-2017 when I peed on a stick and my world imploded. I was overwhelmingly excited and awed to have a baby growing inside of me, but at the same time, we hadn’t written children into our life plan until nearly a decade later.
I had plans for a career. I had a college degree I wanted to use. I had so much I still wanted to do, and a baby changed everything.
I was rent in two during pregnancy. I felt like two wholly different people. One of me was thrilled to be starting a family and couldn’t wait to raise babies and be a mama. The other was bitter and resentful at having to give up my future career and life plans for an unplanned pregnancy.
After one final push and a squalling, naked newborn on my chest, though, those two versions of me joined back into one, as I was hit all at once with how meaningful my new career path was.
The bitterness and resentment are a scar of the past now, still sore now and again, but healed over and no longer threatening. My life is so much more now than I had planned for myself. I wish I had only known how unimportant those plans would seem when I was struggling so hard to want to be a mother.
Whatever your situation, if you are dealing with similar feelings and need someone to talk to, I am always available as a listening ear. You can reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to share.
How little everything else matters after
On a similar strand of thought, I wish I had known how unimportant everything else would seem after having children. So many of the things I worried about or cared about just straight up don’t matter anymore. I feel downright petty sometimes thinking back to how wrapped up in myself I could be.
I know it’s different for everyone, but I stopped caring as much about:
- Wearing makeup every time I left home
- Impressing people, or what strangers thought of me
- Being the perfect shape or weight
- Doing all the things
- Whether my clothes were on-trend
- Being liked
Not that these specific things stopped mattering to me at all, just that they lost a lot of their significance. What changed for you? Let me know in the comments!
How much I was taking for granted/How much life would change
I never would have fathomed what a luxury it was to take a shower by myself, or walk out the door whenever I wanted, or do ANYTHING without being interrupted 794 times.
I had no clue how much a new baby would change things, from my daily routine to my marriage to my social life to my hobbies and interests.
Once I was pregnant, I was in such a hurry for my baby to arrive that I completely passed over the season of life I was already in. That is a part of my life I will never be able to return to now, and I only wish I had recognized where I was at and maximized the time I had left.
How much I would regret not having more pictures
During my pregnancy, I was painfully aware of how much weight I was gaining (thanks, doc). I was so self conscious both during my pregnancy and the first year postpartum that I didn’t want to see myself in pictures.
I hated the way I looked and I was terribly embarrassed to have changed so much.
But now that I’ve lost all of that extra weight and feel like myself again, it makes me sad that I’m not in more pictures with the little baby girl who made me a mother.
Things I wish I had Known about Pregnancy before having a baby
I Wish I had known about prenatal depression
Everyone talks about postpartum depression, but no one educates expecting moms about prenatal depression, or that studies indicate prenatal depression can be an even more serious and severe form of depression than PPD.
I didn’t know how to talk about it, and even less how to cope with it.
I WANTED my baby, but I felt overwhelmingly guilty for not wanting her YET.
I felt like I was split into two people: one who was ecstatic to be a young mama growing a family, and one who belonged on a different path but wound up pregnant and condemned to mundane life.
All the crazy pregnancy hormones took this emotional battle, built a nuke, and detonated it.
I was 100% NOT prepared for this aspect of pregnancy– heck, I’d never even heard of it!
You can’t plan birth
You can print out every beautiful printable “Birth Plan” outline that you find on Pinterest, and your baby STILL won’t be able to read it.
Especially as a first time mom, you really just can’t anticipate everything because you haven’t experienced birth before.
My first labor and delivery did not go at all the way I imagined it would. I’m very glad I didn’t write up a rigid birth plan ahead of time, but even so, I had my mental picture of how I wanted things to go.
But it didn’t happen that way.
- I expected my baby to be early– she was “late” (40 weeks and 2 days).
- I thought my labor would be quick– it took 19 hours from the time my water broke.
- I had read contractions would come one at a time with a beginning, a middle/climax, and an end– my contractions bombarded me three at a time with no break because my baby was “sunny side up” (which no one bothered to explain to me at the hospital).
- I wanted a natural/unmedicated birth– I ended up having an epidural.
- I expected labor to be romantic and strengthen our marriage– I wanted to strangle my husband and boot him out the window.
