What Surprised Me Most About Motherhood Had Nothing to Do With My Son

what surprised me about motherhood

I recently caught up with a friend who I hadn’t seen since I’d given birth to my son five months earlier.

“Well?” She looked at me with wide eyes. “What’s surprised you most about motherhood?!”

At a loss for a succinct answer, I think I threw up my hands and said something like, everything! with a bit of a weary sigh (because as I’ve learned, for moms, weary sighs are common punctuation).

And to be fair, it’s not exactly untrue.

There’s, of course, the initial shock of being given a baby to take home by the seemingly sane folks at the hospital after a mere 48 hours. (Would the nurses have so readily handed off my son had they known that I’ve been known to walk out of the house wearing my shirt both backward and inside-out? Or that I considered a log of mozzarella cheese an acceptable weeknight meal?)

Then there’s the surprise at how good three consecutive hours of sleep can feel when you’re lucky enough to get it. Surprise at how a five-minute shower may as well be a day at the spa. Surprise at the sheer force with which a seven-pound creature can evacuate his bowels. Surprise at how little said bowel evacuation grosses you out. Even when it’s really runny. Or kinda green.

Surprise at how giddily you hand over a small fortune in order to get your kid’s picture taken with a stranger dressed like Santa. Surprise at how your heart beats more fiercely and with more purpose the moment that tiny human is placed in your arms.

But if I’m being honest, in a deluge of dizzying new experiences, the one I least expected had nothing to do with my baby—it had to do with the moms.

Maybe it was that when people try to prepare you for having a baby they prepare you for, well, the baby. Or maybe I’d pummeled my brain with so much Real Housewives that I just assumed those fraught bonds were the norm. It certainly didn’t help that I’ve grown up in a society that tends to pit women against one another. After all, “mommy wars” make good headlines.

For whatever reason, I just didn’t expect to be so wholly and instantaneously accepted into and supported by this tribe of moms who’d gone before me. And while my nearest and dearest predictably showered me with support, I was especially struck by how other moms on the periphery of my life also stepped up to offer reassuring words, a bent ear, or a virtual high five.

After my son’s first doctor’s appointment, our pediatrician’s office sent us home with a bag stuffed full of coupons and formula samples. The words “permanent member of the sisterhood of motherhood” danced across the front of the bag in a looping typeface (it may have even been Curlz font—you know the one I’m talking about).

“Oh brother,” I thought, rolling my eyes.

My body still radiating with the pain of having just essentially expelled a bowling ball from my nether regions, and my mind foggy with lack of sleep, the saccharine sentiment was too much. Upon returning home, I tossed the bag in a corner, where it began to collect dust.

When I finally got around to tidying up my apartment post-baby, I uncovered that bag. The words I’d found so cheesy weeks ago now nearly brought a tear to my eye—and one that I could no longer entirely blame on hormones. As trite as I found the saying, it also rang true.

I thought of the members of a super-duper secret Facebook group—only one of whom I’d ever met in person—who flocked to my rescue after my son’s billionth consecutive diaper blowout had me about to lose my mind. Of the childhood friend who texted in the first days after my son’s birth because she knew how rough they could be. We joked about maxi pads in a way we hadn’t since high school. Of the mom wrangling two preschoolers in the grocery store who instead of cooing over my newborn asked how was doing, her voice heavy with understanding. 

Turns out, there’s something to this shared experience of motherhood, especially being in the trenches of those tumultuous first weeks and months, that forges a bond between us all, one that’s stronger than the time or distance that may separate us.

So, to all the moms out there who have welcomed me so warmly, I lift my virtual glass to you. Once upon a time it would have been gleaming stemware teeming with an Italian red, but these days it’s half a mug of room-temperature coffee—though you knew that already, didn’t you? Cheers. Thanks for letting me into the so-called sisterhood.

Photo by Jeremy Repanich