What I didn’t say

Please welcome my next ‘neighbor’ for Round 3 of Won’t you be my Neighbor, Cheryl of MommyPants.


This weekend my girlfriend, Elise, had her first baby.

It was a long wait. Not the labor. Although that was 18 hours.

The becoming a mother part.

She turns 41 in July. She’s wanted to have a baby forever. But it didn’t happen, and she needed help. She was rejected from a fertility clinic because they were sure she’d never conceive. She’s lucky she has a well-paying job and lives in New York City. She had options, and found another clinic who took her.

She had a failed IVF.

She tried again.

And now she has her beautiful baby boy.

I couldn’t wait to hear how it went.

Part of the conversation went something like this:

E: “The contractions? They really hurt!”

Me: “Yep. They sure do.”

E: “I felt like there were like 10 knives stabbing me in the uterus.”

Me: “Only 10?”

E: “So then, well, you know that ring of fire?”

Me: “Oh yes. Yes I do.”

E: “And then they put him on me. And he looked right into my eyes.”

Me: “Amazing, isn’t it?”

E: “I knew being a mother would be great, but now I really, really get it.”

I told her how proud I was of her. How great she did. To enjoy her new baby and stop worrying whether her kitchen is clean. We talked about positioning of the baby during nursing. We discussed his almost-white curly eyelashes and his Angelina Jolie-esque lips. We sighed, me in SoCal and her in NYC, about how sweet he is.

There was a lot I didn’t say.

I didn’t want to tell her that this parenting stuff? It’s really hard. I mean, REALLY hard. That she will love this tiny creature so much it will ache. That there will be moments where she might fantasize about throwing him out the window. But she won’t.

That she will lose herself. That she will never be the same person that she was. And it’s okay to mourn. Because you can’t go through something as life-changing as becoming a mother and NOT change. And it’s okay. Mostly.

That she should hold onto each moment like it’s the last. Because you never know. And anyway, even though it seems like each day lasts forever, it doesn’t, and it’s memorizing the little stuff – the way your baby’s face lights up when he sees you, the curve of his ear, the toasty smell of the top of his head – that means the most. Especially later on, when he’s two. Oh, the twos….

That motherhood is crazy, impossible, wonderful. It’s going from being a ferocious Mama Bear one minute to wanting to throttle your beloved child the next. It’s worry worry worry. It’s beating yourself up because you’re not perfect, and your child deserves perfect.

I wanted to tell her that we were all much better mothers before we had kids. That list of things we swore we’d never do? Yeah. It’s okay to give him a non-organic french fry. Even a cupcake for dinner. It’s okay to be mind-numbingly bored after a marathon session of rolling matchbox cars around the table. And to buy sneakers with Elmo on them.

That a kind child is more precious than diamonds.

I wanted to make sure she remembers she’s building memories. She’s a caretaker of his only childhood. She will spend sleepless nights, wondering what she could’ve done better that day, if she said the right thing, if she yelled too loud, if she didn’t speak loudly enough.

She will wonder at times, as we all do, if she’s fucking it up. She’s not. Because she’ll never try harder at anything in her life. And that’s the best any of us can do.

(Our kids’ therapists can decide later if it was good enough.)

But I don’t want to burden a new mother with all this. Let her enjoy the simplicity of the newborn phase, where all you need to do is feed him. And figure out why he’s crying. And wonder whether he’s breathing. If he’s hot. Cold. Swaddled tightly enough. If he wants the binky. If you should even GIVE him the binky, because doesn’t that lead to speech impediments and buck teeth and what if he’s the only four year-old on the playground with one?

This motherhood stuff? It’s hard. Really, really hard.

Amen, Cheryl. AMEN. Please leave Cheryl comments below and visit her again soon at MommyPants. If you have a guest ‘neighbor’ posting on your blog today, please use the button to your right and link up below!

45 thoughts on “What I didn’t say

  1. Cheryl, this post is peppered with so many poignant truths. What I will remember most: that I am the caretaker of my children’s only childhood. I will not forget that quickly. Thank you.

  2. This is wonderful, Cheryl! The one that took my breath away: That a kind child is more precious than diamonds. Wow.

    I kept nodding my head as I was reading this. And that’s okay. Mostly. 🙂

    Loved it, girl!

