What No One Told Me About Becoming a Mother
As soon as you announce you’re expecting your first child you start hearing it. Those cliché refrains offered by other parents, “your life is going to change,” “sleep now because you won’t ever sleep again,” “parenthood is the best and hardest thing you’ll ever do.” When you’re still months away from your due date, you file away those pieces of “advice” and start preparing for the worst.
I constantly reminded my husband that we might not sleep through the night until we send this kid to college. I read up on how to deal with acid reflux babies, joined Facebook groups for breastfeeding support, purchased three different sound machines, and accepted every baby carrying contraption offered to me. I was creating an arsenal. I was determined to be as prepared as possible in case our baby came careening out of me, hell-bent on destroying my sanity.
Imagine my surprise when my son came out perfectly content, latched immediately, and soon became known as The Chillest Baby In All The Land. He’s eight months old, and I can count on one hand how many times he hasn’t slept through the night. He’s a dream baby. We got so lucky.
What nobody ever told me is that I’d be the one struggling to sleep at night.
I have never been an overly empathetic person. Bleeding heart, I am not. “Yes, that’s sad. I’m sorry for them” was about as far as my empathy tended to go in cases of major news story tragedies or local strangers misfortunes. I actually wondered at times if I was a little too unfeeling, so many other people seemed to react so strongly to these things. Then I had a baby.
Did you know that your brain changes when you become a mother? Actual, physical changes occur. Gray matter expands; new pieces start to light up like a game of Simon. I think I knew this before I googled it. I knew when headlines became traumatizing. I’d catch a glimpse of some terrible fate befalling a child and gnaw over it for hours. One offhanded image about an abused baby in a novel and I found myself in tears. The tertiary storyline in film-thirty seconds of backstory including a baby, domestic abuse, and neglect kept me from paying attention to the rest of the plot. Who cares if the super spy saves the world, someone needs to save that baby!
No one told me I might react to motherhood this way. No one told me that my freaking brain would change. No one warned me that I might develop this overwhelming empathy towards all children everywhere. No one told me I’d pray for a way to disable the headline feature on Facebook so I wouldn’t accidentally read some horror story that would stick in my brain for weeks. No one told me I’d start turning off films halfway through or avoid certain novels or, gasp, be afraid to watch my beloved Law & Order: SVU because SOMETHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO OLIVIA’S BABY, I JUST KNOW IT. I can’t handle even fictionalized accounts of harm befalling a child anymore.
No one told me that motherhood would fill me so full of love for my child that I wouldn’t be able to keep it from overflowing. No one told me motherhood meant I’d want to ensure the safety of every child I read or see or hear about. No one could have told me. Before I had a child I would never have believed them.
Shannon J. Curtin is a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee and the author of two collections of poetry, Motherland (forthcoming from Anchor and Plume Press), and File Cabinet Heart (ELJ Publications, summer 2014), Her poetry has been featured in a variety of literary magazines including Short, Fast, and Deadly, The Muddy River Review, Vox Poetica, and The Elephant Journal. She holds an MBA, competitive shooting records, and her liquor. She’s the mother of Quinn, a real boy, and Bruno a dog that wishes he was a real boy. She would probably like you. You can find her at www.shannomazur.com and @Shannon_Mazur.