Lessons From My First Year of Motherhood
Sometimes I look at this baby girl and I think...when did you even get here? Wasn’t I just pregnant a few weeks ago? Yet, she’s quite nearly half my height already. I know this because she comes up behind me and hugs my legs while I’m cooking dinner. I’m beginning to measure her height based on where her forehead rests on my leg. A few weeks ago I swear she repeated “What happened?” after I said it out loud. She also repeated “dammit” after I said that too the other day...She’s officially left crawling far behind her. I think her reaching mobility milestones early (first unassisted steps 8.5 months), has pushed the time passing quickly into high gear.
My baby is long gone. I mean, long gone. She was in 0-3 month clothing when she was born, so I never quite had a tiny baby if we’re being honest. I think I got to baby wear her twice before she capped out the weight limits for our wrap. But that’s okay. I mean, I’m crying...but it’s okay.
It’s really no surprise that a child Papa Bear & I made would be impatient to grow up and do big girl things. And though I’ve had a few more sad mommy moments in the last few weeks as I see chubby rolls disappear slowly into long limbs...I’m really excited to celebrate this first year milestone.
Often people say that the first birthday party is for the parents only, and its not like the kid will remember it. So why make such a big deal about it? Well I’m one of those moms, making a big deal about it, shamelessly I might add. I think us parents deserve a little darn celebrating.
I did it! I’m still here. I made it. And fairly intact I might add. One full year of motherhood in the bag. (Give or take a few days.) So how was it, you might ask? I sure hope you’re asking. Because I am about to tell you.
My expectations regarding motherhood, and the reality of what life has really been like the last year...have blown me away. Never in a million years could I have imagined the pure, true love that I have experienced since that first cry of hers rang out through the operating room. I knew from the moment they laid her on my chest, that I was going to have a very hard time letting her go.
Being a teacher, I know the work and pride that goes into watching someone learn and grow. But I was truly unprepared for the pride and self confidence I would gain this past year. Watching my child take her first steps, teach herself to climb and identify various body parts...it’s nothing short of extraordinary. She is far too smart for my own good, and I cannot wait to see what she learns next. And what she teaches ME next.
The greatest lesson she has taught me, is to STOP. I am a recovering multitasking queen, desperate to embrace the slow living lifestyle. And every day she reminds me to sit down on the floor with her and read books or build towers. And as long as what I’m doing doesn't involve burning dinner, I will immediately drop whatever it is and join her world. Even if it’s for the fifteenth time that day to read her the same book for the hundredth time. Everything else can wait a few minutes. Everything else can be paused, but these days with her are precious and they are quickly slipping through my fingers.
The main thing I believe differs from reality as Mama to how I expected life to be, is my parenting style. I had no idea what Attachment Parenting even was prior to giving birth. It wasn’t until after speaking with, and listening to other mothers share that I learned there was a term for the things I was doing purely out of instinct. Never had I imagined myself as the bed sharing, contact napping, gentle parenting type. But there has never been anything in my life before that has felt so natural to me as keeping my baby close.
As much as I loved my first year of motherhood, there were hard days. I remember one night in particular, around four or five months. Baby Bear was sick. She couldn’t sleep lying down because she was struggling to breath through the phlegm. So I would have to prop myself up with the pillows, and attempt to get a few minutes of sleep while holding her upright. It was a rough week, to say the least.
Some nights I would just sit in the rocking chair, watching the sun set and then come back up.
What got me through the hard days and rough nights was telling myself that no matter how hard I had it, she had it worse. I was tired because she was up crying from teething? Well she was in pain and too young for me to explain why. She was overtired and cranky, driving me crazy. Well, don’t we all get a little short tempered when our needs aren’t met? Every time I had the chance to complain, I reminded myself that it wasn’t the end of the world. Hard? Yes.
But you see...I was willing to take the bad with the good. I was willing, because I had waited so long to be a mother. And here she was in my arms finally. My beautiful baby girl. I could be tired. I could be frustrated. But none of that compared to the thankful feeling in my heart at finally being blessed with the chance to be the mother that I always wanted to be. I was not going to take a moment for granted.
