I consider myself pretty self-aware and can say I know and appreciate the amazing things about me, while simultaneously acknowledging my faults and flaws. For example, I'm loyal and kind, but I'm also a notorious drama queen and have a tendency to throw a tantrum or two. However, it wasn't until I had a baby that I realized what I was really made of and who I really was. I guess there are just some things you learn about yourself after having a baby, that are pretty damn difficult to learn at any other point in your life.
Now, I'm not saying that you have to have a child in order to reach some higher level of self-reflection or understanding. Nor am I suggesting that you should have a baby just so you can learn something about yourself. However, motherhood does provide you with more than a few moments when you'll really dig into the core of who you are, and what you find might surprise you. For example, I was planning on having my husband at my side during labor and delivery, and having a relatively straight forward birth. Instead, my husband came down with a debilitating migraine that had him using my birthing pool as a puke bucket, and eventually he was sent home by my doctor before I gave birth. Luckily my mom turned out to be the best birth coach I could have asked for (and I really needed her, as a series of complications led to my son being born in an emergency situation and with a lot of interventions and drama.) That moment taught me so much about myself -- what I can endure in the name of motherhood, for example -- and I think I would be hard-pressed to find another situation that's capable of showing me just what I'm willing to go through in order to see my baby for the first time.
Mothers would do anything for their children, including risking their own safety and health, for the benefit of their babies. For better or worse, that innate need to give your baby absolutely every single part of you, starts on the very first day they're born and continues forever. That need, it turns out, also doubles as an excellent way to learn more about yourself, including but certainly not limited to the following:
How Patient You Are
Long before you have to grit your teeth and patiently wait for your toddler to do their own coat up "all by myself," you'll have a chance to practice skills of patience by waiting 40 (more or less) long weeks to meet your baby.
My son didn't think I had suffered enough during pregnancy, apparently, so he stayed put for an additional two weeks and until I was induced. Thanks, kid.
How Quickly You Can Learn New Skills
Once you get your new baby home, you're going on the biggest crash course of your life. The subject? "Baby 101." There is so much to learn and so many different perspectives and philosophies to absorb.
During long breastfeeding and pumping sessions I became a speed reader and would devour every book I could find on breastfeeding and baby care.
How Strong You Are
A friend of mine, who had a baby about a year before me, told me that amidst all the pain and suffering of childbirth she had suddenly become aware of how strong and fierce she was, as though she was like some sort of mother goddess.
I really held on to this vision of power, and experienced more than a few moments during my son's birth when I felt very strong and undeniably capable.
How Much You Don't Know
On the other hand, precisely because there is so much to learn, you'll realize how little you know. A part of parenthood is, honestly, realizing that you will never have all the answers, and that loss of perceived power can be nothing short of terrifying.
I had been a former nanny and teacher for over 15 years before I became a mom, so I thought I knew everything there was to know about babies and children. Yeah, I was wrong.
How Emotional You Truly Are
Having a baby is the equivalent to every bout of PMS you have ever experienced, and then some. In one morning I could swing between feeling weepy, feeling joyous, and feeling undeniable rage.
You just need to accept that birth and early motherhood are an emotional roller coaster, where your body is awash with conflicting hormones and expectations. Instead of trying to deny those very real, very valid feelings in the name of "toughness," be kind to yourself until all the feels have run their course.
How Awesome You Are
Having a baby makes you realize (if you haven't before) that your body is simply awe inspiring. Shorty after I gave birth, I found myself completely impressed with how my body nurtured, grown, and delivered a healthy baby. I was the kindest I have ever been to my own body, and the most body confident I've ever been, when I was postpartum.
How You Can Function On Zero Sleep
Before having a baby, my weekends used to consist of long, leisurely hours of laziness, and brunch with friends where I would complain about how tired I was. Little did I know, I had never actually experienced fatigue at all. Like, not even a little bit.
It's not just that babies often interrupt their parents' sleep cycles, it's also that you are expected to still parent on limited sleep. Coffee, dear reader, will be your friend.
How Unnecessary Shaving Is
The first few weeks postpartum (and perhaps a few months prior, because pregnancy) your beauty regime (if you ever had one) may take a bit of a backseat. You are so immersed in getting to know your new baby and adjusting to life as a mom, that little else seems to matter.
If you're anything like me, it may be the longest your leg hairs have ever been allowed to grow. Yeah, you won't care.
How Much You Can Love
Some moms don't feel that initial wave of love when they hold their baby for the very first time. But whether it's immediate, like it was for me, or more of a slow burn, the love you feel for your own child is like no other love you've ever experienced. It truly cannot be rivaled.
My baby's lips were so small and soft I just couldn't stop kissing him. The feeling I became overwhelmed by when I laid him on my chest, skin-to-skin, was the purest love I've ever experienced.
As a former educator, I love to learn new things and consider most experiences as a chance to expand my horizons and knowledge. Motherhood, so far, has been the biggest learning experience of my life, and most of the lessons have been about myself.