I have quite a few friends sitting on the fence right now about having children, and they want to know what it’s like. Not what the pregnancy is like (there are tons of books about that) but about what it’s like to go from a childless life to having your schedule and life ruled by someone who can’t even talk. So, from a place of honesty, I thought I’d share my experience in what it’s been like to have Charlotte.
Of course, having a baby is like getting a tattoo – I can describe to you what it feels like but you won’t truly know until you go through the process yourself. Like a tattoo you better be damn sure this is what you want, because after it’s done, it’s not going to magically make you happier if it isn’t what you really wanted.
The first thing in your life to change is the relationship with your spouse. For Chad and me, this started with the pregnancy. For many men, it’s hard to relate to their wives during this time because they aren’t experiencing the same thing. Even though “we” were pregnant, I would often feel alone in the process. Chad didn’t have heartburn, a growing waist line or a shrinking bladder. While he could feel the baby kick, it wasn’t kicking him in HIS lungs or ribs. One day he came home and I was on the couch bawling because I didn’t think I would ever be up to the task of being a good mom. Chad just couldn’t process my crazy thoughts or ideas, but he could listen, and that’s what he became – a good listener.
I believe every husband should witness his wife giving birth because it will make him respect you in ways that no other experience can. This process should ideally bring you closer as a couple and make you realize what a wonderful team you can be. Once the baby is born then your husband becomes your helper but not entirely your equal in raising your child. Not yet anyway, if you are breast feeding. At times, I’m not proud to admit, I resented Chad because I was up every two hours feeding Charlotte, and he was not. Even if he woke up it wasn’t the same as having to physically feed Charlotte like I did. Fortunately our doula had a meeting with us pre-baby and asked us what our expectations were of one another for after the baby arrived. We decided that if Charlotte needed a diaper change then Chad could handle that task and bring her to me to feed. If she couldn’t be soothed back to sleep, it was Chad who would walk her around the room until she stopped crying. He also took care of me so I could take care of her by cooking dinner, bringing me water or renting me movies to watch during the days when I couldn’t leave the house. So yes, your relationship with your husband will change, but in a lot of ways it will be better. You may fight about parenting styles but you will fight more conservatively and a lot less, because now someone else is in the room, and you will cringe at the thought of fighting in front of her.
Your relationship with your friends will change as well. I found this started when I was pregnant, although it really changed even more once Charlotte arrived. My friends that had children are the ones I became even closer to. They are the ones who have given me advice, a shoulder to lean on and free baby sitting when I needed it most. Let me just be clear, when your friends that don’t have children offer to baby-sit, let me spare you the drama and tell you they won’t. They won’t because they have lives outside of kids, and therefore have plans 90% of the time you would like them to baby-sit. Your friends with kids are far more likely to watch your child because they aren’t going out all the time anymore either. My suggestion is to trade off with these friends on babysitting, that way you can go out and you won’t have to hire a sitter. Some of my friends without children I have become closer to as well. These are the wonderful souls who get me out of the house, who meet me for lunch and pool dates, and who do not mind having a baby around. They forgive you when you are running late because your baby blew out her diaper when you were just leaving the house. These are the friends who remind you that there is still a life and a YOU outside of being a mom, and since they don’t have kids you can talk about anything under the sun but kids. These are wonderful friends to keep close. While they may not be far behind you in having your own, they have freedom now, and you can ride on their wings. Then there are the friends who you thought you were close with but cease to exist after your child is born (or maybe even before in some cases). Be ok with this. Everyone exists in your life for a different season and purpose, and these friends just may not be the ones for you at the current stage. You probably intimidate them, and they don’t know how to act around you anymore. Some people treat pregnancy like a disease that they might catch if they hang around you. That’s not for them so you aren’t for them anymore. Perhaps life will cycle you back around to each other once your kids are grown, and you are both older and have free time again.
Most important of all having a child will change YOU. Here is how it will change you: 1. you now have to plan things in advance, 2. you will have to leave the house after your baby is fed and changed, and this might take two hours to do at the start, 3. having a baby will make you realize you can’t hang out all night even if it’s at a friends for dinner. Baby has to go to sleep at 8:30, and I’ve never successfully transferred a sleeping Charlotte from car seat to bassinet, which means if we get home and it’s ten the whole routine has to start from the top – feed her, swaddle, put her down. Remember those days you could come home from dinner and a few glasses of wine and just drop into bed? Not anymore. You will also become accustomed to doing whatever is free and in close proximity to your house. When activities are free that means you can show up and leave whenever and not feel guilty should a meltdown occur when you are out and about. Baby calls the shots now, and the sooner you can get over that and adapt to the baby’s schedule instead of having her adapt to yours, the happier you will be.
For my friends on the fence about having kids I can only tell you that ultimately the experience of pregnancy, child birth, and raising a child will make you someone who is more relate-able to your fellow women with kids. I am someone who loves to connect with other people, and I didn’t realize how much I would connect to a whole other world of people until I had a child. My mom friends have become my biggest support group right now and are the most understanding. If I cannot make it to a park date because Charlotte is napping that friend won’t care or hold it against me because she might flake on me the next day. Moms are probably the biggest flakes there are, and guess what, its ok! You waive the white flag and surrender saying, “well I guess I couldn’t do it all today” and no one will fault you for this. All the traveling, freedom and sleep in the world does not mean as much as the conversations I’ve had and the connections I’ve made. As someone who did not think she ever wanted a child I can say I am glad that I had one. While Charlotte has taught me a lot already, it’s the other women around me who have had kids that I admire the most. Raising children is a sometimes thankless job, and I don’t know why I didn’t see before that women who make this sacrifice are usually some of the best friends you will ever have. This is not to say if you never have kids that you aren’t a good friend or person or kind or selfless (of course you are!). It’s just that I was always one to shy away from moms-as-friends because I didn’t ever think we had enough in common. Now I have the best of both worlds when it comes to friends and relationships. I love my childless friends, and I value my new friendships with other moms!
Having a baby will change your life, and if you’re ready for it and you really want it, I’d say overall it makes the life that you thought you knew way better than one you could ever dream for yourself. But you better be ready because it’s not all fun and games. 🙂
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About the Author: Natalie Magee writes a regular column for Happiness Series about what motherhood and beyond - from prenatal to postpartum. Her intention with her column, "Baby & Beyond - What No One Else Will Tell You" is to give practical advice and tips to the busy mom and mom-to-be. She also shares her experiences good, bad and ugly as a woman, wife, mom, flight attendant and fitness instructor. Natalie is also a regular fitness contributor on Happiness Series. She will continue to create great, effective workouts for anyone - including the busy moms out there - who wants to get fit and stay in shape.