All the feels: What the first 3 months of motherhood is like (one person’s experience)
I’ve felt so many things I never knew I had in me — good and bad — during these first few months of motherhood. Thanks to everyone I’ve talked to who has related or shared their own stories. That connection is one of the many best things about being a mom.
I’ve had the most support imaginable — paid maternity leave, extremely supportive family, friends who are also new moms, and above all a healthy baby. There’s still a lot I wish I had known. Here’s some of what I’m feeling.
1) “Long stretches of boredom punctuated by short bursts of terror”
To make the baby sleep, I walk endless circles around my bedroom with him. I try not to look at the clock, but it taunts me — maybe you’ll get 40 minutes of sleep…no, maybe 30…20. I hate that clock. Under the general happiness, there’s exhaustion in every house with a newborn in it. It’s grim.
During the 10 hours of daily feedings, I obsessively read and reread the same articles about breastfeeding, parenting, and politics on my tiny phone screen. I look for anyone to tell me that the world is getting better and my kid will sleep more tomorrow. But when he finally sleeps, I wake up terrified that something has gone wrong and jump out of bed to poke him awake. I sigh in sheer relief that he’s alive when he cries.
2) Evolution is a powerful beast
When the baby cries, I hear, mom, help me! It’s a physical pain. He cries on the way back from our first road trip. We stop at what feels like every gas station and agricultural field in California. I walk him around, fanning away fertilizer fumes and the smell of gasoline, both of us crying. I sing to him until he falls asleep, then we speed home faster than I’ve ever driven. We don’t take any more road trips.
3) The Full Human Experience
I had thought I was a mature, rational person who knew myself. Now my husband’s dirty dishes in the sink send me into unreasonable rage. So now I have to keep a tiny baby alive and clean up after a fully functioning adult?
But in the middle of the night, I sit in bed and hold my sleeping baby. I watch his perfect eyelids and tiny hands in the light spilling in from the streetlamps. I imagine his future — broken bones from horsing around, first-romance heartbreak, school graduations — and I can’t contain my excitement and fear.
4) Breastfeeding is the worst
Every time I sit down at my kitchen counter, dazed and ravenous, I fear the cry that means my time is up and it’s time for the baby to feed again. The bedroom feels like a prison where I wait for the baby to get hungry. I sleep for no more than a few hours at a time. Eating becomes a chore I only do to produce milk.
My body didn’t produce enough milk for the first few weeks. The one thing you’re supposed to do as a mother is feed and protect your child. I cry every time I look at him. Knowing he’s hungry because of me is unbearable.
To attend a work dinner, I get there early, then pump in my car in downtown Palo Alto, trying to keep covered and avoid eye contact with passersby. Will someone I know see me? Will the police knock on my window and ask why I’m sitting in a parked car with a vibrating box of tubes attached to my chest?
What is pumping like? Once, when I was young, I took a school field trip to a dairy. That’s what it’s like.
At my most resentful, I wonder — what would men do? How would they react to spending two months trapped in a small room alone with a baby? In what world would they step out of important business meetings, attach plastic suction cups to their nipples, and crank up a vacuum that sucks milk out of them — multiple times a day, for months?
5) There’s no such thing as guilt-free living
I feel guilty about everything I might be doing wrong. Forget the guilt of going back to work — I worry about just sipping a decaf latte. A long shower seems like an undeserved luxury. I end up standing in the shower and hearing phantom cries, turning the water on and off every minute to see if the cries are real.
6) My marriage changes
Every night, when the baby finally goes to sleep, my husband and I lie in bed and look at the pictures we’ve taken of the baby today. We whisper stories under the white noise about what he did, and marvel together at our perfect little peanut.
But we use up all our affection and patience and playfulness on this little creature we fell in love with, and have none left for each other. I get angry every time I see my husband in exercise clothes — why should he go for a run every day when I’m stuck here? Add exhaustion and every disagreement turns into a fight.
Pregnancy isn’t 50/50. Labor isn’t 50/50. Breastfeeding definitely isn’t 50/50. I try to explain — what I need is for someone to do the dishes, sit by me while I breastfeed, and make me feel less alone. But what new dad expects to do dishes instead of hanging out with the baby?
7) Everything is temporary
Yesterday the baby woke up screaming and hungry every hour and I sobbed in frustration and despair all night. Today he’s sunny and calm, and I’m mystified. Yesterday holding him upright and singing Norwegian Wood put him to sleep. Today I make myself hoarse singing the entire Beatles catalogue over his cries. The unpredictability is maddening.
When the baby falls asleep by himself in his rocker I’m thrilled by the little bit of independence it wins me. But a few hours later I cry thinking about how one day soon he’ll never again fall asleep on my chest.
8) I finally understand my parents
I suddenly know I’ll always see my son as the luminous, vulnerable baby he is today, just as my parents still see me as a tiny trusting child.
I have a smile of exhaustion and pride and possession every time I look at him. I realize it’s familiar because I’ve seen it every time my mom looks at me.
I call my mother a few months in and say, thank you, I love you, I’m sorry, you’re right about everything.
9) Life goes on
And then, like everything, the fear and exhaustion and joy become manageable. Everyone starts sleeping and eating a little more predictably. My relationships creep back toward normalcy. It seems impossible that I’m the same person who sobbed with rage and frustration through the early nights.
I’m inducted into a society of parents I never knew existed. Parents in the park ask about my baby and introduce their kids. I quietly sing nonsense to my baby on the street and walk by another mother whose kid is chanting mommy went pee-pee, mommy went pee-pee! and we both giggle. I text with other moms during exhausting midnight feeding sessions and feel less alone. There’s so much connection — to other parents, to my parents, and most of all to this tiny new perfect being. It’s amazing.