40 Women On What No One Told Them About Being A Parent
We asked mums what surprised them — for better or for worse — about having kids.
It’s the greatest gift. It’s the hardest job. It’s sooooo tiring. There are plenty of true-enough clichés that get thrown about on the subject of raising kids. But what about the unexpected, essential, nitty-gritty details? We asked mums what aspect, large or small, surprised them the most about parenthood. Here’s what they told us.
“It’s breathtaking when you have to clean up poop at 3 a.m. on a weekday and you’re reassuring the kid that everything is fine — only love this deep could make that possible.” — Jaeda, 40
“Sometimes, all the patience in the universe isn’t enough to get you through the 24-hour bender of bottles, diaper changes, nightmares, teething pain, and toddler tantrums.” — Ann Marie, 44
“That it might not be love at first sight. I had so many expectations about what that moment would be like when I saw her for the first time. And don’t get me wrong, it was a crazy experience and very emotional, but it was also like, who is this person? And why won’t she stop crying? And is she always going to be this red and swollen and weird-looking? No one told me that I wouldn’t have an instant connection with my baby, and that it would take a few weeks for her to smile at me and recognise me for me to fall in love with her. I also didn’t understand the toll breastfeeding would take. I’d heard it was hard, but I didn’t know how depressed it would make me when it didn’t work, and how I would have to ice my boobs after every feeding because they were so sore. Next-level pain!” —Abbey, 26
“Everyone talks about the terrible twos, and lately threenagers — but is there a nickname for six-year-olds? Six is a combination of what they learn at home and the socialisation at school. It’s them positioning to be seen as a big kid, and it’s been difficult to navigate how to teach autonomy and being respectful. I have to unlearn so much of what I thought was good parenting to ensure I don’t pass down internalised issues.” — Tanya, 40
“How much more resentment I’d feel about my own mother’s intolerance of my gay relationship. I couldn’t imagine not trying harder to gain compassion and understanding for my children about the person they love.” — Felicidad, 35
“I guess the thing I was most surprised by is having a baby. That may sound weird, but there is so much emphasis put on the pregnancy period: how things should be progressing, what labour will be like. There is way less conversation about what it's like to take a baby home and suddenly be in charge of this tiny person. I thought I'd be fine because I was seven when my sister was born and I grew up taking care of her, which sounds really funny now. I remember getting home and just thinking, "oh my god — what is normal for the first 24 hours?" I can say now that I wish I had spent zero time making a birthing plan and all my time prepping for having a baby. Our society is so individualistic now that we’ve lost a lot of collective care-taking traditions. I feel like you use to grow up watching mothers and parents care for their babies and now you don't see that. New moms probably feel more supported in places where there is still that sense of tribalism or community.
“I didn’t love having a little baby. The newborn phase just wasn't for me. It was stressful with my first. Now that I’ve just had my second I’m trying to just relax and enjoy it and catch up on TV shows rather than worrying about being in the park taking the perfect photo. I try not to spend too much time on Instagram, which is hard because it’s such an obvious and convenient thing to do when you’re sitting in the dark feeding your baby in the middle of the night. It is a really bad idea, though. You see all of these perfect images and you just feel like crap.” — Abby, 36
“You constantly doubt yourself or question if you’re doing the right thing. You blame yourself when things don’t go right. You feel more responsible for your child’s well-being and success than anyone else. And almost every decision you make now will have some kind of impact on your child for the rest of their lives. It can be a lot.” — Akilah, 39
“That you’re not a horrible person for not wanting to be Mom on some days.” — Bernisha, 36
“I thought I had married a woke millennial man, and then the baby arrived and there were an enormous amount of assumptions about what I was going to be responsible for. I remember him saying to me, 'but you're full of all these hormones that key you up to be good at this.' I was like, it's not hormones, I have spent nine months reading and preparing. I remember one night he was lying up in bed reading this 800-page book that Obama had recommended. I was so annoyed! The only books I was reading were about how to keep our child alive. He was just totally clueless in the beginning. It got a lot better when I went back to work — I think that's important in terms of establishing balance. Still there is this overriding idea that I am the manager. He will say, 'if you want me to get up with her, just wake me up, or if you want me to do things, just write a list.' I don't want to write a list! Nobody is writing a list for me.” — Rachel, 38