Your baby and your body are going to do what they need to do, whether you fill out a pretty little organized birth plan or not. I know much better now what I need to do to achieve the birth experience I want next time.
There’s no need to rush
For one thing, every day that a baby has in the womb makes Baby a little bit stronger. I let my doctors bully me into hurrying things along because my baby wasn’t born EXACTLY by her due date. And I say I LET them because I wanted things to happen more quickly even though deep down I didn’t feel right about it.
I spent way too much time searching for “natural” ways to induce labor and bouncing on a birth ball (and I drank a hecka nasty castor oil keifer smoothie which did nothing but make me nauseous the rest of the night).
For another thing, I never consciously realized that one season of my life was concluding forever and a new one was beginning. I was in too much of a rush. I should have slowed down and made the most of the time that I had to myself before children.
What contractions would feel like
Boy, do I wish I could have known what contractions would feel like, and how they can differ from person to person.
Obviously, I couldn’t ACTUALLY know what contractions would be like until I experienced them for myself, but I never could seem to find a good description of what they feel like.
By the time I was actually in labor, I was totally caught off guard because my contractions were so different from what I expected.
(If you want to hear more about how my labor went and what contractions were like, check out my birth story.)
Things I Wish I Had Known About Babies Before Becoming a Mom
How Hard it would be to breastfeed
Breastfeeding: It seems all pretty self explanatory, right? You make milk, you hold your baby up, baby latches, baby gets fed, right?
[cue canned laughter]
Sometimes, that really is all there is to it. But often, there are a lot of challenges.
I didn’t know the excruciating pain I was experiencing wasn’t normal. There were times it legitimately seemed worse than labor.
I wish I had been more prepared to breastfeed, more informed on possible issues, trained in how to identify lip and tongue ties.
I wish I had known that newborn babies cluster feed around the clock, that they may well spend more time at breast than away.
I wish I had known how to safely breastfeed in bed so that I wasn’t exhausting myself trying to stay awake all hours of the night sitting upright in a chair, terrified of hurting or smothering my baby by sleeping together.
Related: How We Sleep with a High-Need Baby
Babies don’t read baby books
I am so glad I was exposed to attachment parenting before giving birth because life with a high-need baby came as a total shock.
As it turns out, babies don’t read the baby books. They haven’t gotten the memo that says they’re only supposed to be hungry every 2-3 hours, or that they’re expected to sleep through the night by 8 weeks old, or that they’re supposed soothe themselves on-command.
As it turns out, babies behave like…wait for it…babies. And not all babies share the same temperament. Some babies are more chill, are perfectly content to be set down, sleep for longer stretches, feed in predictable patterns, don’t mind being laid down awake to fall asleep in a crib.
Other babies need more physical contact, frequent access to the breast, absolutely will not self-soothe, need sleep props to fall asleep, refuse to be laid down to fall asleep alone, won’t sleep in a crib separated from mom.
I expected a cookie-cutter baby and what I got was anything BUT. If I hadn’t stumbled across The Baby Book on accident, I would have thought I was doing everything wrong and that I needed to “train” my baby to be like the others.
Things I wish I had known about Myself before motherhood
How to advocate for myself
This doesn’t just apply to medical situations. Yes, I wish I had been more equipped to advocate for myself during pregnancy and childbirth.
However, it also applies more broadly.
I had to learn how to ask for help; from my husband, from friends, from family members. I had to learn to recognize when I needed assistance, and to be vocal about my needs.
It’s a natural tendency for moms to feel like we have to do it all and be everything to everybody all the time, like we can’t take breaks without letting someone down or getting behind on things that need to be done. But we HAVE to be honest with ourselves about our limitations and articulate them to the people in our lives (most especially our husbands).
How to manage stress
This is still something I’m learning. I have never been good at regulating my emotions, or managing stress.
I am still discovering the things that work for me, and the ones that don’t. How to proactively avoid a mommy meltdown and mitigate the negativity all too readily available in my thoughts.
I wish I had gotten a grip on this before becoming a mother because now it is exponentially harder.
Related: 7 Ways to Keep Your Sanity as a SAHM
Now I have to hold it together the whole day, while underneath my mom-voice and exaggerated smiles, the frustration and the overwhelm are just building, bubbling up inside of me. When my husband gets home, there’s a good chance he’s going to have to catch the overflow when I boil over.
