What Surprised You Most About Becoming a Mom?

Last month, when Ali shared her and her wife’s struggle to decide whether or not to have a child, the personal stories that popped up in the comments inspired me to reach out to other women and ask what surprised them most about becoming a mom.

I loved seeing how moms interpreted the question — the answers ranged from big picture to the all-consuming details of early motherhood and everything in between. I identified with many of the answers, and others not as much, which is exactly the point: The experience of becoming a mom is both universal and unique. I find it helpful to hear these perspectives, and even though you can’t truly prepare for motherhood, we’re definitely not in this alone.

What surprised me the most about becoming is a mom is that I didn’t expect to mourn the loss of my “old life” when my daughter was born. I was in my mid-30s, long past late nights at bars and sleeping in until noon; we had left the city for the suburbs two years earlier. And yet, when Emme arrived, I was so blindsided by the intense loss of independence that my adjustment to motherhood was a rough road. Eventually that passed, and now, what surprises me most is how much I love having a toddler—a stage that I was sure would be a nightmare.

Here’s what others had to say to about becoming a mom. Feeling unprepared for new motherhood? Read these quotes from more than 15 moms about what surprised them most about new motherhood -- the good, the bad, the mundane, and the awesome. Terrifying and amazing, it's true what they say about becoming a mom -- Your life will never be the same again.

What Surprised You Most About Becoming a Mom?

I was most unprepared for how much I needed a support network. It’s different for everyone, but I’m still building that network and learning its benefits. I had my son before most of my friends started families, and I needed other mom friends who lived nearby for my own sanity. This was a challenge when I had an infant who wasn’t old enough to be involved in activities. I found local mom groups via Meetup and later on a newcomer group via a conversation with another parent at the park once we moved into our new house. These groups were (and still are) goldmines and godsends.
Jennie, mom to a 22-month-old son

I always imagined I would feel this insane amount of love for my baby, and I didn’t at first. I was more amazed by her and still am, but being excited to be with her at all times took a little while.
Mom to an infant daughter

Shortly before my daughter was born, a friend told me that having a child is like going on a faraway trip for the very first time. You can read all the books and hear stories from those who have made the same voyage, but your experiences will be your own. It’s just not possible to prepare for everything. I feel very grateful that I get to be a mother—I know it’s an opportunity not everyone gets or wants to experience, by choice or otherwise. That said, there are so many surprises that come with being a parent. Over the past two-and-a-half years, my daughter has given me the gift of a new perspective on my own life and the passage of time. Before my daughter arrived, two years didn’t seem like much, but look how a sleeping newborn can transform into a walking, talking, singing, dancing, beautiful little girl in just 30 short months. I have become less selfish and more aware of the huge responsibility my husband and I share to help our daughter to learn, grow, smile, and care about the world around her. I find myself thinking about my own childhood a lot and have a renewed appreciation for my own parents in a way I wasn’t anticipating.
Mom to a 2.5-year-old daughter

I was surprised that motherhood made me more laid back in many ways. Everything became more unpredictable and instead of going crazy trying to control something that’s uncontrollable, I decided to just relax and take it day by day (sometimes hour by hour).
Sarah, mom to a 2-year-old son

This is probably going to sound naive, but despite having carried the baby for nine months, doing the heavy lifting (all the lifting?) in the birth process, and knowing that I would be attempting to breastfeed, I somehow had this idea that my husband and I would be equal partners in caring for a baby. Turns out, those early weeks and months are pretty mama-centric. There’s just an absolute limit to how much a dad can do to ease the burden of constantly breastfeeding, baby-soothing, and night waking. With our second baby, I’m not as angry about the uneven burden because a lot has obviously changed. Also, I expected it, and I know there will come a time when the balance will shift. And my husband is busy enough with our toddler when he’s home that I can hardly complain.
Angela, mom to two daughters, ages 2 years and 6 weeks

As a whole life experience, having a baby becomes your entire world, and you realize that nothing else matters. As for technical things, baby sleep schedules, or lack there of, are shocking. And once you think you’ve got it down, it changes.
Anne, mom to two sons, ages 5 and 8

Before we had a kid, my husband let me run the show. Once our baby was born, all of the sudden he had an opinion about everything involving our child. That was kind of annoying and hard to get used to.
Mom to a toddler

