A few months back, a good friend of mine asked me to take part in a project she was doing for work that aimed to uncover certain universal truths about the mother-child bond. In this project, her agency asked for women who are mothers to write letters to themselves the night/day before they have their first child. What would we tell ourselves? What things do we know now that we would have loved to know then? What legacies do we wish to carry forward with this next generation?
I jumped at the opportunity to write about the relationship I have with my Ella-bug and immediately dove into the recesses of my memory, trying to re-live the last few days, hours, minutes, before I was catapulted into "first time Mommy-dom," with it's steep learning curve, rollercoaster hormones and 3-a-night feedings. And as I reflected back, I realized that- excited as I was about meeting this tiny person who had been shoving her feet in my ribcage for well over 5 months- I was also a tiny bit afraid of her. I had heard one too many stories from (I think) well meaning people who told me that my life, as I had come to live it, was "over" once "that baby comes along." Things like, "forget sleeping in," and "I hope you enjoy infomercials because that's all you'll be watching at 2 a.m. when you're up feeding the baby," and "your time is the baby's" and "you'll forget what it's like to have a real date night with your husband...." reverberated through my head. In spite of all the wonderful things people were speaking into my life about becoming a mommy and how I would fall head over heels in love with this little creature (which I totally did), I instead chose to hang tighter onto all of the negative things. Isn't that the way it always goes?
And guess what? I lost sleep. A lot of it. I cried a lot in those first two months of Ella's life. But more often than not, the tears were happy ones (can I get a shout out from my hormones?) I actually did get to sleep in, because I have a wonderful husband who would get up with Ella when it was obvious that I needed a break. And we started having "real" date nights again after about 6 weeks, when Jake's parents offered (and we gladly accepted) to keep her for us on a Friday or Saturday night almost every single weekend. To this day, she still goes over there one night every weekend and we still get to be "Kristin and Jake," not just "Mommy and Daddy."
So, as I started to write this letter to myself and reflected back on the last days before Ella's arrival, I realized that I haven't missed out on a single thing. Nothing at all has been taken away from me that I wouldn't gladly give up, a thousand times over. (Obviously, because I'm about to do it all over again in 6 months. ;) ). Life is more rich because I'm Ella's mommy. She has given me more than I could have ever given myself in the 27 years I had before I knew her.
You have been waiting impatiently for your little girl to get here for 10 months and 1 week now. Your labor has started up and then just as quickly fizzled out every day for the last week and as far as you're concerned, time could not be going any slower. You're over it. You're ready. But please, remember this. Enjoy feeling her move in your belly. Hold on to these last precious moments you have with Jake as just the two of you. Life is about to change dramatically in less than 24 hours. Yes, after 276 days of pregnancy, you have only hours left to wait. Don't rush this. Because once you hold your daughter tomorrow, time will never be able to go slowly enough for you. You will blink your eyes and the tiny 6 lbs 15 oz peanut you cradle in your arms will soon be an independent, spunky toddler who refuses to let you rock her to sleep. You, too, will become the cliché you swore you'd never be, who asks, “where did the time go?
Now is also a good time for you to admit that you don't adapt well to change. You have a certain idea of how things should be once Ella is home with you. Be prepared to throw these pre-conceived and idealistic notions out the window. This is going to be messy- in all senses of the word. Make the decision right now to adjust the amount of pressure you place on yourself. You will not be able to clean the house, fix dinner, take a shower and tend to all of Ella's needs, every single day. Some days, your outfit may consist of yoga pants and a stained tank top. You may not get a chance to put on makeup. Be okay with being raw and disheveled and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. And please, please, don't spend another minute fussing over the pile of dishes in the sink or the fact that you can't remember the last time you ran the vacuum. You have the rest of your life to tidy up your house, but only so many years where she will actually want you to be with her. Listen to me (to you? to myself?): get down on the floor with her. Snuggle her. Do it every day. Trust in the fact that it truly is okay if she doesn't go down each night right at 8:30, or if she doesn't finish all of her veggies. Also, be prepared to question yourself on a daily basis, to worry if you're fucking everything up. It's normal. The more you talk to other parents and the more you're willing to be honest, the more you'll realize that no one has any clue what they're doing.
And on the heels of that, teach your daughter about grace and forgiveness and second chances. Let the words, "I'm sorry," and "I screwed up," be something she hears from you on a regular basis. Claim your mistakes. Own your vulnerability. Kids can detect even the tiniest amount of bullshit and they will totally CALL YOU OUT and it will make you laugh at first, but then later you'll lie awake at night reflecting on it. It's all part of the process. Ultimately, she is going to give you the most accurate here-on-earth experience of how much you're loved. Because no matter what you ever knew or thought you knew about God, you will feel it in a whole new way tomorrow when you hold her. Ella is- among many things- a precious reminder that life is to be lived to the fullest.