All the books, classes and “brace yourself” lectures in the world can’t truly prepare you for the realities of life with a newborn. From the foggy early days of navigating feedings while operating on a torturously small amount of sleep to adjusting to your new role as a parent while still trying to make time for your partner and yourself — the first year of parenthood is an initiation unlike anything else, complete with what can occasionally feel like baby-led hazing.
Balancing it all out are the moments of joy: when the baby smiles or giggles, learns a new skill or simply sleeps so peacefully you can’t tear yourself away from watching. And then there is the pride, not just in your growing little one, but in the realization that you are capable of more than you could have imagined.
Here, eight moms share how they coped with unexpected challenges during the first year of parenthood — and what they learned about themselves along the way.
“Being a mother is hands down the hardest thing I have ever done. I was scared to leave my house, constantly thinking of all the terrible things that could happen out in the world. And then there was breastfeeding. I wanted to breastfeed so, so badly, but my daughter did not. So I pumped for nine and a half months, every two to three hours for almost half an hour. It consumed me.
“As you can imagine my relationship with my husband, like many new moms, took a spot on the back-burner. My body taking on a whole new shape and purpose made me feel very unattractive and for lack of a better term, not sexy. I’m still struggling with all of these things, 16 months later. I’m trying to love my body and not make my marriage and the relationship with my husband a ‘chore.’ I’m still working at trying to be better every day. But aren’t we all?
“The biggest challenge I faced in the first year of motherhood was sleep deprivation. I coped by reminding myself each stage of sleep regression was only temporary. My husband and I also made a plan from the very beginning that he would change the diapers during the night and hand the baby to me to feed. When the baby transitioned to formula, husband and I started taking on the nights in shifts.”
“The hardest part of the first year of parenting was how quickly our lives changed in such a way huge way after bringing our son home. The first six months were the hardest, as my husband and I went through sleep deprivation, the stress of a colicky newborn and my postpartum depression. Finding our new normal took many months, and as we approach our son’s first birthday, we’re still adjusting. Taking time for myself has probably been the most important thing I’ve done this year. I wasn’t prepared for how much motherhood would change my identity, both positively and negatively, and finding the time to write or run or do yoga and remember who I was before becoming a mom has been crucial.”
“My dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer about two months before my daughter was born. Between recovering from the birth, getting the hang of the new mom thing, and all the doctor’s visits, we weren’t able to travel to see him as soon as I would have liked. I felt like by being a good mother I wasn’t being a good daughter. In the end, there was enough time to be both.
“My dad managed to hang on for the first four months of my daughter’s life. He was there for her Christening and for her first Christmas. He got to squeeze her little feet when he was in the hospital — and asked if she was old enough for a pedicure. While it makes me sad that she’ll have no memory of her JJ, it brings me such peace knowing her face was one of the last images in his mind.”
Next page: “I spent a lot of time judging myself”