I have always had a healthy appetite, and when I got pregnant, it took a lot to fill me up. In fact, I had been a vegetarian for years, and my acupuncturist told me to start eating meat. I sprinted to Whole Foods and got a tray, ahem, plate full of meat. Meat became my best friend throughout my pregnancy. What I wasn’t expecting was that I would be eating more after I gave birth. I was eating around the clock. And with all the breastfeeding and pumping, it actually helped the pregnancy weight come off. The other thing that surprised me is that early on in my pregnancy, I was up for a good roll in the hay at any given moment. As I grew, not so much. My daughter was breech, so I ended up with a Cesarian birth. It was a rough recovery, and I had no interest in sex for almost a year. I had healed very well and relatively quickly, my sex drive just took it’s sweet old time returning. It was an uncomfortable return to the bedroom, but it had to happen sooner or later. A few months after the initial return, things were much better, but the whole experience was very unexpected.
Sarah of Luscious Mother, mom to a 2.5-year-old daughter

No matter how much you read or how many people you talk to there’s no preparing or being ready! Your experience will be unique, and it’s best to embrace that rather than trying to think you’re ready for it–you never are.
Janeen, mom to an 18-month-old daughter and four months pregnant with baby #2

I nursed and supplemented with formula, and I had no idea that breastfeeding, pumping, and formula feeding would be an all encompassing process. I look back now, and my husband and I were so sleep-deprived that we probably wasted a ton of money on formula because we couldn’t wrap our heads around the fact that we could just put the formula in the fridge and save it for the next feeding. Instead we keep throwing it away and remaking it. I was just too tired to figure some of this stuff out.
Meg, mom to a 2.5-year-old son

I didn’t have much (read: any) experience with newborn babies. I even had the nurse in my hospital room demonstrate changing a diaper for me because I’d never done it before. I was a little afraid of even holding a newborn. So I was surprised at how quickly I got comfortable holding my baby, changing her and being alone with her. And although I love being a mom, it can be a little boring. I thought I’d be crazy busy. But there’s a lot of time where you’re just sitting and watching a baby play on the floor. Or watching them take forever to eat. Or reading the same book for the 50th time. That surprised me too.
Mom to a toddler

The change in my marriage was a shocker. I resented my husband at first, and I have to consciously work at not resenting him because what can he really do? He can’t get up and nurse, and he can’t soothe the baby like I can.
Mom to an infant

I was shocked at how hard breastfeeding was. I was certain this was something that would come naturally and be blissful bonding time with my baby. Naturally, it came not. Nor was it blissful–at least not in the beginning. I remember rolling my eyes at the idea of taking a breastfeeding class before having the baby. In retrospect, I would have hired a private boob tutor before my daughter arrived if it meant making breastfeeding easier. That said, in the end, I’m pretty proud that we stuck it out. We supplemented with formula and I pumped, but being able to primarily breastfeed turned out to be an awesome experience. I also never thought I would co-sleep, but Ellie and I did a lot of that. It was the only way we could function for the first six weeks. So I think my big life lesson was: Don’t have any preconceived ideas. You never know what your little one might have mind.
Gena, mom to a three-year-old daughter

Becoming a mom has been such an amazing feeling. I never knew love like this. I truly feel the whole experience is a blessing. The one thing that has surprised me the most as a new mom is that constant feeling of worrying for another life. A life that I created. It’s like always having that feeling that your heart is outside your chest.
Rosalyn of DK Nannies, mom to a 4-month-old son

Typically everything I heard and read when I was pregnant was more focused on the negative parts of becoming a mom: How crazy labor is, how much breastfeeding sucks, how little sleep you get. I remember lots of people telling me “just you wait” sort of in a mocking way right before I had my first daughter. My advice would be to not be scared, because it’s going to be amazing. And it gets easier.
Maggie, mom to two daughters, ages 6 and 2, and two sons, ages 4 and 2 months

Featured Post on Mom Babble: The Evolution of a Mother Runner

One of my writing goals has been to start submitting my work to other websites, and you know, hopefully have it accepted . I’m so excited to share that my essay about how my relationship with running has changed since having my daughter in 2012 is featured today on Mom Babble.

I used to write about running—a million years ago it feels like. About the time the concept of “being a blogger” was becoming mainstream. Now I write about being a mom.

But I still run, and last month I ran the Frank Lloyd Wright 5K in Oak Park, Illinois. I had planned to post a race recap, but when I sat down to write, I realized I didn’t have much to say.

Read the rest at Mom Babble.

That Time I Quit Smoking

Once upon a time nearly a decade ago, it was summer in Chicago, and I was 25. I had graduated with my master’s degree six months earlier, and moved to the city to begin a life as a minion in a PR agency and not much else. I was basically a living, breathing episode of Sex and the City. Sounds fantastic, right?

How I Quit Smoking for Good

If we’re going to be honest with one another, you should know this: Graduate school was not the most amazing time in my life. It was a huge adjustment for me, possibly due to leaving my home state for the first time and moving 300 miles away to a North Shore suburb of Chicago where I knew exactly no one and choosing a marketing program that mostly helped me realize that I didn’t want to be in marketing.