“No one mentioned that some of us don’t come home with babies, and that’s if we survive. In fact, in some ways it’s still taboo. My daughter was stillborn last year and I almost lost my life. Prior to pregnancy I had no idea that the maternal and fetal mortality rates were so high for Black women. After overcoming days on life support and surviving a deadly e.coli sepsis infection, I made it my mission to educate myself on everything surrounding pregnancy, labour, and delivery. Additionally, it seemed that more women shared their story of miscarriage, stillbirth, and loss only after I went public with my story. We have to do better.” — Arion, 30
“How much you will need to create your own village to survive. And that your biggest job is just to survive. When someone told me that the biggest weight was lifted from me.” — Natalie, 35
“How much I'd still want to be an individual and not just a mother. I love my daughter deeply but am determined to make time for me. Kids grow up to live their own lives — as they should. You deserve yours, too.” — Gabby, 47
“I have less to talk about when I’m hanging out with my friends who don't have kids. I can only imagine how obnoxious that sounds, but the truth is that at this stage the things I think about, the media I consume — it’s mostly motherhood stuff. I don't know how many blow job stories I can hear anymore. I call it the Sad Samanthas — like from Sex and the City. I guess where I’m at in my life right now, I just don’t relate.” — Kate, 36
“How hard it is. It’s like no one wants to scare you with details about how stressed, tired, and worried you will be from now on. I suppose it’s not something that anyone can really put into words. Maybe it’s just easier to pretend it’s all good or we would all be depressed… although I think a lot of moms are.” — Naomi, 40
“You have this gorgeous mini person who you love most in the entire universe, but when they get cranky and demanding during the toddler and preschool years, oh dear lord, hold me. Oh, also the 'you’ll be tired all the time' thing everyone tells you before having a baby — they do not emphasise that enough. I am freaking exhausted. All. The. Time.” — Gail, 42
“That parenting gets harder emotionally rather than easier.” — Trixie, 44
“That shitting yourself during birth was a thing. WTF?!” — Camille, 37
“I always assumed the stereotypes around little boys and little girls were based on conditioning and outdated attitudes about gender. My wife and I are progressive and we had this idea of gender neutrality. Then my son came and I can honestly say he’s extremely boyish. We bought him a couple of dolls and he’s just not interested. He wants to break things and play with trucks. He’s obsessed with buses. He’s definitely not getting that from either of his moms.” — Katie, 36
“Recovery time after birth and all the things you need, like frozen pads soaked in witch hazel and inflatable donuts. It takes so much more time than I thought to heal.” — Kim, 33
“That it could make me feel so lonely sometimes, but also more connected to humanity than ever. I struggled to find my flow with my first kid, so I sometimes spent whole weeks barely speaking to anyone except a tiny baby who didn’t talk back. The connection came from realising the huge responsibility of caring for brand-new people who would one day be out in the world on their own, what kind of people they would become, and thinking about what kind of world I was contributing to, and what I wanted to help create for my kids. It made me crave a community of care in a way I hadn’t before becoming a mother. Having kids has really tied me to the here and now, the neighbourhood, and the generations before and after me in ways I didn’t expect.” — Chelsea, 29
“Mummy brain. I have no short-term memory after having a kid. It’s absolutely terrible.” — Brenda, 35
“How lonely and sad it can be. You can’t help but worry that your life is over. With time these feelings lessen, but at the start it was overwhelming. Motherhood and the post-partum period is always depicted as so beautiful and the most amazing feeling. When I didn’t feel that, I thought something was wrong with me and I wasn't deserving of my baby. I remember sweating and my head spinning thinking about what my life would be like — how would I ever go out for dinner, go see a movie, have a night away? Things have definitely gotten better, and I’ve learned to accept help, because you cannot do it alone!” — Cassandra, 28
