Letter From The Editor: What I Learned

Life is short, so keep your eyes open

Last weekend, in the middle of a conversation about God-knows-what, I had the following text exchange with Maddie:

You have no control, you know nothing. Proceed, grasshopper.
Which, you know, I’m reluctant to share. Because I’m not even sure the fact that I know nothing is good advice about parenthood. Maybe you feel like you know everything and have enormous amounts of control, in which case I tip my hat to you. (But also, I’m backing away slowly, because clearly, you be crazy). Other than my perpetual advice that overnight diapers are the best things ever invented, the magical thing about parenthood (and pregnancy, and trying to conceive), is that you can’t teach people your secrets, because the only secret is that there is no secret. You can either stress yourself out trying to read and learn everything and at least obtain an illusion of minimal control, or give in to the impossibility of the whole project. Personally, I do a little of both. Wonder Weeks for the illusion of control, a glass of wine for everything else.

When I was in the middle of my difficult pregnancy, I picked up a magazine in the OB’s office and flipped through to an interview with my friend Rebecca. In the interview she said something like, “People say that they lose themselves in motherhood, but I’ve found that motherhood is a great place to find yourself.” I remember desperately hoping that would be true for me, and it turns out nothing sums up my experience of parenting better. People often talk about motherhood in the context of less: less time for yourself, less patience, less left over for your career, less personal style, less sleep. (Okay, the last one is totally true. I know, I know, your baby is sleeping through the night, but I don’t really want to hear about it.) But I’ve found that for me, motherhood is the paradigm of more.

It’s hard to say this without sounding totally absurd, so let’s all just pretend we’re tipsy first. Deal? Deal. Because what I learned in the past two years is that: my kid totally didn’t exist, and then he was this fluttering bean, and then he was kicking my insides, and then he was born, and in nine months he’s speeded from sleeping baby to a willful almost-crawling force of nature. His life started, and one day his life will end, and all I can hope for is that he has the best possible life that he can, and I’m here to help him through as much of it as he needs me for. Or: life is short, make it count. As a result, I have more patience, and I spend more time in the moment. I’ve had way more joy and laughter.

Then there are the things that are the polar opposite of all those “you’ll sees.” I actually spend far more time on personal style now, because fuck it, we don’t have a lot of time and none of us are getting younger. So I might as well wear the cute shorts, and get my hair done. My career has thrived in pregnancy and motherhood, even as I had distinctly less time for it. Why? Because now that time on work means time away from my kid, I have to have a laser like focus on things that matter. I don’t have time to waste on people or projects that are not bringing something important into my life. And all that time I once spent worrying about people shit talking? Please. Now I’m playing with the baby, or chilling with David on the couch, or getting a drink with my girlfriends, and I hope you’re doing the same. (And seriously. Why did it take having a damn baby to make me realize that?)

I’ve noticed that a lot of the rhetoric about pregnancy and motherhood seems to be that “because we’re mothers now” we’re somehow in the possession of tons of amazing wisdom (that we’d love to tell you about). That always seems a bit like bullshit to me. What parenthood has taught me is just how little I really know, and just how much we’re all in this together. Maddie realized life was short years before I had to realize it. I couldn’t have learned that from her then, just like I couldn’t teach it to anybody now. And as for babies? I’m just trying to get through the day, with as much joy as possible. There toys spread around, spit up, and (generally) happy chaos. But there are also cute clothes to buy, and careers to be built, and glasses of wine to have. Life is too short for anything else.

So in the interest of not wasting time, lets get down to it. Lets share stories around the campfire, and pass along the wisdom. This month is not about “You’ll see.” It’s about “look what I saw.”


Photo: from Meg’s personal collection

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  • One More Sara

    Love love love this perspective. When I became a mother I learned how to say no to people, and that I couldn’t possibly please everyone (I was acutely aware of this when deciding where to live. Country A near my family, or country B near his. Sadly, we can’t be in two places at once, so either decision was going to hurt SOMEONE, so we had to do what was right for our family). Having a little person SO dependent on me made me naturally make him a top priority, which actually made it easier to make MYSELF a top priority as well, because I can’t take care of him if I don’t take care of myself.

    • “Having a little person SO dependent on me made me naturally make him a top priority, which actually made it easier to make MYSELF a top priority as well, because I can’t take care of him if I don’t take care of myself.”

      EXACTLY, times a million… I make working out more of a priority now than I ever did, and I force myself to go to sleep early. And, some of my prenatal eating well habits have lasted as well. I want to be around, and healthy, for this kid as long as I can.

