My friend likes to tell the story about when she saw me with my newborn for the first time.
She was visiting one day and I stumbled into the living room. I was heavy-eyed and disheveled, my nightgown stained with breast milk. Both breasts had leaked, my hair tangled – apparently I made my way to the diaper changing table and changed a diaper, then made my way out of the room again, without even acknowledging her presence. Thankfully she was understanding. It made her realize, she said, that this is real motherhood looks like.
She’s right. Real motherhood is messy.
I can’t tell you the number of shirts, bras, and nightgowns that got stained with breast milk. I discovered early on that if left there more than a few hours, it would sour and begin to smell. There were some days I got poop, pee, spit-up and breast milk all on my clothes in one day. And I would just wipe them off and keep going. I didn’t have time to worry about it, that’s all.
Real motherhood is tiring.
There were some days when I managed to piece together enough sleep to feel pretty good. But there were a lot of days where I was tired, headachy and short-tempered. Being chronically sleep deprived is tough. I remember one morning when my baby was about three months old, he woke up at 4:30 a.m. I thought he would sleep longer, and I did not relish that wake-up call. I could barely muster the willpower to get out of bed. And, I’ll be honest… I was grumpy.
I picked the baby up and went into the living room. I sat down and fed him, and then I placed him in his bouncer. He clung to my finger, and then he looked up at me and smiled the biggest smile.
We had seen little hints of smiles up until now, but it was the first time he had smiled like that, and it completely melted my heart. My grumpiness faded away, replaced with gratitude, and a deep realization that this was all worth it. I tried to remember that moment in the days and weeks that followed, when I was tempted to give in to frustration because I was so tired and unstrung – it helped me get through a lot of tough moments.
It’s funny – I don’t remember that story my friend tells. I’m sure it happened, and there were a lot of days where I looked like that – messy and disheveled. But that’s not what I remember.
What I remember is that moment at 5 a.m. when I really didn’t want to be there, and my baby looked up and melted my heart with his smile. Moments like that stick out in my memory, amidst all the messiness, sleepiness, and difficulties. I remember his little fingers clinging to mine. I remember nights where I rocked and sang him to sleep. I remember baby cuddles, and snuggles, and smiles. I remember a little baby who depended on me, whom I loved to nurture.