I intended to share this post six months after Indira’s birth, since the last time I was here I was six months into my pregnancy. Turns out, however, that being cute like that is not totally compatible with being a mom and having a full-time job.
But here I am anyway! I’ll try to leave all the clichés by the wayside and just tell you this: When I last wrote about my daughter—who I hadn’t yet met and was probably the size of an orange—she felt like a dream to me. Too good to be true.
She still feels like that to me today. I wake up every morning and see her smiling at me…two inches away from my face…and just cannot get over the fact that 1) I made her, and 2) she is mine. I don’t see that ever going away.
At almost nine months old, Indira is (a tiny) 14 pounds of pure goodness. She looks like so many people—while also being completely herself—who have passed on from this life but who we carry close in our hearts. Her deep eyes are reminiscent of Suraj’s father, she has the same dimples and twinkle in her eyes as my Dad did, and her expressions are often like Suraj’s mother’s, who passed away just two months before she was born (and who was also the only person we shared our name choice with before birth). I so wish her three grandparents had had the chance to meet her, but it seems like they might have in a way greater than we know.
(All politics aside) This past year has been the best year of my life because of her. It’s also been filled with an intensity I never anticipated. MOTHERHOOD: you are by far the most complex word in the English language. I feel you, but I can’t always define you. I talk about you, but I don’t know how to write about you. You are a new skin I wear, but one I feel has been there all along. I’m still figuring you out.
So here’s my best go at putting that word into words. Eleven Things I’ve Learned About Motherhood So Far (because I couldn’t stop at ten…). I’m sure there’s only about a billion more lessons to go.
- Giving birth is the most transformative moment of your life, no matter how it plays out. My goal going in was a non-medicated birth (meaning no drugs of any kind), and I did a lot to prepare for that, but oh dear God it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I understand 110 percent why people get epidurals. During my 24-hour labor (pretty average for first-time moms), Indira kept flipping in the wrong direction/position, which caused back labor that I can’t even begin to describe and that no bath, ball, or labor position could ease. I probably would have quit if I hadn’t been in what felt like another universe. Truly. With each contraction, I went to some other place—I couldn’t speak; all I could do was ride it out. Towards the end, when it was time to push, I remember thinking that no, I couldn’t do it any longer, I just needed to sleep and try again tomorrow (ha!). But Suraj, my mom, our doula, and our midwives all assured me that we were almost there. Forty-five minutes later, they placed this tiny little baby with jet-black hair on my chest and the world stopped. I MADE A HUMAN BEING AND SHE IS PERFECT. All the pain that came before, and after, that moment was suddenly eclipsed (sparing you the details on the after, but if you’ve given birth, you know what I’m talking about).
- The first few months are HARD. There is beauty, there is haze, there are tears of every kind—happy ones, sad ones, scared ones, I-don’t-know-why-so-just-let-me-sob ones, the list goes on. No one gets any real practice for parenthood and then suddenly you’re IN IT FOREVER AND THERE’S NO GOING BACK. You’re ready to dive in, but you’re also like omg can I swim?!
- But you do. You always swim. No matter how hard it is, you somehow keep going. “Quit” and “motherhood” are incompatible terms.
- Two more incompatible terms? “Maternity leave” and “accomplishing things”—other than, of course, keeping a human being alive. It took me a long time to be okay with this, especially as someone who rarely sits still. But it’s true—you’ll never remember the laundry or the dishes, but you will remember the sweet snuggles, and they’ll never seem like enough. If I could have taken a year off, I would have.
- It can take awhile to feel like yourself again. The postpartum period is a funny one. For me, I think it was harder than pregnancy. Hormones don’t just automatically readjust (especially if you’re breastfeeding), your body can take more time to recover than you realize, and you’re also learning to navigate a new identity—all while sleep-deprived. In traditional cultures, new mothers were often pampered and kept secluded (with their baby) for 40 days or more; can we bring this practice back please?
- Breastfeeding is natural and beautiful and easy… NO, no, it’s not (and if it was for you, consider yourself very blessed). Seriously, anything that requires support groups, consultants, and 24-hour hot lines should tell you something. For me, breastfeeding was a much more traumatic journey than I ever expected. I had always imagined being my child’s sole source of sustenance, in that first year at least, and when we learned that that was just not possible for me (due to insufficient glandular tissue, something I had never heard of prior), it came as a huge blow. Feeding people is my love language and not being able to communicate in it stung deep. It still does, to be honest, and I still get emotional about it. But I also know how lucky I am that my child can be fed regardless. Breastfeeding is much, much more than just ounce output, and I remind myself of this on a daily basis.
- There is no ONE right way to do anything, despite what the Internet tells you. The right way is whatever works for your child and your family. Your baby hates being swaddled? Skip it. Can’t handle cry-it-out? Don’t do it. No time to mash up your own pureés? Buy them. Just because something worked for someone else doesn’t mean it’s law. Also, is it just me, or does your sixth sense for recognizing this type of thing really come alive in motherhood? It’s like a mom superpower.
- No matter how long you stare at your child, it doesn’t seem like enough. While they’re sleeping in your arms, you’ll be looking at photos of them on your phone, and you won’t think there’s anything weird about it. Then your partner will join you and you’re both like Yeah this is totally normal.
- Support is a lifeline. Yes, you are in a beautiful little cocoon for those first weeks/months… but wait, there’s no food in here, everything is covered in a layer of dust, and it’s very hard to actually get out. I was so thankful for my mom and family who came to visit (and help) during that time, and friends who came with coffee, or to check in, or just sent a text reminding you that the world was still moving.
- Strangers disarm and turn into compassionate, goofy people when they see children, babies especially. You hear stories about grandchildren and grown children, get countless smiles, and witness grown men making silly faces for your kid while waiting in line or sitting at a restaurant. The world becomes a little softer and it’s really heartwarming to see.
- This final one is a big one. There are times when you will feel like you are not doing anything well enough. I’ve felt this acutely since returning to work. I can’t spend enough time with my child, or I’m not catching up on my workload fast enough, or, a favorite of mine, When am I supposed to cook dinner?! And I only have one kid! So, suffice it say, we are all learning as we go and whatever you are doing, whether it’s with zero kids or five, is ENOUGH.
I hope to be back to this space again soon, maybe even with a recipe, but if that happens three months later than what I had planned, well, see point #11. Someone’s already calling…