      • meg

        It’s so funny, because this is the opposite of the cultural narrative, “Moms don’t even put themselves on the list.” But I’ve found it to be true as well. I’ll sometimes feel guilt when I’m working out like, “Shouldn’t I be with him every waking minute? I must be being selfish.” And then I realize that’s complete nonsense that’s been put in my head. It’s better for him to have a mother who’s healthy long term, this is not even debatable (for me).

        • moe

          My mom is in her 80’s and is in assisted living. A lifetime of not eating well and inactivity has left her bound to a wheelchair. She is also in the early stages of dementia. She’s still with us, but the mom I once had hasn’t really been present for about 10 years. It sometimes feel like a slow progressive grieving for her loss that hasn’t quite happened yet.

          Yes moms, please take care of yourself now. There is so much goodness to enjoy in the years ahead. Your children growing, grandchildren and possibly great-grandchildren!

        • Newtie

          Yes times a million! I feel like in pregnancy I had to learn fast how to put myself first – and then realized this was really good practice for motherhood, since now I REALLY need to be good at identifying my needs and wants and getting them met without a lot of beating around the bush.

  • Anonymous

    I love this. I love moms who are honest and admit that having a kid doesn’t suddenly make you a perfect person who knows everything.

    I don’t know what exactly I’m struggling with right now but fear of the unknown and trying to also bring a kid into this world has pushed me pretty far down the fear path, a path I’ve been trying to stay off of this year.

    Thanks Meg, for talking real and being real and letting us all know, you aren’t perfect, you’re you; flawed and beautiful. Thank you for reminding us (even though risk month is done) that lots of things in life are scary, but they often turn into the most wonderful parts if we have the guts to live through them.

  • Becca

    With my wedding coming up in the next couple of months, and my fiance already talking dreamily of trying to conceive, this is a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It seems there’s a dichotomy in our culture when it comes to being a mother – either it’s the greatest achievement of womanhood, or it’s the death knell that will end your life and your career prospects. Both viewpoints scare the crap out of me! I just want someone to talk to me about motherhood in a down-to-earth, realistic way, so this post was a breath of fresh air.

    • meg

      I think the message actually is that it’s “the greatest achievement of womanhood,” AND “it’s the death knell that will end your life and your career prospects.” Kinda like the message about marriage, actually.

      I don’t know that it’s true at all. When I look at my kid I do feel like he’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, but he’s pretty far from being my only important achievement. And I was terrified that it would end life as we knew it… and it didn’t. Did make it better (and more tired), didn’t end it.

  • It’s funny, but I this idea has been resounding for me lately: Stop trying to control life. Let go and find out what’s coming your way, because you were never in control anyway. I hear echoes of this in the way you discuss parenthood. It’s terrifying but also oh-so liberating, so I think it’s worth facing down that fear of the unknown and the chaos that is at the heart of living.

  • KINA

    I am not planning on being a mom ever, but the fact that life is short, and many of the other lessons you mentioned here, are things I try to keep in the forefront of my mind.

  • js

    Being a mom taught me to grow the fuck up. I was so young and immature, not just in age but in where I was at in my life. Being responsible for someone else helped me get my shit together. I finally had to put someone else’s happiness before my own, which was good for me. There’s nothing like a child to show you that you have absolutely no control over anything and the universe is laughing at you. Especially when you realize your child is growing up to be exactly like you. I embrace the fact that I know nothing and am, at times, simply along for the ride. It has also taught me that there will always be dishes and laundry but that my little girl won’t always want to hang out with her mother. My baby started middle school today and she’s wearing a bra. I swear just yesterday she was saying her first word. It goes so fast. That I knew, of course, but may not have fully appreciated until today.

  • C

    I really needed to read this today. I am not ready to try to have kids yet, but everything I read and hear about parenthood makes it seem so terrifying. Everything is about “less,” as Meg discussed. It makes me want to run and hide from parenthood.

    I needed someone to say, “Sure, you’re going to lose sleep and time, but you’re going to be more YOU also.” Because that’s how I feel about my impending marriage. Sure, I’ll have to give up some of my personal space and be accountable to another human being and sometimes do things he likes that I don’t like, but being with him gives me more courage and strength to be more ME..to take risks, run marathons, do a job I love that makes little money, heal relationships with my family members. I don’t know why I ever thought having kids would be so different from that.

    I’m really looking forward to a whole month of this. Good work so far, APW.

    • meg

      I think for me, it’s been exactly like these marriage lessons, but just sort of… huger… with a dash of “Oh, life is SHORT.” So, right, EXACTLY.