At the same time, I didn’t repress or ignore the negative emotions so much as I just accepted them and let them go. I was tired, for example. Okay, I was tired. What could I do about it? Have a nap? Have a coffee? Rest for just a couple minutes? I tried my best, in the early days especially to give my body what it was asking for, when it was asking for it. I’m not the best at it recently, as she’s progressed into what I can only describe as toddlerhood. Even taking the days slowly and intently...they still fly by.
The parts of motherhood I thought would be hard this first year; like finding patience, came easier than I thought it would. I wasn’t perfect by any means. I beat myself up still over the handful of times I raised my voice when I wish I hadn’t. The things I thought would be easy, like spending time away from her, became one of my greatest hurdles.
The mother I thought I would be, and the mother I’ve become are two different people. I find myself loving this version of mother. She’s flawed, she has so much to learn. But she always does her best. She apologizes when she fucks up. She’s practicing speaking up and speaking her mind more often. She gets up every morning and tries again.
If I could have given myself any advice on life with Baby Bear before she was born, it would be to take more videos. Video everything. Random day to day things. The first year of life is so fleeting. I mean, I can’t believe I am sitting here even writing this article right now. That my baby girl is going to be 365 days old. Very, very soon.
I would also tell myself that the hardest part of this first year of parenting isn’t going to be her at all. “She’s going to be the thing that holds you together.” I would say. I would tell myself that the hardest part is going to be figuring out how to sail the waters of people’s opinions. I would tell myself that I need to prepare myself to lose certain friends I was once close to. But in doing so, make room for some fantastic new additions to our tribe.
I’d also say:
• Pick at least two days a week to do laundry so it’s not so overwhelming. Monday & Thursday works best. Thursday takes care of most work clothes for the next week. And sheets, pillows, blankets. And Monday deals with the weekend clothes and towels.
• Do things when you have time to do them. Not necessarily when you want to do them. Got five minutes? See how much you can get done in those five minutes. Even if it’s only one minute. Throw the schedule out the window when it doesn’t suit you.
• Guard nap time with your life. Sleep impacts so much about babies mood. Which in turn effects my mood, my productivity and it’s normally at least a day or two before things go back to normal. People aren’t going to understand, so just do what you feel is right.
• People are going to say and do shit to you, to your child, to your spouse. Some of these things are really going to piss you off. If it’s something that you can let go, take a few deep breaths and just ignore. Most people are just saying shit to hear their own voices or to preach what they were taught. Don’t take everything to heart. But don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, your child and the choices your family has made to survive the wilds of this first year. No one knows your baby better then you.
I have to give myself time to figure out my place in this new world. And (unfortunately) demand the time and space to do that from some of those around me who do not understand. I have to give my body, mind and soul grace during this transition period.
People like to tell new moms “You still need to be you.” And it’s good advice, to remind some moms not to get sucked into motherhood and lose their identities. Babies need a lot of attention. They are completely reliant on their care takers for everything. For me however, I found it so stressful to hear those words. Being a mother is what I was put on this planet to do. Raising this little girl is my purpose and my passion.
Did I lose myself? Some days it was a struggle to find the time to brush my teeth. Or to even remember to find time to brush my teeth. Find that gross? Well then I won’t tell you how long it was sometimes between showers... Basic human hygiene became a task I had to schedule for myself. And eating? Finding the time to not only prepare food but to actually eat it hot? These are things that non parents don’t even think about.
And yet people pressure moms not to lose themselves in the first year of their child’s life...as though they haven’t gone through one of the biggest life changes that a woman can go through. Trust me when I tell you this; no mom on the planet needs more pressure then they are putting on themselves already. Rest assured, they are aware of the areas in life they are lacking in. It’s most likely haunting them, so don’t feel the need to add to it.
We’re trying. All of us. I know I at least tried to try this past year. I did my best. Perhaps not as good as others would have liked, but I did what I could, when I could. I still worked on my passion projects in between diaper changes and loads of laundry and endless piles of dishes. I still picked up my camera. I started this blog with Mama Wolff and began writing full time for the first time in my life. Which has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl- second only to being a mother.
