7 Things My Child Has Taught Me In Our First Year
Updated: Mar 10, 2020
My son turned one last week. ONE. ONE YEAR OLD. As I reminisced (OK fine, cried) over the photos and videos of him growing from a newborn to a legit toddler, I couldn’t help but notice how different I seemed, too. He’s grown, but I’ve grown, too. His existence in my life has taught me more about myself than I ever thought possible. Lessons I desperately needed, but was struggling to learn any other way. He may not be speaking full sentences, and he may poop his pants on the reg, but he’s the best teacher I’ve ever had.
Here’s a non-exhaustive, in no particular order, list of what I’ve learned so far:
I have good instincts. The day before we left for our first plane ride with my son (an international vacation to Spain!), I could tell something was up with him. He was acting mostly normal, but tugged on his ear a few times. No fever, no excessive crying or fussiness, just a little off. My gut told me very firmly, “He has an ear infection. He needs antibiotics.” A quick trip to urgent care and an hour or so later, my instinct was confirmed as the doctor said, “You were right, Mom! He’s got an ear infection brewing!” Of all the things on my extensive packing list for Barcelona, Amoxicillin had not been one of them, but I’m so grateful I trusted my gut and we didn’t have to attempt getting antibiotics in another country.
I am capable. One of the symptoms I felt the most from my postpartum OCD was being afraid of being left alone with my baby. While the logical part of my brain knew I was capable of caring for him, my heart had a hard time believing it. Even as the days of my solo care stacked up during my maternity leave, I still felt terrified. Am I doing this right? Am I good at this? He’d surely be better off with someone else. But one late, late night, with my son crying and screaming at the top of his lungs after waking up, I took him from my husband and landed upon the perfect combination of “shh” and rocking tempo and firm yet soft hold on his tiny thrashing body. He calmed, and then quieted, and then fell asleep. I felt like a freaking superhero. It was the first time I really felt like, “I can do this.”
I am supported. The first six months after my son was born were some of the loneliest times of my life. Here he was, this perfect little human, half me and half the love of my life, and yet, I didn’t feel that connection. I felt broken. It was a different type of loneliness than I had ever known: it wasn’t that I was alone - it was that my supposed ultimate best friend was right here, with me all the time, and I felt incapable of connection. I felt alone and ashamed and scared that we would never have that connection I was promised. But even in the darkest of those moments, I knew in my heart I wasn’t truly alone. When I was finally honest about my feelings with my husband, and then my closest friends, and then my family, and then my therapist, and then my postpartum support group, and then the world, I realized that my circle of support was far wider than I could have ever imagined. That support network made it possible for me to come out of my shame cave, breathe a little, and let my connection with my son build naturally. (This lesson was a big inspiration for the “You are strong. You are loved” bodysuit and t-shirt design!)
I am going to make mistakes. Whether it’s forgetting a pacifier or toys or diaper bag (or all of the above: guilty) when we go to run errands or pulling over in a panic because I realized I forgot to buckle my son into his car seat (yup that happened), I’m going to make mistakes. It’s inevitable. I will never forget the guilt and shame I felt after forgetting to buckle him in… but perhaps more so, I will never forget the acceptance and relief I felt after talking to my close mama friend about it. I reluctantly admitted to her why I felt like I was a terrible mother (“I drove THREE BLOCKS before I realized! They should take him away from me!”) and she lovingly and forcefully reminded me that a. I am human, b. Humans make mistakes, and c. “We’ve all been there.” Obviously, some mistakes will be bigger than others, some mistakes may have detrimental consequences, and all mistakes are likely going to have varying levels of guilt or shame attached. But whether we like it or not, they will happen. It doesn’t make us bad moms or bad parents, it makes us human.
I need to ask for help. Ugh. This one is my least favorite. I do not like asking for help. Does anyone? But having a newborn baby is one of those times that you really just need to swallow your pride or your independence or whatever it is that keeps you from scrawling “SOS” in baby food on your forehead because, and I really mean this, We. Are. Not. Supposed. To. Do. This. Alone. And just because you/we can, doesn’t mean we should. I was so reluctant to ask for help that I tried to over correct and would sometimes find myself trying to help others even though I was barely keeping my head above water. The only person I felt comfortable getting help from was my husband and even then, I still felt like a burden. It wasn’t until my son was several months old that I realized, after a fit of rage, I needed help. Like I REALLY needed help. I felt so helpless and so broken that I knew there was no getting out of this without professional intervention. I’m grateful every day that I had previous experience with therapy and medication and I knew how to find support for myself in that way, because I really needed it. I try not to think about it too much, but I sometimes wonder how different the whole experience would have been if I had asked for (and accepted) help from the very beginning: seen a therapist, been honest about what I needed with family and friends, and just said the simple words, “can you please help me?” I still struggle with the phrase, but I’m getting much better.
I need to love despite fear. For me (Enneagram 6 over here), the scariest thing about loving someone is that eventually, inevitably, they (or I) will be gone. How can I possibly give my whole heart to someone while knowing it may end in heartbreak? Unfortunately, in both my personal and professional life I’ve seen a lot of child loss, so my brain has become convinced that it’s much more common than it actually is. I realize now that likely one of the reasons I had such a hard time connecting to my son at first was because my heart didn’t know how to handle this new kind of love, especially one that came with so many risks. When he was born, it felt like, all in one moment, meeting someone, falling crazy in love with them, and then realizing they were teetering on the edge of a cliff while holding a big metal rod in a thunderstorm. Connecting, bonding, and truly loving this little creature who seemed so endangered and vulnerable felt like (and still feels like) a huge risk. But now, I realize that not loving him with everything that I have is the far greater risk. We are all going to die eventually, that’s a given. But if anything were to ever happen to me, to my husband, to my son, to anyone I love really, I know I would regret far more not giving them every ounce of love I had to give. Whatever heartbreak awaits, I realize now that not loving because of fear will only deepen that pain. If I am too scared to love out of fear for that love being lost, I’ve already lost to begin with.
I don’t need to know everything. I’m a big planner and a big researcher. Like, spend-hours-researching- reusable-Ziploc-bags-on-Amazon big. So naturally, the second I found out I was pregnant, I hit the internet to gather as much information as I could about, well, everything. (One night at about 8 weeks pregnant I sobbed because my husband wasn’t taking my “here’s when we can introduce dairy into baby’s diet” conversation attempt seriously.) But here’s the thing about babies and parenting and LIFE; you can’t and won’t ever know everything. The beauty is though, you don’t need to. For example: I spent a lot of time looking up different ways to cut baby’s nails without traumatizing them. Do it at night. Get these special nail clippers. Do it while nursing. File them. Sing songs to distract them. I was READY. But the hilarious thing is: my son, for some reason, loves when I cut his nails. For the most part, he just sits there, sporadically giggling, straddling my lap facing me, as I clip each nail, one by one. No distractions required. Kids are all different and weird and perfect and we can never assume we will 100% accurately anticipate their unique needs. And likewise, we shouldn’t, because just like it’s important for them to learn, it’s important for them to see us learn, too.
What has your child taught you? Big lessons or small, I want to know!