What No One Tells New Mothers

You will sometimes wonder if it was worth it.

Maybe you’ve dreamed of this your whole life. Maybe this is a pleasant surprise. Maybe you never wanted this, but felt you had no choice. Whatever led you down this path, you’re here now. Brace yourself, Alice, you’ve just fallen down the rabbit hole.

There are things here you never could have imagined, things no book or website or parenting expert could ever prepare you for. I’m not talking about sleep deprivation or mommy wars or any of the other dire warnings you’ve heard time and again. I’m talking about the inside of your own head.

There will be moments when you lie in bed and stare up at the ceiling and wonder what on earth made you think you could handle bringing a child into this world. You will want to run away, and then you’ll hate yourself for this moment of weakness, because you will believe (wrongly) that good mothers don’t feel this way. You’ll wonder who you are and how you became this person, and the person that you were before will stand quietly in the fading, foggy distance, beckoning you from time to time. Though you’ll never lose sight of her, you will never go back, not completely.

There will be moments, when your child is sick or hurting, in which you will feel your soul blister and char, and you will understand unequivocally why people use the term “heartbreak.” And amidst the agony, you will marvel at your capacity to love another human being so much that seeing them in pain can utterly wreck you.

There will be moments of profound happiness, the stuff of Hallmark cards and life insurance commercials. Your child will smile for the first time, call you “Mommy” for the first time, and you will feel something inside of you melt into pure bliss, and you will believe (probably briefly) that you’ve totally nailed this whole parenting thing. There will be times when you will feel such intense pride in this human that you’ve made, your body won’t be able to contain it all and some of it will leak from the corners of your eyes.

But between those moments is where your real life happens. There will be boredom, frustration, exhaustion. There will be times when your days are so repetitive and predictable, you’ll secretly fear that you’re living the plot of Groundhog’s Day. There will be anger, self-doubt, and helplessness. You will hear people say “it takes a village” and wonder just where the hell that village is. You will, paradoxically, be so inundated with unwanted advice and unsolicited opinions that you will want to punch someone in the face, yet you will also feel more alone than you’ve ever been in your life.

But there will also be contentment, laughter, pleasure in routine. And there will be something else, something you can’t quite define. You will press your nose to that spot on the top of your sleeping child’s head, and you will feel something that defies description. You’ll feel love, of course—a love that you thought only existed in stories—but like a fine wine or complex perfume, the sweetness will be tempered by the slightest bitter note: a sliver of fear. This thin wisp has escaped from a deeply hidden but fathomless well in your subconscious where every horrifying possibility exists—all the things that could harm your child, all the ways you could screw up this tremendous responsibility nestled in your arms.

A love like this can’t exist without gut-wrenching terror at the possibility of losing it. It’s an experience like nothing else in this world, and in the secret heart that you hide even from yourself, you will sometimes wonder if it was worth it.

Welcome to motherhood.

Morgan Herbert has been writing professionally since 2008. Her work has appeared on parenting websites including Sammiches and Psych Meds and in print magazines like Blue Ridge Country. She blogs sporadically about politics, culture, and what it means to be Appalachian.

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