It would have been so much easier to get a handle on my stress when it was only the two of us to worry about.
How to care for myself
While I’ve never not taken care of myself, being intentional about self care is something I’ve had to learn after becoming a mother.
- It means waking up early, before my husband and toddler, to have a few hours where I am awake without anyone needing me.
- It means setting my toddler down with an episode of Curious George so that I can shower alone once in a while.
- It means picking up books to read whenever I have a free moment and keep my mind active instead of mindlessly scrolling on my phone.
- It means working out a routine with my husband where we trade off parenting duties in the evening so that I can wind down for an early bedtime.
- It means giving myself the grace to nap with my toddler if I’m exhausted.
- It means pursuing social relationships to avoid isolation/anxiety/depression.
- It means keeping my body active to stay healthy and promote hormonal balance.
- It means being intentional about the way I eat and managing my insulin/blood sugar to regulate stress and keep my mood/attitude in check.
I could probably go on for a couple more pages. But the truth is, it took me a long time to get to the point where I understood this. My baby’s whole first year, I stayed locked up in our little apartment, anxious and isolated because I wasn’t practicing healthy self-care habits.
How my body would change
Maybe its actually a good thing I didn’t know how my body would change because it might have scared me off back then.
Now I can look at my body and appreciate its strength and the miraculous ability God grants it to build a new human being from scratch, deliver it into the world, and then sustain it into childhood.
But I truly had no idea how my body would change through pregnancy, and whether it would ever go back to “normal” postpartum.
The reality is, it will never be the way it was. In my opinion, though, it’s better.
I gained an unhealthy amount of weight during pregnancy, but in striving to lose the weight in a healthy way postpartum without compromising my milk supply, I learned a heck of a lot about nutrition and giving my body what it needs.
Related: How I Lost Over 50 Pounds Postpartum
I’m a different shape now than I was– my hips are softer where tissue stretched as my baby grew, my posture needs a lot of work, and I have stretch marks that weren’t there prior to putting an additional five inches around my bum and legs. The stretch marks have faded into the background, and I don’t know if my hips will ever firm up, but these new demands on my body given me the drive to make it stronger than ever.
The thing I really wasn’t prepared for is how my face would change. During pregnancy, between an enlarged thyroid (which is normal during pregnancy) and too much weight gain, my face was quite round and puffy. I was embarrassed by my appearance, but those things did return to normal postpartum. What I struggle with now is how much motherhood has aged me. I am self-conscious of the deep, dark circles under my eyes. Looking through my wedding pictures the other day, I was shocked to see how young I looked and realize that those pictures were taken less than 3 short years ago.
Fortunately, how I look has nothing to do with my ability as a mother. On the contrary, these little imperfections are a testament to it. My skin is marred from stretching to safely house a baby for nine months. My shoulders: hunched in from sleeping protectively wrapped around a nursing baby. My eyes are tired from the thousands of hours I’ve spent tending to my child’s every need, day and night.
I don’t just wish I had known how my body would change before becoming a mother…I wish I had known how proud I would be of it.
how to track my cycle
Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know how to track my cycle until after my baby was born. I didn’t know how to read my biological signals to tell where I was at in my cycle, I didn’t know when women actually ovulated (or how to figure out when I was), and I certainly didn’t know the difference between a luteal and follicular phase.
Can you see how my first pregnancy was a total surprise?
I had no clue when my “fertile window” was!
On the one hand, I really wish I had understood all of this long ago. But on the other hand, if I had, I might not be writing this post for you right now.
how female hormones work
Similar to not knowing how to track my cycle, I wish I had known more generally how hormones interact with the female body.
I’m a very analytical person. I like to get the why behind things, and understand, not just the end result, but the system and the process that drives it.
The more I learn about hormones and female biology (and I’m not just talking about the reproductive system), the more in tune I become with my body. I am able to manage stress better and control my emotions by being able to read the signals that overwhelm is building. And I’m able to take proactive measures to regulate my hormones to keep my energy up, my mood stable, and my body healthy.
How tired I would be
Golly, if I’d only known how tired I would be. One important lesson I’ve learned is to just accept that tired is a new way of life.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t take care of ourselves and strive for quality rest.