  3. Cheryl, I found myself smiling and tearing up to all the things you said here. Yes, yes and yes – parenting is so very hard. But so very rewarding. When we finally figure out our own infinite capacity to love, it’s both scary and wonderful at the same time. I’m so glad for your friend that she’s able to experience this herself – the good, the amazing, the bad and the ugly.

  4. Cheryl – a very great post and nice to see you over here!

    “That there will be moments where she might fantasize about throwing him out the window. But she won’t.”

    I remember one of my first “ah-ha!” moments in parenting where I realized how there could be child abuse in the world. Unfortunately sad but true.

    • Hey there! 😉 I had that exact same moment. Where I got how someone, with perhaps no education or support system or help, could resort to that. It was absolutely an a-ha moment and I was thankful I was not in a situation where I would ever do it.

  5. Love this, Cheryl. So many mothers get trapped in the minutia of the bad days (and, yes, I had my throw the baby out the window thoughts) that they lose sight of the big picture. Parenting is hard, but the rewards are epic.

  6. You KNOW this resonates with me, Cheryl.

    Looking back, I’d have to say that when I was a new mother, the minutes and hours dragged…interminably.

    But the months and years flew by, disappearing in the blink of a tiny-curled eyelash.

    It’s tempting to say, “If I knew then what I knew now…” but the truth is, we all stumble through it. We try. We learn. Then we know. And there’s no switching up the order.

    This was beautiful.

  7. This is such a beautiful post, Cheryl.
    There is so much that you can only learn about mothering by actually mothering.
    This line brought tears to my eyes, “She’s a caretaker of his only childhood.”
    That’s exactly it. They get but one childhood.
    And I hope that my children remember happiness.

  8. What a great post on motherhood! We’ve all had these thoughts; wondering if I could have yelled less today, did my kid eat too many fries this week, and sometimes even “how did I get here” moments. But when I really do stop to think about my 3 kids, I would not have it any other way. I cannot imagine my life withou them, and the rewards & love from them are endless … although maybe the teenage years will be much different 🙂

    And you are correct – we were all better mothers before we were mothers!

  9. I am sobbing reading this..just knowing that my kids changed everything about me and how I can love and hate mothering all at the same time. This post was simply perfect. I may print it and hang it up where I can see and remember it every day.
    Thank u Cheryl!!!!

  10. How did I miss that this was YOU Cheryl? I read this post and thought oh yeah typica lawesome Never True Tales post…at least detail oriented isn’t on my resume…What? SAHM’s totally have resumes!

  11. Oh, how I wish I had this post to read 6 months ago, when I first had my son. To have this post to refer back to through all the sleepless nights. The getting back up to peek at him, making sure his chest was still rising and falling. To remember as I massaged the first of many plugged ducts out in the bathtub. To keep me sane as he screamed from the high chair, fussy and tired at the end of the day while I tried to cook dinner for guests. Everything you wrote is absolutely, one hundred percent true, and it is SO IMPORTANT that all new mommies know that the feelings they have-joy, elation, protectiveness, worry, frustration, are normal and that they are not alone. Thank you!!!

    • Aw, thank you. You are definitely not alone. Not even close.

      I remember when I used to sit in the glider rocker in my first son’s bedroom when he was an infant. It would be 3 a.m. and I’d nurse him and wonder how many other women were doing the exact same thing at the exact same time.

      It made me feel a little more connected, you know?

  12. Oh, this is lovely.

    And you were right to not tell her those things yet. We can’t hear them, then. And if we DID we’d be annoyed because at that moment our brains are full of newness and we don’t want to be distracted by reality.

    Reality happens soon enough anyway.

  13. My baby (my third and last) cut his first tooth yesterday. It felt like the beginning of the end and the end of the beginning, all at the same time. This motherhood stuff is hard. And sad sometimes, too, even surrounded by joy.

  14. Lump in throat. Tears welling. Ryan is using my legs as his pillow and I’m trying not to let him see me cry. He’ll think I’m sad, because he doesn’t yet know the tears of joy or getting choked up with emotion.

    You have such a perfect way of describing those universal but delicate feelings and thoughts of a mother. You are so talented Cheryl!

    Loved this post.

  15. Fantastic and oh so true! And yes, tell her a little later on because thinking you’re the only one is one of the hardest things to deal with – alone. Go SITS!

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