“Blueberry poops.” — Dese'Rae, 36
“People promise to be there after baby, but the phone or doorbell never ring with the help you actually need.” — Tanayisha, 26
“That you bleed after giving birth, A LOT, and over WEEKS — like, the big Depends disposable panty along with the super maxi pad. It might seem obvious now, but all the books and websites I read, all the people I talked to, no one ever mentioned the bleeding. For someone used to a light three- or four-day period, that was a shock.” — Aline
“No one, not a single damn person, told me how difficult that first shit was going to be! I cried like a baby and thought I was going to tear, and I didn't tear during labour. After an hour of pushing out a turd, I still didn't have much sensation down there, everything was swollen — it was a traumatic experience.” — Jayed, 30
“Before I had a baby a lot of my value and self-esteem came from my career. I work in film and TV and I was used to wrapping projects, getting a lot of credit and respect from colleagues. With a baby, you're working just as hard — harder! — and there’s nobody saying 'good job'. I’m working on figuring out how to feel a sense of accomplishment in my role as a mom. I remember my own mom saying, 'I quit.' I get it.” — Melissa, 44
“The thing I can't get over is how challenging breastfeeding is. It's presented as this easy, natural thing and that has not been my experience. From day one it has been really hard and awkward. I ended up using a breastfeeding consultant, which I used to think was a frivolous rich-person thing.” — Maria, 37
“I don’t mean this to sound smug, but I honestly haven’t found parenting as challenging as it has often presented. I’m a relaxed person, and I don’t tend to second-guess myself. And of course I’m lucky to have had things go relatively smoothly for the first few years now. I don’t relate to this whole cutesy mommy culture that’s all about talking about how hard everything is. I think maybe it’s because there’s this idea that you’re supposed to turn your role as a mom into your entire identity. Being a parent has been wonderful. I love my daughter more than I can express, but it’s also something I added to my life and now, it’s like, move forward.” — Marie, 39
“That I could give birth to a blonde-haired, white kid. My husband is white, but as a brown woman I always assumed I'd have brown kids. There was definitely some initial shock. Also, I’m totally fine being away from my kids. Before I became a parent, people would say 'oh, you’ll never want to leave them.' Listen, I’m absolutely obsessed with my kids, but I am very okay getting away for a few days. I have friends with kids who have never spent a night apart from their children and that’s just not me. It’s almost like there’s this pressure, like I should pretend that I miss my kids.” — Indira, 39
“What no one told me is that it’s fucking impossible to get pregnant. Turns out all of the money I spent on condoms was a waste. Not only how hard it is to get pregnant, but [how hard it is] to get information on fertility after 40. My experience was brutal. I kept getting pregnant and then miscarrying early. I went to a doctor and they basically looked at my age on a chart, which was 38 at the time, and said, 'it’s your age.' I understand that getting pregnant in your late 30s can be more difficult — I was doing IVF, so I get it. But the more I learned, the more I felt like there might be something else, something not age-related going on and my doctor was just not willing to entertain that. I had seven failed pregnancies! I met a lot of women online in the infertility community and no one had that experience. It was one of those women who suggested I ask for a laproscopy. Turns out I had endometriosis and as soon as I had the surgery to fix it I got pregnant and carried my son to term. I guess the lesson is that age is an important factor, but it’s not the only thing. When I think of all the emotional pain I could have saved… and the money!” — Lindsey, 40
“I grew up in a pretty typical WASP family — stiff upper lip, not a lot of talking about emotions. After I had my daughter I felt like I wasn't equipped with the language or the communications skills to explain what I was going through. I felt so isolated, and even though I have a supportive partner, he was having a completely different experience being back at work. We just didn't know how to talk to each other about what we were going through. For the longest time I felt disconnected with who I was before I was a mom, like I didn't know how to be myself in this new context. I'd be at a concert or hanging out with friends and it just felt so, I don't know, weird.
