Recently, I found myself at a get-together where I only knew a couple of people. I'm a hardcore introvert, so the idea of making small talk with strangers for a couple of hours had me loitering next to the wine bottles. To make matters worse, most of the other women there weren't even married yet, much less mothers. I am a stay-at-home mum; they work in the music industry and as interior designers. Their evenings were just getting started about the time I slipped into bed each night. I kept casting about in my mind for possible conversation starters and coming up blank.
As I leaned against the counter, trying to make my gulps of Pinot look more like sips and not watch the clock for an acceptable leaving time, one of the girls struck up a conversation with me. She asked me that dreaded SAHM question: "So, what do you do?" But to my surprise, her eyes lit up when I mentioned I was a mum.
"What's it like?" she asked, leaning forward eagerly.
"You mean, being a mum?" I replied, somewhat incredulously. She nodded and waited; I had her full attention.
"Oh, honey," I thought.
It's awful. You will be more tired than you ever knew possible. Think about the most exhausted you've ever been, that mentally and physically fried state where your eyes actually hurt in your face. Then, imagine sustaining that for days, weeks, and months on end. There's a reason sleep deprivation is used as a torture device.
You will do supergross things, like scoop poop out of the tub and be vomited on. You'll google things like "can babies hate their mothers?" and "signs I'm losing my mind." You might have a hard time breastfeeding or losing the baby weight. You might even find yourself in a haze of postpartum depression that robs you of all the joy and leaves you with only the fear, anger, and sadness.
And that's just the first year. We haven't even touched on toddlers, potty training, or teaching how to share. It's hard work, this mothering thing. The hardest and most frustrating work I've ever done, actually, and all for the most mercurial two bosses imaginable.
You'll forgive them for the grossness and the lack of sleep, because no one can resist that level of adorableness.
It's wonderful. You've made a person. You get to watch that person grow and develop into someone with a personality and likes, dislikes, interests, and talents. You get all the best snuggles and hugs, and their faces light up like Christmas morning whenever you walk in the room. You'll study their features and marvel over impossibly long eyelashes and perfectly chubby cheeks. For a brief period of time, you'll be their favourite person in the whole wide world. You'll forgive them for the grossness and the lack of sleep, because no one can resist that level of adorableness.
Your days will have a meaning and purpose to them that was lacking before. Your heart will swell with a love that you didn't know could exist. You have created someone who will impact the world beyond your own life, and that's a little bit awesome.
You'll lose yourself. You'll lose your perky breasts and smooth stomach, and some days you'll be fairly certain you've also lost your sanity. You'll vacillate between continuing to work and staying at home, and regardless of the path you choose, you will forever wonder if you chose the right one.
If you keep working, you'll be fighting twice as hard to maintain your productivity and prove you're the same hard worker you've always been. But you won't be the same, because you're a mum now. You'll have to rush out on your busiest day because of a call from day care that the baby has a fever. Business trips will find you hunched over a breast pump in the corner of the airport, praying your colleagues don't give you a hard time.
If you stay home, you'll remember the put-together, on-time, kickass woman you used to be and wonder if she's still hiding somewhere beneath your stained yoga pants, greasy topknotted hair, and tattered t-shirt. You'll struggle to acclimate to days where it's suddenly 5 p.m. and your greatest accomplishment is that you managed to brush your teeth that day. You'll wonder how to survive day after day without adult interaction and practically bury your husband in a volley of words when he walks through the door each evening, because REAL CONVERSATION, HOORAY! You'll be surprised at how lonely it can be, even when you're never alone.
You'll find yourself. Motherhood is a catalyst for digging deep. The short-tempered find patience, and the abrasive tap into gentleness (trust me: I'm both). Maybe you've always been weak and timid but find your mama bear voice comes out when it's time to advocate on your child's behalf. Your rough edges are softened, and your courage and confidence build because they need you to be strong, and so you are.
It's also a place of stability and consistency. Maybe you've always cycled through careers and goals, feeling like you can't find your fit. Given time, you're guaranteed to find your own groove and style of motherhood, and regardless of the rest, being a mum will fit like a glove.
So what's it like? There are no words. There are too many words. It's heaven and hell, sometimes all in the same half hour. It is life-changing and every bit as beautiful and painful as that sounds. It stretches you, body and soul, and demands all that you have, plus a little extra.
Of course, I didn't tell her all of that (I'm not great at parties, but I'm not that bad). I just smiled as I told her, "It's the best and hardest thing I've ever done."