  • I loved this piece, Meg. I’m hoping motherhood is similar for me. I’m over halfway through a difficult pregnancy–one that isn’t getting better as it goes (not even the increased libido in the second trimester. And I was looking forward to that one, too).

    It is what it is. I’m in therapy and trying to make my peace with it, but it’s so hard and feels so endless, and it’s not at all the experience I imagined I would have. I find myself being similarly afraid of motherhood.

    What’s helped the most, really, is surrendering control. My birth plan, my intentions to breast feed, my expectations of motherhood–for all of these things I have an Ideal Outcome. What I want my experiences to be like in a perfect world. I think that kind of planning and knowledge is important. But if my pregnancy has taught me anything, it’s that what I’m planning for may not come to pass, and I need to roll with it. There are other options. I will make use of the options available to me at my time of need. If the experience does not match my ideal, so be it.

    I am trying to get into this frame of mind now, in the hopes that I’ll be able to reach for these line of thinking with ease later, if it becomes necessary. It’s easy enough to say this now, when I have no idea how I’ll feel when faced with these things.

    I hope that I, too, can say that motherhood brought me “more” and not “less.” More of myself, more of everything.

    • I had an easy pregnancy and a bitch of a time post partum, and in hindsight, one of my biggest difficulties was in making peace with What Actually Happened instead of what I Wanted to Happen. (Think: emergency c-section after 3 days of labour vs the fast unmedicated birth I was aiming for. Times basically every experience of early motherhood I had, was one of “failure”.) You’re smart and certainly ahead of my game by preparing for all of that now – it took me months of emotional work in a time without many emotional resources (thus, PPD, for me). Hopefully all goes smoothly, but if it doesn’t, be prepared in advance is a great, healthy thing. Good luck.

    • meg

      I know your pregnancy has been a lot like mine, so a reminder (that I found SO hard to believe at the time): how you experience pregnancy has nothing to do with how you’ll experience motherhood. They’re just totally, totally different experiences (THANK GOD).

      Also, probably because of how awful my pregnancy was, I didn’t even have a birth plan. Well, I did. It’s still on our fridge. It says: “DON’T PANIC (everything will be just fine)” I’m super glad that was my plan, because like Morgan, talk about getting something I’d never planned for. I mean. Who’s birth plan would read “Six weeks of prodromal labor, followed by near precipitous labor, followed by and emergency c-section, followed by a follow up surgical procedure” NOBODY’S, that’s whose. But because my plan was just “Don’t panic,” plus being pretty educated about birth, I’m able to say I had a positive birth experience, which is bananas, right, considering?

      Plus, I kind of think that a terrible pregnancy can make L&D easier. At that point, I was like “I just want it to be OVER, I don’t even care how.” And it was, so I thought I’d won the lottery. Plus I got an amazing baby, which just felt like a bonus prize at that point.

      • I love everything about this comment, especially “DON’T PANIC (everything will be just fine).”

        • For real. That’s going on my fridge when I get home.

  • moe

    The reason I was attracted to APW was because so much of what’s said here resonated with me while I was planning my wedding. I knew in my gut that I didn’t need all the things the WIC was trying to sell me.

    Now I’m married, happy, not knowing what I’m doing but making it work somehow. I’m now trying to navigate the questions about motherhood and babies. I honestly don’t know if this can even happen for me. I might be too old, I might not be able to carry to term, I might not be able to afford raising a baby. I just don’t know. Not knowing is ok.

    So to hear this in all of your honesty and clarity is so awesome. Thank you.

    The “the paradigm of more” is something that I think is present in all of life’s phases. I think it’s a shift in attitude. At any moment you can choose how to perceive your current state whether it be single, in relationship, enagaged, married, etc…

  • Kate

    Love this! As a slightly less-new mom it’s been a profoundly eye-opening experience. Laser-like focus, yes! And cute shorts instead of yoga pants? Not quite yet! And my little sleep thief kept up that party until he was almost a year old. Finally had to shut it down. It’s been a pretty good year, and every day brings another reason to put on my yoga pants & smile.

    • Amy

      Ha, I’m totally stealing little sleep thief. Our little guy still isn’t 100% sleeping through now at 18 months, and a ‘full night’ usually means a 5:30am wake up. Ah well.

  • “This month is not about “You’ll see.” It’s about “look what I saw.””

    • What I meant to say (commenting with a sleeping baby in your lap is hard)…

      That’s it exactly. We’ve been very careful not to tell everyone that if they want to get married they need to use internet dating sites. Just because it worked for us doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone else. And everyone who told us that their method was the sure way to get married really annoyed us. So we’re trying to not be annoying.