"Mummy groups are supposed to be about women supporting each other, bonding over this new experience. In my experience though, there was a lot of posturing. Like, 'I'm a great mum, and I'm doing this type of feeding.' It’s weird because all of a sudden you’re spending all of this time with these women that you don’t know that well. It can be helpful in terms of sharing advice, but the conversations tend to be pretty hollow. I'd be sitting there having yet another conversation about sleep training or whatever and it was like, oh my god — poke my eyes out.” — Ash, 35
“I had my first daughter seven years ago when I was in my early 30s. It's true that no one can prepare you for how exhausted you will be as a parent. Also true: My 30-year-old self didn't even know the meaning of the word. I'm almost 10 years older and I swear I'm 10 times as tired. It’s crazy. On the flip side I'm less, I guess you could say, emotionally tired. With my first baby I was so anal about rules for sleep time and sterilisation. Baby number two drinks tap water and falls asleep wherever we are. I would say my husband and I are able to be a lot more chill and enjoy it this time around, when we're not sleeping.” — Lindsay, 40
“I know this is kind of the opposite of what you're asking, but being a parent is sort of what I expected. When you read a lot of parenting media or social media, there is this idea that you're supposed to have some kind of spiritual awakening when you become a mum, but that hasn't been my experience. I don't feel like my life has changed that much — granted I have a lot of support. I think maybe because I didn’t take a mat leave, I never really got into that headspace of going full mum. I don’t think I would’ve been able to handle a year of being home with my baby. I think either I would’ve been bored or gone crazy.” — Alanna, 36
“I had no idea how dark those first few months were going to be. I felt so sad and anxious. There is this baby and I'm obligated to love her, but I just wasn't feeling that. I was so stressed out about when my feelings were going to change. I wish I had known that what I was going through was pretty normal post-partum. I started writing about my experience on my blog and so many women reached out to say they had gone through something similar. Why don't we hear more about that? I also got people saying things like, 'oh, but that first smile, or that first giggle.' I was sleep-deprived and depressed and I’ve got to tell you that a smile wasn’t going to cut it. Things became more tolerable around six months and by eight months it was totally amazing. Now whenever one of my friends is pregnant, I tell them, it might not be this amazing experience at the start and that’s okay.” — Katy, 34
“I feel like everybody talks so much about how hard it is, and I was sort of surprised at how not hard it has been for me. It's a lot of changes, but it's also crazy how quickly that just becomes your new reality and you roll with it, you make it work. I say that as someone who has a supportive partner, lots of family around and a pretty easy kid, so I guess I’m just lucky.
“No one tells you how sweaty you will be. I can’t do polyester anymore. No way. And I used to hate winter, but now... it’s not that bad to cool down a bit.” — Holly, 38
“I remember leaving the hospital after having my first son and thinking, 'what are we going to do with this thing?' All I can say is thank god for Google. We were using it an obscene amount of times in those first few weeks: colour of poop, texture of poop, can you survive on one hour sleep, does Starbucks deliver after-hours.” — Kelly, 36
“Having a second baby isn’t doubling the work, it’s multiplying it by 10. When you have one kid and two parents, you can trade back and forth and you can parent together. Now, we’re like, divide and conquer. He’s on the three-year-old and I’m with the newborn. I feel lonely, but I’m hoping it’s just a stage.
“With my first kid, I wanted to do everything. With my second I’ve just said, 'okay, for the next eight weeks I’m just going to take care of this tiny human and binge-watch six seasons of Parenthood.' That’s literally all I did, and you know, cutting myself that slack was a really good thing. That’s something nobody tells you: Line up a show. I don't even mind doing a 3 a.m. feeding because I get to watch another episode.” — Aleks, 34
“I assumed that the baby would be born and I would breastfeed. No one said anything to me about the struggles and challenges: latching, production, infection. In every movie, it’s this totally blissful, natural, easy experience so when it didn't work out that way for me, I was extremely shocked. If I had known how isolating those first few months at home with a newborn would be, I would have planned for it. I would have reached out to other soon-to-be mums beforehand, so that I had those connections. I know you can join mummy groups after you have the baby, but I just felt so tired and not myself — not exactly in the best headspace to meet new people.” — Sandy, 43
“The hit your lifestyle takes is just insane. If you want to do anything it’s like, oh sure — just let me grab my anvil of a changing bag. You have this idea that your kids are just going to fit into your lifestyle and then you realise who’s running the show. I remember signing up for a mummy-and-baby yoga class. I thought: this’ll be great: either he’ll sleep or he’ll do yoga with me. Well no — he just cried the whole time. Baby tantrums are the worst because it’s not like you can be stern or discipline them. You just have to sit there and kind of look apologetic. — Maggie, 35
“How often I feel the need to defend my parenting choices. As a parent, you're always kind of winging it. When something comes up, I'll do a little research — Google what other people have to say, and then I make the decision that I think is best. And then suddenly it's like you have to stand 100% behind every choice you make, and I’m like, well wait, I’m just doing my best here. I don’t always know if I’ve done the right thing. I breastfed my son for a long time. We hear a lot about parents being shamed for not breastfeeding, but I got the other side of that, which is shamed for doing it for too long.” — Franca, 41
“Becoming a mum doesn’t look or feel the same for everyone. It’s okay to feel or experience things other moms can’t relate to. You will find your tribe in time.” — Meghan, 36