Most of my friends and I were in our early to mid-30’s when we had our first children. This is a good thing according to the book Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Apparently being an ‘older’ (um, really? 34 is old?) mother means that, statistically, my children will do better in school. I like to think that’s true, especially when I do the math and realize that when my daughter graduates from high school I will be 51. My mom was 37…yikes.
Being older really helped me appreciate this stage of life and the year that I was going to spend bonding with J, our first child. After working hard on my career since graduating university, I was ready to enjoy the year with my new daughter. And I did. It’s not for everyone, but motherhood and I embraced each other like, well, a mother and her baby. I did then and do now love it – most of the time.
Many of us in Canada are lucky to get to enjoy a year ‘off’ on maternity leave. And I love how people describe these 365 days. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bond with your newborn and enjoy a change of pace. But let’s call a spade a spade. We’re not talking about a year’s sabbatical sitting on an island off Fiji reading literary masterpieces and getting oxygen facials every morning (If anyone knows how to apply for that type of sabbatical, please let me know right away).
Let’s just look at the year that is/was or will be. Spoiler Alert for any soon-to-be-new-mother…
During the said year “off,” you may or may not have to deal with the following: healing from childbirth whether it be a c-section or episiotomy or just plain pushing out a turkey-sized being through your most private of parts, sore nipples, sore breasts, leaking breasts, breasts that won’t produce, breasts that over-produce, superbreasts (a girlfriend had one of these, her one boob did the work of two), babies who reject your breasts, babies who like to bite your breasts, sagging breasts, shrinking breasts. B-cup, where did you go?!? (and we think men are obsessed with breasts…just take five minutes and talk to a new mother…)
Your weight gain, your wrinkle gain, the baby’s worrying weight loss, SEVERE sleep deprivation, constant anxiety about and not excluded to; SIDS, your baby attaining developmental milestones, whether or not Telehealth can/will call Children’s Aid to take your baby back because you have called them one too many times about any or all of the following; potential fever, whooping cough, croup, the baby rolled off the bed, the baby has been rolled on by the dog, the baby does not roll over at all. The baby seems to have a cold, is having an allergic reaction, is definitely sick because she slept through the night for the first time ever. Oh wait, they actually do that?
Then there is the emotional stress with good-intentioned but overbearing in-laws, dis-engaged in-laws, judgmental neighbors and strangers telling you the baby is crying because he or she is cold, hungry, overfed, underfed, wants to sit-up, spit-up, lie down, go for a walk, go to bed, play, be changed. According to these people the now 10-month-old does not walk early enough, babble loquaciously enough, or eat solid foods heartily enough.
Combine all this with late-night arguing with husband over anything and everything to do with the baby, finances, his third Saturday of tennis in a month and let me tell you, a Fijian paradise feels thousands of miles away.
And then, just like with the pain of labor (but totally unlike a root canal – have you ever met anyone who forgot how painful their root canal was?), over the course of that all-consuming, occasionally aggravating and enlightening 365 days, all the hard parts get dulled and the truth of how awesome motherhood is remains. OK, maybe not the sleep deprivation.
Slowly or suddenly, you decide that your family is not complete. Many of us, whether we are lucky enough to be able to conceive on our own or through fertility treatments or adoption, start trying again, and others again and again (like that family of 17!).
What a difference a year makes.