But when I finally stopped fighting the exhaustion and feeling like I deserved more sleep, that I was being robbed of something that was rightfully mine, I became a whole lot happier (and more relaxed).
Whenever I start to fall back into the trap of expecting my sleep to be like it was before having a baby, I only end up more tired than ever.
Things I wish I had known about relationships before becoming a mother
How to get along with my husband
This is a big one: If only I had known how to get along with my husband before adding one of the biggest relationship strains of all time to the mix.
We were married less than a year before finding out we were not only husband and wife, but also PARENTS. In that time, we hardly ever even crossed paths because we were on totally opposite schedules.
So needless to say, we did not have this whole conflict resolution thing figured out.
Now we’re having to learn to get along in front of a baby/toddler who studies our every mood and absorbs the slightest tone of voice.
I cannot tell you how much I wish we had been more proactive at practicing conflict resolution and the general art of getting along with each other before having a baby.
We are wholly committed to each other, and we love each other, but we could have prepared better for dealing with stressful interactions (many of which result from parenthood).
The importance of social relationships/friendships
I had no idea before becoming a mother just how critical social relationships and friendships would become.
I’m a strong introvert, and until motherhood, was pretty content to be a loner most of the time. I had my inner circle, and that was all I felt like I needed.
When I became a mom, though, having friends wasn’t just enjoyable or convenient; it was critical!
The first year as a new mom, I didn’t go out much– hardly ever, in fact. I was isolated, and lonely, and very anxious.
I also noticed how difficult basic interactions became. In high school and college, I competed in speech and debate, and I LOVED it. I was good at small talk and social interaction. But babies are not great conversationalists, and stuck in an apartment alone all day every day with an infant, I lost these elementary skills.
On top of that, my brain started to feel foggy and slow. My vocabulary shrank and became hard to access, and I struggled with composing simple sentences, or even to think through ideas in my own head.
Now, when I have a date with a mom-friend, or participate in a ladies’ Bible study, for example, my brain kicks back into gear and I find myself buzzing with ideas and deep thoughts, which I’m able to effectively flesh out for myself. I’m better able to articulate what I’m thinking. I get a huge mood boost from social interactions, and find myself more motivated for days after.
How much my faith matters
For a while, my faith felt stagnant. I was bitter and angry at times that God would give me a baby I didn’t feel ready for, and cause me to surrender my own plans that I had been working so hard for.
I struggled with prenatal depression and anxiety throughout pregnancy and postpartum.
I let my spiritual discipline (routinely engaging in prayer, Bible study, and theological discussion) slide into the background, and then wondered why I felt unfulfilled and empty despite the joy, meaning, and purpose that come from a new baby.
As time went on, I felt overwhelmed and burned out. I spent all my time taking care of my husband, baby, and home, and for what? What was I getting out of all of this? I was supposed to be using my criminal justice degree and changing lives.
It took coming back to the center of it all–Christ’s example of humility and self-emptying for us who deserve only condemnation–to remember that this isn’t about me.
If my purpose ends with serving my husband and baby, then I will again and again be sorely disappointed when I don’t get what I feel I deserve in return.
Rather, if my purpose is to glorify my Savior through my every action, from ironing clothes to slicing tomatoes for dinner to writing blog posts to help other moms, then I will never cease to be filled up again and again with the blessings and joy returned to me, REGARDLESS of what my husband and children do. (Pst, if you need help in this area, read “Desiring God” by John Piper; it’s truly life-changing.)
closing thoughts on The Journey into motherhood
My initiation into motherhood has been a rough one. From an unplanned pregnancy to prenatal depression to simply learning to manage a home for the first time, I’ve done a lot of struggling!
I’ve been pretty raw with you in this post. It hasn’t been all bump-dates and baby giggles and long stroller walks in the park for me. Maybe you’ve struggled (or are struggling) with some of the same things, too.
My hope is that by sharing my heart with you on the things I’ve been through, as well as the strategies I learn along the way, that I can help you 1) remember that you’re not alone in the challenges of motherhood and 2) find ways to tangibly combat this overwhelm that’s become all too common.
So tell me, what do you wish you had known before entering motherhood? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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