Needless to say, the first few months living on my own in Chicago post-graduate school were also not the best. While I had a few friends, it became clear to me that those people would be transient in my life. The people who would end up being the fabric of my Chicago community wouldn’t start to appear for another nine or so months.

That summer, a women I sometimes hung out with dated an Irish guy for a hot minute. He was an athlete. He was doing the Chicago Accenture Triathlon that summer. He was an ex-smoker. He was kind of hard to understand.

One day, this woman, this guy, his friend, and I were sitting on the patio at a bar in Lincoln Park, drinking in the sun, and me, smoking cigarettes because I was having a beverage, and you could still do that back then.

So this guy, the one with the Irish accent, says to me (get the accent ready in your head)…

Irish guy: Why do you smoke?

Me: Because what else am I going to do with my other hand while I’m drinking?

(OK. I don’t actually know what I said.)

Irish guy: I quit smoking.

Me: Good for you. Do you want a cookie?

(I didn’t say that.)

Irish guy: You should read The Easy Way to Stop Smoking. That’s how I quit.

Me: Really? Maybe I’ll check it out… never.”

(These made-up responses sound angry, yes?)

I didn’t quit smoking. Not then. But a few months later, long after his brief romantic encounter with my friend had ended, I remembered what he said, bought the book, and quit.

It doesn’t seem a big thing, I imagine, to the I’ve-never-had-a-cigarette-in-my-life types or even to fair-weather “social smokers” who are able to drop the habit easily. But, for me, quitting smoking meant rearranging my life and my routines, and grappling with who I believed I was. It was the first step on a path that led me to running, to my friends and eventually my husband, and maybe (just maybe) to the place I am now, shedding other bad habits and preparing for more major changes.

But back to the Irish guy: Back then, I gave him credit for being the catalyst—the force that knocked over that first domino. And I don’t doubt that, in the briefest of moments, he said something very important to me. I am forever grateful to him for delivering a message. But as I think about it now, I realize I need to give myself credit for choosing to listen, taking action, and moving my life in a different direction. The truth is, I was always capable, and I still am.

Why Mommy Sanest?

During my daughter’s first year of life, I made the decision to step back from my old blog. I was struggling to manage new motherhood and this writing-on-the-Internet hobby I loved for so many years had become something I was failing to do—like all of the other things I was failing to do. So I quit.

But the siren song of blogging proved too much to resist.

By the time Emme was 20 months old, I was giving real thought to a new blog. I knew it was time to move on from A View from the Park; I knew I wanted to write within the parenting genre, but I wasn’t sure where I fit in the mommy blog universe. I half-started another blog, with a sort-of working mom survival theme, but it didn’t feel quite right.

Then in the spring, my community’s Facebook page blew up when a neighbor posted about being annoyed that fellow diners had allowed their child to play with a loud iPad while eating lunch at a local, casual restaurant. The number of responses (over 70) admonishing these parents for a seemingly minor incident ranged from “back in my day…” and “if I had kids…” to hysteria about the downfall of American family values and the rise of selfish, lazy parenting.

Why Mommy Sanest | www.mommysanest.com

Baby Emery is not pleased with your Facebook post.

A mom of twins responded and admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that she allows her preschoolers to do this sometimes so that she and her husband actually have time to eat their meals. And then she apologized. Keep in mind, this thread was not about her.

I have a general life rule that serves me well on both social media and public transportation: Don’t engage with crazy. I rarely break this rule, but I couldn’t help myself at this point. I tagged the woman in my response:

“[Name], do not apologize for this. This is a no-win situation for parents. If your kids were being loud or acting up in a restaurant, you’d be criticized for not entertaining them.”

Doesn’t it feel like, as parents and especially as moms, we often can’t win? If we’re not questioning our own parenting/life decisions, someone else is.

But it’s more than that. I started thinking about the family who was called out in the original post. What if the parents had just heard bad news and didn’t even notice the volume of the iPad? Or maybe the child was struggling with behavioral issues, and this was the only way the family could enjoy a meal out. Maybe the child had just received a good report card or an A on a test, and the iPad was his (or her) reward.

Or maybe the parents just needed a break, a meal in relative peace, and not a fight over who plays with what electronics when.

That’s the thing about this, we don’t know. But that’s what social media allows us to do—make assumptions, judge harshly minus the consequences of saying it to someone’s face, and deliver verdicts in a public forum without understanding the whole story.

And with that, Mommy Sanest—or at least the seed of a thesis that would eventually become Mommy Sanest—was born.

