In the winter issue of babyourself magazine, I wrote about all the unexpected aspects of motherhood.
Soon after discovering I was pregnant with my first baby, I started buying and borrowing books. I knew what to expect while I was expecting, during my baby’s first year and during the toddler years before I got halfway through my second trimester. I studied my baby’s development week-by-week, knowing exactly when each organ began functioning and predicting to within a millisecond when she would start hiccuping after I ate spicy food. My Safari search history was filled with website links offering baby product reviews, lists of baby names with meanings and charts of vaccine ingredients and their every possible side effect. I voraciously consumed every bit of information possible so I would be the Best. Mother. Ever.
Yet in spite of all my obsessive study and research and first-time-mom crazy, I was still surprised by plenty of The UnExpected.
For instance, nobody ever told me it was possible for my four-month-old baby to projectile vomit straight into the dog’s mouth. (Nor that the dog would appear to accept this as an extra treat.) The books didn’t exactly explain that if I left my baby at home with a bottle and missed a nursing session, my cleavage would gradually work its way up to my chin and my husband would suddenly start walking around with his head held high and his chest puffed out because his formerly ordinary-looking wife had transformed into one of Hugh Hefner’s girls after a few hours off the feeding schedule.
All my study and research did not prepare me for the utter hopelessness and emotional breakdown I experienced standing in front of my closet two-and-a-half weeks postpartum. Nothing fit, except maternity clothes. But suddenly those cute maternity clothes absolutely repulsed me. The exact clothes I had been giddy to try on five months into my pregnancy brought on visions of flaming bonfires fueled by stretchy-waist pants and billowing blouses.
And though I initially thought the books had covered bodily fluids in enough detail, none of them prepared me for the inordinate amount of time I would spend thinking about the things that come out of my children’s bodies. When my babies were first born, I kept detailed charts counting their poopy diapers and marking down any unusual colors or smells. When they didn’t grow properly, I actually collected their poop to take to the lab for tests. Seriously, a giant can of human waste in the fridge right beside the leftover casserole. And when they got to be toddlers, they seemed to gain an obsession with their own messy diapers. No parenting book I ever read warned me that a two-year-old would open her diaper and smear poop all over her crib, wall, carpet, toys, legs, arms and hair a couple hours before family was scheduled to arrive for her birthday party.
And the first time I let my preschoolers eat cupcakes with brightly-colored icing! Goodness, let’s just say there needs to be an entire chapter in a parenting book explaining the effects of food dye on the digestive system and reassuring parents that neon-green poop does not indicate a radioactive child!
Though I followed all the instructions for baby-proofing my home, none of my research pointed out that some agile toddlers can scale cabinets and counters and refrigerators to find the medicine on the highest shelf behind a closed cabinet door. No expert advised me that the same toddler who screams, “Mine, mine, mine!” about every single toy in the house will suddenly and inexplicably be overcome with an altruistic desire to share with his baby brother the half-full bottle of TUMS he just stole from that very high shelf. And no parenting book I ever read recommends the very practical advice of walking to a neighbor’s house to call Poison Control if you’ve already called twice that month from your own phone, so you won’t be afraid of a visit by Child Protective Services if they happen to trace those Poison Control calls.
So read all the parenting books you want, I’ll tell you what to expect when you have children – expect the unexpected. The unexpected insanity of discovering that your innocent-looking tiny toddler has stealthily smeared diaper rash ointment all over himself and decorated his bedroom with every single baby wipe from the container while you thought he was sleeping. And the unexpected way your heart nearly explodes with love the first time that same toddler says “Ma-ma” or “wuv you.”
This is the reality of parenthood. Expect the unexpected.