It's easy to assume you know everything there is to know about motherhood before you become a mom. You get the books and do the research and form your own view of parenthood without the complication of, you know, real life. And depending on how you were raised, you'll either lean on your parents as examples of what to do or, in some cases, what not to do. There's no denying, though, that the first six months of motherhood will teach you things about your own mother that you never would have learned any other way. In the end, you can't appreciate everything your mother went through — good, bad, or indifferent — until you become a mom yourself.
My mom had me a few weeks after she turned 22. She had zero experience caring for children, was completely unsure of her future, and was in no way prepared to be pregnant. Still, she was determined to be a mom. As a child, oblivious to the sacrifices loving parents make on a daily basis, I took for granted everything she did and, especially, everything she endured after her divorce. As a single mother she did whatever she had to so she could provide for my brother and I, and more often than not her efforts went unnoticed. It's a tale as old as time, really: a woman's self-sacrifices are considered par for the course, while the same efforts made by men are championed and celebrated and highlighted ad nauseam. It wasn't until I had my first child, and went through some of the hardest times of my life, that I was able to fully understand some of the choices my mom made. My first six months of motherhood were hard, but little by little I realized I could learn from my mother's journey. Her past could help dictate my future. The lessons she learned could help me face my own.
As a new mom, who felt just as unsure and lost as my mom did when she had me, I learned a lot, including details about my mom's story, her intentions as a new mother, and her unfailing love I didn't always see or appreciate. And while postpartum life is challenging and exhausting and confusing, I am so thankful for the opportunity to understand my mother just a little bit better. After all, now we both know what it's like to be a parent. So with that in mind, here's what you'll likely learn about your own mom during the first six months of your own parenting journey:
She Has Grit
My mom's been through a lot in her life. As a child, I was completely to oblivious to the trials and tribulations she was facing on a near-daily basis, too.
When I became a mother, I reflected a lot more on my mom's life and what it must have been like for her. Memories of my own childhood collided with the reality of trying to comfort a crying newborn. I would see flashes of my newborn self, cradled in my mother's arms, and I swear I could feel the torment she must've felt as a new mom trying to navigate a tumultuous marriage.
The more I think about it, the more I realize my mother was white-knuckling it when she was postpartum, doing whatever she could to keep her new family together. She's the epitome of grit and determination, in my opinion.
My mother has been through it all, but as a child I had no idea she has experienced numerous trials and tribulations throughout her life. I guess that's really a testament to her resiliency: you couldn't tell she was hurting, even if she was.
It wasn't until I struggled with breastfeeding that I discovered my mom did, too. She wanted to quit, it hurt, and she had little support. She was also depressed but, like me, her postpartum depression went undiagnosed. When it seemed damn near impossible to adequately care for my baby, my mom was there to remind me that I could. After all, she had been through it, too, and I am my mother's daughter.
If you'd asked me 15 years ago who the bravest person I knew was, I'd have said my grandmother, hands down, no questions asked. Not only had she survived tuberculosis and miscarriages, but she crawled out of depressive episodes and managed to remain the light in all of my own dark days.
But during those first few months of caring for my daughter, when I'd lost sleep and cried for days on end from undiagnosed postpartum depression (PPD), I thought about my mom. Yes, my grandmother was a badass who always knew how to lift me up when I was down, but it's my mom who stepped away from abusive relationships, put herself through college, and find new ways to navigate life on her own terms while simultaneously raising two kids. I know it's scary, to leave what you know for something you don't, but my mom did it. Time, and time, and time again. That's incredibly brave.
She Did More Right Than Wrong
My mother and I didn't always get along, which I think is a common relationship dynamic for a lot of mothers and daughters. As an angsty teenager I didn't understand why she did the things she did, and as a mother with a zillion responsibilities she didn't understand why I was so defiant.
When my newborn daughter fussed or refused to sleep, and I pleaded to the universe for someone, anyone, to help, I couldn't help but think about my mom and all the times I made life a living hell for her. I considered all the times I was mean, and when she didn't deserve it, and how she wasn't really doing a bad job, she was simply doing the best she could.
She Didn't Know How To Be A Mom Either
The idea that motherhood is "natural" is laughable, at best. Yes, procreating is a common human experience, but I don't think anyone feels 100 percent confident when they take their newborn home from the hospital. I remember wondering why the hospital staff was letting me leave. Like, am I really qualified?
I found out that, of course, my mom felt the same way. She was just as lost and confused and terrified as I was. Having a baby of my own reminded me of how human my mom is. We're all flawed, and we're all just doing our best.
She Had The Best Intentions
After my mom and dad divorced, my mom had to make a lot of tough decisions. She went from being a stay-at-home mom to working full-time and balancing school and parenthood. And, as a result, I often felt left out. She was so busy, I rarely, if ever, got to enjoy 100 percent of my mom's attention. To say I was resentful would be a gross understatement.
But holy hell, postpartum life drained me. So when I was tired, sore, covered in spit-up, and at the end of my proverbial rope, all I could think was: how in the hell did my mom do this? Parenting is just plain hard, no matter how you slice it. Even when I felt like my mom was leaving me behind or ignoring me, I realized she had the best of intentions. She was doing everything she possibly could to give me what I needed and wanted.
She Really Loves Me
As a child, it's kind of easy to dismiss your parent's love for you. I mean, they're your parents so they have to love you, right? Well, when I looked at my daughter for the first time, I knew that my mom didn't love me out of obligation. Instead, she loved me because she was my mother and I was her daughter and she formed me, birthed me, held me, and made me all the promises I ended up making my daughter.
A mother's love is something I couldn't have understood, until I became one.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.