What I Didn’t Know

When I became a mother I had no idea what I had just signed on for. Of course, I had heard people talk about what having kids is like, but at 20 years old, why bother to listen? I was just past the “I’m 18s” and I knew everything I needed to know.

Or so I thought.

I didn’t know that while being able to hold my pink squirming little one and make eye contact with her was amazing, I would also suffer from strange imaginations, serious sadness, and horrifying thoughts. Postpartum depression wasn’t really talked about in the early 90s, and I had no idea what to make of it except that I thought I was going just a little bit crazy. Knowing that I wasn’t, that there is a physiological reason behind what I was feeling, would have helped me so much.

There was never a time in my life, prior to having my first child, when I felt myself turn into a beast who would protect something—or someone—no matter what. This almost animal urge just flamed in me in a moment I felt my daughter was in danger, and there was no reining it in. I would have killed or died for her at that moment. Thankfully it didn’t come to that, but my intervention had been necessary. It has only happened a small handful of times, but when “Momma Bear” shows up, look out.

There is nothing so sweet, or so frustrating, as a child. Who else could lay her head on my shoulder and gently fall asleep one afternoon,  and the next day decides to become a surgeon and cut a hole in my (new) queen-size comforter just “to see what’s inside”? I mean, who does that?! Only a child.


“I don’t know.”

And yet we had more children.

When my first was a baby, reflux forced her to sleep on a wedge. She wasn’t able to sleep laying flat until she was crawling, and only then because she wouldn’t stay in the harness on the wedge anymore. There were never overnight snuggles in our bed, and God forbid we ever mentioned wishing for that because all the older folks in our lives told us we’d spoil her. Baby #2 came along, and claimed a space in our bed. For two years. At two she was sneaky about it, coming in after we fell asleep.

We didn’t mind. The next two also claimed space in mom & dad’s bed and didn’t end up spoiled. They were well-fed, slept better than my oldest, and were loved well. I wish that someone had told me that babies’ biggest need is to be held and loved well. Always, the first child is “the experiment” and the others benefit from what parents learn from the first.

There’s nothing like a baby’s smile to melt your heart, and nothing like a teenager’s angry words to break it. This same chubby, snuggly infant I nursed and loved became a nasty, almost scary girl with a sharp tongue. It’s hard to see your little lovey bean when she’s screaming profanities at you. But you have to do it. You may want to scream back or even run away for a month, but you have to just do it.

I never realized that raising kids would be the hardest thing I would ever do. I think I figured it would just happen; that’s how it seemed when I was growing up. Parents just had kids, and they grew up and whatever happened, happened, and you just went with it. It’s so much bigger than that. Harder, sweeter, more confusing and complicated and frustrating and hilarious and just plain mind-boggling at times.

I think that if someone had been able to tell me all of these things, I probably would not have been able to even grasp half of it. It simply has to be experienced to be understood.

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