      All we can do is share our experience. But we have to remember that it is our experience.

  • Love this. There is so much about sharing experiences that is so helpful. It’s definitely part of “we’re all in this together,” which makes it even more beneficial. When I was planning my wedding I often looked at the Wedding Graduate Posts here as a way to help me keep in mind what was important as we worked toward our end goal of married.

    And now, looking back on my wedding 3.5 months later, I wish I could go back and tell engaged me that it will work out and that while I wont’ cry on my wedding day I’ll come close and I’ll giggle and be surrounded by love. Which means that I wrote my engaged self a letter that’s tucked away on my hard drive while I decide what to do with it.

  • KateM

    Amen!! Half way through my first day back to work and leaving the baby for the first time. Hard day.
    I agree with the whole post and needed to hear it. I am switching jobs later this month because I now know I need to make it worth it, and if work isn’t furthering my life goals and happiness, it is time to cut and run, because who has time for that shit. I am encouraged to be better and healthier because we are the example and get to be the ones to teach him how to live.
    I found this about marriage too, it is so much easier to be the true you when you are seen and loved exactly how you are. That unconditional love from this little man is humbling and amazing and inspiring.
    I also am far more aware of my appearance than I was before. It is totally superficial in a way, but because I am loving this baby thing, I feel like I want to make it look as attractive as possible. Not in an untruthful way but show that you can still have style and wear heels after you have a baby. I want my exterior to show the interior reality, that I am thriving.

  • Rachelle

    Ugh, thank you. I hear a lot more of the “less” paradigm just become of my environment. It is so good to hear (as we’re trying to conceive) this perspective. I just want to hang out with you and let your release of control rub off on me, Meg. lol

    • lady brett

      i suppose it’s normal for folks to want to quantify things, but i wish the talk weren’t of “less” and “more,” but of “different.”

      because my experience has been that before we had kids, things were *so good* that i was nervous to change them. having kids, even in our crazy circumstances, was *so good* that i wasn’t sure i wanted to take a break between them going home and our next placement. not having kids again is *so, so good* that i’m beginning to be afraid, again, of changing it. so i am having to remind myself again, that different is not the same as less or more, or as better or worse.

      (although, admittedly, it’s so easy to make having kids sound *terrible*, because the terrible stuff makes *such good stories!*)

  • I was going to write something smart, but I’m just too damned busy today. So to touch on the “Don’t Panic…” note — our family mantra is “you get what you get, and you don’t pitch a fit.” Goes for everything.

    Also having a super crappy pregnancy, I always call Duncan my prize in the Cracker Jack box. ‘Cause he is. And he’s out. :)

  • Cali

    This is so reassuring. My husband, in particular, is 100% convinced that the moment we have a baby that’s the death knell for any remaining hopes and dreams we have that haven’t yet been achieved… and it’s hard for me not to worry the same thing. It’s so easy to believe the cultural narrative that, somehow, everything about you will change into some sort of crazy obsessed MOTHER AND ONLY MOTHER, and that everything else in your life will fall by the wayside (and if it doesn’t, you may very well be called “selfish” and branded a “bad mom”). I’ve always felt like it would be possible to balance both, and be happy in fulfilled both as parents and as individual human beings… but it’s a little terrifying to constantly hear that, once you pull the trigger, your life as you know it will end so better say so long to all your hopes, dreams, hobbies, and friends.

    Thanks for the more level-headed and reassuring perspective.

    • anon

      This. Especially the part about your husband. Mine is the same way and I don’t know how to convince him that life doesn’t have to be over. .. any men want to write about this??

  • Ashley

    Thanks Meg, as always, for being a refreshing voice in a sea of general madness. Every time you write about having a child, it makes me think it is something I could actually do. I find the other narratives about being a mother so full of fear or so over the top THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER that I can’t seem to connect with any of it.

    My husband and I haven’t decided to have kids yet, but reading your experiences makes me more confident that we could do it and it won’t ruin our lives and that it could actually be a positive. Thanks for that helpful reminder. :)

  • Katie

    Thank you – I loved this piece and needed to hear it. I’m the mom to a 12 month old boy who makes me feel exasperated and exhausted and also makes my heart fill up with love and joy and amazement. Moms can be so tough on each other, and are determined to present a front of total control (including myself!) You totally hit the nail on the head when you said that parenthood is about rescinding the control, having patience, and allowing it to happen to you. Families are better off if parents can embrace the joy and the imperfections and just enjoy themselves.

    And as a side note, I love your writing. It’s obviously composed with candor and passion and humor and respect – and that really comes through in all your posts