Your baby's smile makes it all worthwhile, and 4 other lies about motherhood
I always said I'd never get married and absolutely would never have children. Lots of people say that as kids, of course, but I graduated college having never gone on a single date, and as 30 approached, I detected no ticking of any biological clock. Yet here I am married and with 4-month-old twins, one of whom is presently wailing for no discernable reason.
Any new parent gets lots of unsolicited advice, but I suspect having both twins and a known history of inexperience with babies got me an extra dose. And while much of what people have told me has been helpful — sometimes clichés are clichés for a reason — plenty more has proven patently untrue. So for other expectant parents, let me offer a counterpoint to what you're likely hearing. If these expectation-setters don't pan out for you either, know you're not alone.
1. "You'll feel a love you never thought possible."
I took a few childbirth classes while I was pregnant, and there and elsewhere I was given the impression that I'd have an intense bonding experience with my children right after birth. You hear a lot about a "golden hour," which is supposed to be a "magical time" when "a new mother gets her first chance to hold her baby in her arms, to count the tiny fingers and toes and gaze into the eyes of her newborn."
Even though we did all the things you're supposed to do to produce a golden hour, I didn't get one. Instead, I got the shakes. Bad. I had my poor nurses working in an 80-degree room where I was still freezing and trembling for several hours, even under a pile of blankets. I certainly did not want to hold a baby. I wanted to be warm, asleep, and alone.
Contrary to what I was told, this is not that unusual. "The myth is that it's love at first sight, and it's all or nothing," Richard Woolfson, a child psychologist, told The Telegraph. "In my experience it takes time. ... The real emotional connection between a mother and child — the bond — is built gradually over a period of months."
2. "When they smile at you, it's all worth it."
When they smile at you, it helps. I dunno about "all worth it," though.
For the first two or three months, the only smiles you get from a baby are reflexive. It takes a while for real smiles — social smiles intended to communicate happiness — to begin. I knew this before giving birth, but I didn't fathom the extent to which it is difficult to spend massive amounts of time with people who give you zero positive social reinforcement. When the true smiles start, when it's clear your baby recognizes you and is happy to see you, it does make the drudgery of early parenting more rewarding.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Maybe for some parents, it's true that during those smiles, "any disappointment, any hardship, any upset, distress, or sadness your child may have caused, or could ever cause, is swept away." It was not true for me. I'm still very tired.
3. "The days are long, but the years are short."
If only! My experience has been the exact opposite.
I'm not sure how much of this is unique to having two, but even with a husband who is the very model of new fatherhood and a nanny, I feel like I'm racing against the clock all day, every day. There is never enough time to finish everything I need to do. The laundry is endless, and I swear the pile of baby bottles to wash may somehow be reproducing on its own. The days are exceedingly brief.
But the years, I swear, are everlasting. I gave birth in late May, and this summer was easily 15 years long. The last four months have moved at such a glacial pace that they seriously feel like half my life. I cannot recall how long it's been since time seemed to pass so slowly — maybe fifth grade? The start of this year was an eternity ago. Prior years fade into the distant mist of memory. Will 2020 ever come? I am sincerely not sure. The years between now and when these boys start school feel like an interminable distance, a Zeno's paradox of time.
4. "They grow up so fast." "Treasure every moment." "You'll miss this phase!"
They do not. I cannot. And I won't.
I know there are people who love newborns. My father-in-law is one of them. He loves nothing more than taking a screaming infant out for a walk. I love nothing more than handing him a screaming infant to take out for a walk.
Seriously, the newborn stage is difficult! And, as mentioned, for me it feels very long and slow. There are a lot of moments I do not want to treasure and know I will not miss. (Many of them happen at ungodly hours of the night when I would like to be asleep.) I'm looking forward to future phases and moments I know will be easier to enjoy.
5. "It's different when they're yours."
Well, it is and it isn't. My husband has always loved babies, and with two of his own, he's in heaven. I have never been a baby person, and that hasn't changed. I don't have the instinct for soothing them he seems to have. They baffle me more often than not.
Obviously it's different when they're yours in that you have an obligation you don't have to other children and, whether immediately or eventually, a bond you don't share with other people's kids. But it's also not different in that you're still you. Your likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses don't evaporate when a baby comes.
And that, I think, is the biggest piece of advice I'd give to expectant parents from this vantage point. When people tell you about parenthood with these sweeping, universalized promises and directions, remember it's going to happen to you, not the ideal or "average" parent. Others' experiences, even if common, may not be yours. Adjust your expectations accordingly. Maybe hold them rather more loosely than you've been advised.