I was -and still am- working on figuring out who I am now. How the old Cathrine was going to meld with the Mama Bear, and then ultimately burst forth like a Phoenix from the fire. The New and Improved Cathrine. The Ultimate Cathrine.
But that takes time. It’s not a process you can rush. Not when your whole world has been turned upside down and you don’t recognize the person in the mirror. When you’re lacking sleep and abundant free time. Man, I used to think I was SO BUSY. That I never had time to sit down. Pfft. If old me could see current me now. As I write this with only my thumb at 4am in the morning on my phone in the dark while nursing my teething daughter... Busy. 🙄 I had no idea what busy even was two years ago.
I wish I could be sitting at my fancy computer, hearing the click clack sound of fingers on keyboard. One day. One day I’ll have more freedom. And those are the days where i’ll be missing and craving baby cuddles. So no, I am in no rush to be just Cathrine. To find myself and who I am outside of being a mother. I am a-okay here in the trenches of motherhood. I’ll occasionally poke my head out so see what’s going on in the outside world if I have a second. But mostly, I’ll be here. Living in the moment.
This season of motherhood- of life- is all about figuring stuff out. A minute at a time. I’ll begin to recognize this new me in the mirror. I’ll have more room in my days eventually. I’ll figure out a way to manage it all as the years go on. Right now, I’m just trying to enjoy the chaos as best I can. Some days in survival mode wearing the same clothes as the day before, but mostly living and loving my life.
Next year, I am looking forward to teaching Baby Bear even more things. To getting out of the house more often. To introducing her to new foods. I’m excited about seeing the world fresh through her eyes. And as much as I loved the baby stage, I’m excited to work on potty training and helping her to find more independence. I hope we have a positive end to our breastfeeding journey whenever that comes and that we both transition out of it, with grace. 🤞🏼
Mostly, I just hope that we keep making memories, going on adventures with people we love, learning new things, taking pictures and videos for her to look back on as she grows up and enjoying our family day to day.
If the years to come, go nearly as fast as this first year did- Baby Bear will be in college by tomorrow. I want time to slow down so badly. As her first birthday approaches in just a few days; I find myself at a very weird fork in the road. I dream of the days and adventures to come. And I also find myself crying over those little rolls in her arms and legs. Or rather, the lack there of. I swear, she grew a foot taller in the last week! She’s getting too tall for her stroller, so it’s a good thing she loves walking and being Miss Independent.
I look forward to her birthday parties. To watching her cultivate friendships. I’m excited to see what kind of style she will have. If she’ll want her hair long like me, or short like her Auntie. I wonder what her passions will be. If she’ll grow up to be a mommy or if she’ll decide a different destiny is meant for her. Who she’ll love throughout her life. I imagine listening to her stories about her friends. How she’ll use her voice throughout her life. I hope she uses it to inspire and protect others, to be honest and kind.
I imagine the family vacations we’ll go on. Showing her the world. Taking her out to the bar for the first time when she turns 18. Handing her the keys to her first vehicle and seeing the excitement in her eyes as she realizes the freedom she has. I look forward to her graduation, her happy moments. Sharing in the enjoyment of the things that bring her joy.
I dread the thought of her tears the day when I can’t fix her pain with nursing or with a kiss. I dread the days where someone hurts her, breaks her heart. Where my instincts will most likely be violent to protect her, but I won’t be able to do much more then hold her while she cries. (Cuz you know, laws and all that.) I dread the day when I’ll no longer be able to sheild her the little bit I can now. When she’ll go off on her own and I’ll be faced with daily life without her.
But what I’m not dreading even slightly, is watching the incredible woman she is going to become. If this last year is any indication of the wonderful things she can do, there is no stopping her. No matter who she chooses to love, or what she decides to do with her days on this earth- I am going to love and support her through it all.
That’s my job as her mother. To love her unconditionally. To teach her how to ride the bike, and then release her to go forward on her own.
-Mama Bear 🐻