To All the Young Ladies

August 5, 2010

On my recent vacation to Tennessee to visit family, I had the pleasure of visiting some long-time friends. This particular group of friends is a married couple with five teen-aged children, one of whom is completely smitten with her first boyfriend. (Boy, do I remember those days!) Of course, I had William in tow, so the conversation turned to perspectives on motherhood. The girls wanted to know the best and worst of raising a child from a new mother and an outsider, and I was happy to oblige.

Becoming a mother changes your lifestyle, your body, your perspective, your priorities, and your marriage. Any pre-child goals and ambitions are not necessarily put out of reach by having a child, but they become much harder to achieve. Your time is no longer your own to use as you please. Be prepared for interrupted phone calls, TV shows, and movies.

Not only is parenthood an adjustment for the mother, but for the father as well (when he's in the picture). So while you're dealing with fluctuating hormones, increased demands on your energy, intensifying emotions and an uncertain future, he's struggling to cope with your evolution and discover his role as a parent. On top of that, both of you will have different ideas of what childcare is. It takes a strong, committed couple to successfully negotiate the chaos.

Being a mother is a full-time job. There are no days or hours off. Even if you get a babysitter for a day, you're still on call in case something goes wrong. Even if you don't get a call, you're wondering whether your child is well, protected, and behaving. If your child wakes up crying in the middle of the night, you're getting up to comfort him or her.

Even when both parents are in the picture, babies are most dependent upon their mothers for their comfort and care. As a mother, you will be most intuitive to your baby's needs and, therefore, will most likely seize the responsibility for meeting them.

Motherhood, while rewarding, is dirty. Prepare to scrub runny poo out of carpet and puke out of your car's upholstery. When your baby begins teething, your most interesting accessories will end up wet and slimy with drool as everything goes into the baby's mouth. You'll end up canceling shopping trips because your child spit up on his, or your, last change of clean clothes.

There are no trophies or awards in parenthood. No one is going to hand you the "Patient Mother of the Year" award for enduring a three-hour scream fest. Your child will be years old before you hear a genuinely thoughtful "thank-you" for all the work you have done to care for him or her.

Having a child just to have someone to love you is a huge mistake. Young babies can't reciprocate love. They don't know what it is. For the first month of their lives, they can't even smile on purpose. Again, your child will be years old before he or she can say "I love you."

In short, motherhood is tough. All the magazines of celebrities toting around their offspring would have young women believe that motherhood is a glamorous situation. It is not. Babies are not accessories; they are completely helpless, totally dependent individuals who require constant care and attention. Nothing on earth can fully prepare you for the physical and emotional wringer of motherhood.

Why do I say this? Because young women need to see the whole picture. My advice: consider motherhood very carefully before taking that leap. Once you hear the words "You're pregnant", life changes forever, even if you choose abortion or adoption. If you have ambitions--like traveling or attending college--do some of those things first. I did, and I now have those memories to look back on and feel good about. They have made me a more well-rounded person, which has helped me to remain stable as a mother. They are memories I will share with my child when he is older.

Do I regret motherhood? Absolutely not. When my baby smiles, the sun shines in my world. But I'm thankful for every opportunity I took early in adulthood to pursue my dreams before William came along: time to work, to establish my marriage, to discover more about who I am.

And now, I'm looking to the future. I have more goals that I have yet to reach. That's why, for now, becoming a mother for a second time is on hold.

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