No one understands what it’s like to be a parent prior to becoming a parent. One can hypothesize, of course, but parenting is something you must experience to understand. Before I had my daughter, I didn’t even know how to change a diaper. I wasn’t the person who couldn’t wait to have kids or loved babies. I've held a few babies before I had kids, sure, but quickly handed them to their parents. I've heard the urban legends of how amazing parenting is, but I didn't understand until my newborn changed my life in 24 hours.
There's a reason my ovaries ache when I see a pregnant woman at the supermarket. There's a reason I unintentionally touch my breasts when I come across a breastfeeding mother. Now that I have an (almost) 8 year old and an (almost) 3 year old, I am often wistful for the newborn stage. I watch new moms at the pediatricians office, bringing in their 4-day-old newborns for their first checkups. I peek into the carseat and admire their tiny little squished faces. I giggle to myself when the babies smile in their sleep. I remember, with my rose-colored glasses, how sweet my babies were. I remember their succulent smell, their soft skin, their kissable cheeks. A newborn baby is the epitome of perfection. A newborn baby forces grown men and women to their knees. A newborn baby is everything.
My first baby arrived after 16 hours of labor and over two hours of pushing. She was a stubborn one and did not come out without a fight. However, when she finally emerged and finally joined us and finally decided it was time, she changed my life. She renewed my existence. She made me a mom.
I Understood My Mother
Nothing makes you appreciate your own mother than becoming a mother. Within the first 24 hours of her life, my newborn daughter somehow managed to transform me into my mother. I felt my mom's presence in my every decision and my every thought. I understood her choices and her regrets. I felt more connected to her than ever before. I looked at my newborn and I felt my mother watching me, guiding me, and helping me. I understood why she calls me every day to check if I got home OK from work. I understood why she gives me countless unsolicited advice. I understood when she didn't let me drive in the rain when I first passed my driving test and why she was weary of some of my friends. I appreciated how constant worry and her relentless guidance. I appreciated her everything.
I Understood Selflessness And Sacrifice
One of the first thoughts I had when I had my first child is that I no longer belong to myself. Holding her in my arms, watching her sleep, indulging in all of her newborn quirks, taught me that she was it. In those moments I knew I would give all of myself to her. I knew I would live for her and I knew I would die for her.
Every parent knows sacrifice, but it's learned instantly when your baby is first born. I knew I would do anything for this little being. I would surrender my world just for her. I now knew why my mother always gave up everything for me and my brother. I understood a mother's sacrifice because I felt it intensely.
I Understood Fear
After over two hours of pushing, my child was finally born. However, instead of crying like she was supposed to and like they tell you newborns do in the movies, she was silent.
Then all these doctors rushed in.
I didn't understand what was happening and I couldn't see anything except someone pumping her chest. All I heard was the silence of noise. All I felt was fear. As I begged and screamed for an answer, I learned she had swallowed meconium. I was told it was a good thing she wasn't crying because they did not want her to inhale the meconium, then I was told she would be going to the NICU for testing. Fear over the health of your newborn is a new type of fear and certainly a fear I have never felt before. It's the type of fear that sits deep in each cell of your being. It's the type of fear that burrows into your gut, that cuts off your air, and that swallows you whole.
I Understood Love
The fairy-tales and romantic comedies tell us that true love is found once you find your significant other. One day you meet someone who sweeps you off your feet. You look upon that person and you just know you are meant to be. You feel like the world stops when the two of you are together.
Then you have a baby and the world truly stops. Your significant other becomes your partner more than ever, but your definition of love explodes along with your heart.
I am positive that as the newborn enters this world, a piece of our hearts swells into uncharted territory. Yeah, I know: evolution, basic instinct, Oxitocin, blah blah blah. I'm pretty sure our brains just go into overdrive and never stop. The love for your newborn is so intense it physically hurts.
Ryan Reynolds said that prior to having children, he would take a bullet for his wife, Blake Lively. Now, he says, he’ll use her as a human shield to protect their baby. Yup, that pretty much sums it up.
I Understood Closeness
My husband sat beside me in the hospital bed as I held our daughter. We watched her and we watched each other. I've never felt closer to any other human than I did at that moment. Knowing the two of you created another life is a concept beyond understanding and yet it's so profound and meaningful. As I watched my husband hold our daughter and gently nuzzle her cheek, I realized this was why I married him. For this exact moment.
I Understood Pain
Well, my newborn taught me how much pain I could withhold. Once the epidural wore off (I guess they wanted me to feel the contractions) and I started to feel everything in the middle of active labor, I suddenly knew real pain. When my daughter first latched, I felt real pain. When she cluster fed through the evening, I felt real pain. When she cried non-stop because I didn't know how to properly feed her, I felt real pain. When I stood up for the first time, I felt real pain. Everything hurt and yet everything was worth it.
I Understood Modesty (Or Lack Thereof)
Never have I ever have felt so exposed. I was poked and prodded everywhere. I wore the adult equivalent of a diaper. Lactation consultants (also known as strangers) made sandwiches out of my breasts. Seriously, there's a "sandwich" position for nursing. A nurse watched me pee and I was instructed on the amount of pee I had to produce. My newborn taught me that modesty is for non-parents.
I Understood The Need For Help
When the nurses asked if I wanted them to take my newborn to the nursery the first night I almost cried with joy. I was exhausted, but I was also ashamed to ask for help. I mean, I'm the mom. I should be, like, a pro right away, right?
The moment everyone left the room, the moment I had true quiet for the first time in days, was a monumental moment. I realized I will accept help and I will ask for it even when it isn't offered, because even superheroes need support.
So, while we spend our lives teaching our children about the world, and while we take the endless opportunities for teaching moments, the first 24 hours of their lives teach us powerful and everlasting lessons, too. We experience love and compassion and sacrifice like never before. The intensity of emotions, the irrationality of fear, and the overwhelming euphoria imprint upon us for eternity. Now when I hold a newborn, I don't quickly return her to her mother. I take my time, I cradle her head, I sniff her head, and I caress her cheeks. I lose myself in all that newborn magic and I am transformed to that exciting and scary time, when everything was somehow simultaneously perfect and imperfect.