Being a mom in the age of social media clearly presents special challenges. While I’m not suggesting the Internet is bad (I <3 the Internet and its power to connect us), it can sometimes provide us with too much information for our own good. It’s given us the tools to label our parenting style and adjust our identity accordingly before we even have a baby—natural birth or medicated; breast or bottle; attachment parent or tiger mom; co-sleeping or sleep training; lean in or lean out. It gives those who are so inclined a platform to declare opinions as facts and shout to the world (or at least 500 “friends”) that formula is poison or “crying-it-out” harms a child’s emotional well-being or that moms/dads who work outside the home/stay home with the kids are setting a good/bad example…

And so on.

We feel the need to defend our choices, pick sides, and present evidence that supports the idea that we are doing it all. It’s no surprise really—clearly someone is always watching, passing judgement, and potentially gathering fodder for their next witty Facebook post.

So who am I to have an opinion on all of the above?

I’m a mom who questions herself. I’m a mom who is tired. I’m a mom who sometimes sits on the couch with her laptop and lets her two-year-old play by herself. I’m a mom who stopped making dinner for a year because I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to do it. I’m a mom who has a limit, who cries when exhausted, who has yelled at her two-year-old in moments of frustration. I’m a mom who sometimes measures herself and her kid by someone else’s ruler. I’m a mom who is riding the waves of parenthood, trying to do the best I can for my daughter, my family, and myself. I’m a mom who can’t help but smile when I see my toddler’s face every morning. I’m a mom who’s trying to raise a happy, well-adjusted kid without losing my mind or myself. I’m a mom who sometimes forgets everything she just wrote and makes uninformed, snap judgements about other moms/dads/parents/families.

But I’m trying to be better.

Mommy Sanest is not so much a persona as it is an (aspirational?) idea that balance as a parent, as a mom, is achievable if we all just give ourselves a freaking break, that being selfish is not only OK, but necessary sometimes, and that we do not need to operate in a perpetual state of mommy guilt over the choices we have to make. Maybe there’s a way to tune out the noise and parent in a manner that embraces radical common sense when making decisions about our kids and our lives, and extreme compassion to both ourselves and other parents.

How Minecraft Saved My Weekends

By Gena Kittner

Note from Lou: This is so exciting! My very good friend from college/first roommate ever, who I’ve now known for 17 years, has written Mommy Sanest’s first-ever guest post, and of course, it’s amazing. Enjoy!

Even as I write this, please know, I’d rather be reading my slightly trashy Scottish romance novel. But instead, I’ll exchange a chapter of Outlander for the iPad and the chance to explain how Minecraft, the video game popular nationwide with children ages 7 to 47, saved my family’s weekends.

Minecraft Saved My Weekends | www.mommysanest.com

My 3-year-old daughter, Ellie, and I get lots of quality time. As a stay at home mom, I spend the week arranging outings, thinking of crafts and suggesting she play with her many games and toys. I also, at times, find myself counting the minutes until 4:30 p.m. when I feel minimally less guilty about turning on the TV and tuning in the entertainer of the moment — George, Mickey, Huckle, or Dora.

Weekends are much of the same. My husband is home and we take hikes, go out to lunch, and play in the yard. But for my 3-year-old, and I’m assuming for most preschoolers, there’s a certain need for constant entertainment, leaving little me time.

Having a couple hours to turn off your brain and engage in something mindless is crucial to recharge. I enjoy reading on the couch. My husband enjoys computer games. Most recently, Minecraft. (Although, for the record, he played it long before T-shirts starting showing up in Target).

So while we both have relatively simple ways of escape, it still often falls to me to fill in our daughter’s entertainment gaps. Not for my husband’s lack of trying, but largely because of our daughter’s “mommy-only” syndrome.

Enter Minecraft. I don’t remember how exactly it happened or why it worked, but one trying Saturday when I was exhausted and close to losing it, John asked Ellie if she “wanted to watch Daddy build his house.”

And so it began. On the weekends, sometimes for 10 minutes, other times for an hour, father and daughter herd cattle, plant wheat and fight zombies in the Minecraft world. They even build a “bed” for Ellie in her own Minecraft room that also houses armor stored in a “toy chest.”

Am I thrilled with the added screen time? No. Am I delighted beyond measure that father and daughter have found a quiet activity both can enjoy while I bank some quality couch time? You bet. In fact, this Minecraft bond has helped loosen Ellie’s clinginess to me. And for that, even I’d slay zombies.

Gena is a Midwest transplant living in Tucson, Arizona with her husband and 3-year-old daughter. When not killing scorpions, Gena writes about food and family. Follow her on Twitter @genakittner.