It’s fair to say when you hold your newborn child in your arms for the first time you are clueless to the road ahead of you. When I embarked on this journey of motherhood at twenty-one years old, I knew there were many things in life I still needed to learn. But becoming a mother is like fast tracking your way to a PhD in All You Ever Needed To Know, But Nobody Was Ever Going To Tell You.
Because nobody can tell you. Nobody can shove the red pill down your throat and make you understand the reality of what being a mother will do to you. It’s not until you become a mother yourself that you begin to understand. And then life becomes a tsunami of red pills thrown at you; a myriad of questions, doubts, awareness and gut-wrenching vulnerability. There are many things we can only learn in life through raw experience. But it’s only been through motherhood I have learned more than I could have ever imagined. Fundamental truths, such as these:
To never take sleep for granted. From the moment your baby draws breath, you can kiss your sleep goodbye, forever. Because whether they cry to be fed every freaking hour as a newborn or still crawl into your bed every freaking night for a cuddle at ten years-old, it seems the universe is conspiring for you to learn that you can in actual fact, survive an eighteen hour day on less than two hours sleep, for weeks at a time if need be. No doubt a handy survival skill to have should you be relocated to somewhere near the Arctic Circle.
The bitter irony of this is even on the rare nights when your family does sleep, you lay awake, unnerved by the silence. You listen and worry and worry and listen and with every hour that passes your sanity becomes a little less intact. Which is fine because let’s face it – if you end up living somewhere the sun shines for twenty-four freaking hours of the day, what use will your sanity be anyway? You soon learn that even forty-five minutes of sleep is an act of mercy and not to be taken for granted.
To appreciate the morning. No matter how much you hate mornings. When you’ve been awake all night because you’ve suffered a decade of insomnia, morning soon becomes a joyous occasion, no matter how much you may not be a morning person. The first streams of sunlight that creep through your window signify your night of tossing and turning and over-dramatic sighs and 3am scrolling through Facebook is over and you can just get on with your caffeine infused day.
You also discover the added bonus of morning is there’s this moment between when you get out of bed and gravity takes over that your post-baby body is flatter, tighter and perkier. It usually lasts about as many seconds as it takes to down the first cup of coffee. But it’s there. And it’s glorious.
To love your body. Every damn bit of it. It may be one of the most difficult things you have to learn as a mother, as a woman, as a human who cannot escape the tirade of perfect bodies who bounce back to perfect condition after they deliver perfect babies only three days earlier. While you – weeks later, months later, decades later – still eye off your pre-pregnancy jeans with frugal hope as you stare at your reflection in the mirror. You don’t see the strength, the capacity, the miracle of what you have accomplished. You only see the soft, round tummy, the faint scars that tell your stories, the tired eyes and creases on your forehead that weren’t there yesterday. But like the Velveteen Rabbit, one day you begin to understand that you are Real. And Real can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand. And soon it becomes your truth, you begin to see yourself as others see you, and you begin love the woman who stares back at you, in all her non-perfect perfection.
That your most precious commodity is time. There’s this thing you do where you start the day already over-stressed because you know how much you have to get done and how little time there is between feeds and school runs and work and meals. So you flap around like a mad thing for the entire day and you don’t stop and you don’t eat and you miss all the precious moments with your children that are laid out before you because you’re far too busy to stop. Exhausted, frustrated, guilty, you wonder why there are never enough hours in the day to get it all done. Until there comes a point you realise we all have the same 24 hours in each day. And you realise how many of yours have been wasted on things that don’t matter. And you learn the best way to slow time down is to just stop doing, and instead start living.
That trying to be perfect, and do it all perfectly, is a life-sucking, energy-draining, joy-killing waste of existence. The pressure on mothers to have it all, to be it all, to do it all, and to look the part while we accomplish it all is a perpetual cycle that we continue to fuel when we buy into it. It leads to nothing more than comparison, exhaustion, and damages our self-worth. The best thing you can do in the face of trying to live up to such unrealistic expectations is rebel against it. Flip society a big, fat bird. And then go about your non-perfect life. Play. Rest. Laugh. Create. Take a nap. Lay in the grass with your children and watch clouds and tell stories.
Your house may look as though it’s been burgled, your kids lunch boxes won’t always be filled with your clean eating regime, and you may wear the same shirt you wore yesterday, and the day before, as your greasy hair is thrown into yet another pony tail. But the perfect house and perfect hair will never matter as much as the time you have with your children. And if anyone judges you for how you choose to live your messy and unkempt life, flip them the bird too.
That money is just a number. You can’t escape those times as a mother when you want to run away from home. Except you can’t, because now there are people who depend on you and you hate your single friends because there they are on Facebook in their bikinis in Fiji while you wear ugg boots and have play-dough caked under your nails. You feel trapped and stuck and go a little crazy. And you think if you could just have a holiday like that, everything would be great. Except you can’t, because now every last cent goes to groceries and education and tuition and braces and my god the shoes you have to buy every other week because your damn kids won’t stop growing. You are broke and your heart sinks as you realise your only option for a holiday is a tent and a cheap bottle of wine. And so that’s what you do. And through that, you learn that some of the best memories are founded on a tent and a cheap bottle of wine, and no amount of money could buy you that anyway.
Not to sweat the small stuff. Personal space becomes the moments you shut yourself in the toilet for a few minutes of peace. Keeping up with current affairs is also the moments you shut yourself in the toilet and read Twitter. Your social life? Also the moments you shut yourself in the toilet and scroll through Facebook to make sure your other mum friends are having an equally crap day. In the midst of tears, spills, tantrums and hormones this motherhood gig gets tough. So you do what you need to, you breathe, you try to remember this too shall pass. And when all else fails, wine and sarcasm are an unbeatable combination when the small stuff threatens to overshadow your perspective.
That being a mother will change everything you thought you knew. Not just about life, but about yourself. Nothing anyone says can prepare you for the things you’ll learn when you become a mother. But even throughout the hardest of times you know you would still choose the red pill. Sometimes the learning hurts. It can rip you apart, expose you, challenge you and throw you in the wilderness of tough choices and even tougher love. It is hard, gritty, arid at times.
But no matter what part of the journey you’re on, there is much to learn. Welcome it, embrace it, nurture it. What we learn from being a mother is what character is made of. It is what grows us and shapes us into women with fierce hearts, quick minds and passionate souls. What we learn from being a mother is what makes us into the women we were always meant to be.