Thursday, January 30, 2014

Parenting, the Ultimate Labor of Love

Dear first-time mothers-to-be,

Please take a deep breath, because I have some bad news. I’m truly sorry to do this—as a doula, it’s practically my job description to be positive and encouraging, and I love that role. It comes easily to me.

But sometimes a reality check is in order, and the reality is not always pretty. I feel compelled to give you a heads up, and hopefully buffer you just a tiny bit from the shock I’ve witnessed so many new mothers go through as they discover what it really means to be a parent.

Now you might brush all this off, thinking it won’t apply to you, or simply not believing me, and that’s okay. I probably would have done the same. But some day, you might find yourself awake at 2 am, with vomit in your hair and tears in your eyes, and you might remember this. Hopefully then you won’t feel so alone.

See, there’s a secret no one talks about.

Do you want to know what it is? Are you sure?

Here goes:

For as difficult as labor and childbirth are, they are not nearly as challenging as the day-to-day responsibilities of being a parent. Not even by a long shot.

In fact, labor and parenting are really just versions of one another.

Think about that for a minute.

After birth, labor never actually stops. Just changes.

As with labor, being a parent means fluctuating between moments of the most extreme intensity and blissful relief. As with labor, there are things, so many things, you can’t control. Things you can’t predict. Things you can’t plan for. As soon as you start to get the hang of it, it changes…

As with labor, parenting is probably not what you expect it will be.

As with labor, being a parent can be beautiful, and funny, and gross, and exhausting. Sometimes it hurts.

As with labor, there are moments you may think

I can’t do this anymore. I don’t want to do this anymore. I changed my mind!

Or perhaps

How long can this possibly this go on?

Or even

Why did I do this? I’m not cut out for this. What’s WRONG with me?

Maybe you will compare yourself to other women you know. Or women you think you know because you follow their Pinterest page. And maybe they seem like they’ve got it all together. Guess what? They don’t!

(And if they do, then good for them! Because enough with the mommy wars. We are all in this together. FUCK THE PATRIARCHY AND CAPITALISM that feed isolation and competition between women, and create unattainable expectations of motherhood).

I digress.

The point is, motherhood is an extension of laboring.

But we don’t treat it like that, do we? If you are like many women I know, your preparation for motherhood mostly involved the acquiring of things. Building a crib, finding the perfect matching curtains, folding the adorable clothes. That is fine and good, but it doesn’t prepare you for parenting, not even a little bit. You can’t buy your way to sanity and tranquility. You can’t decorate yourself out of exhaustion and frustration.

If this is disheartening to read, I apologize. But be of good cheer, it’s not all bad. As with labor, there are things you can do now to help prepare yourself for parenting:

You can gather your support team. You will need them. We’re not meant to do this alone.

Don't judge.
You can talk to other moms to hear their stories. Real moms, who are not afraid to show you the massive pile of laundry stashed in the corner, the granola bar encrusted into the back seat. Who will confess that their Facebook pictures are not telling the whole story. Who will admit that although the immeasurable depths of love they feel for their children make it all worth it, there are still hard times. Maybe even lots of hard times.

You can work on your relationship with your partner, finding ways to build each other up, asking “what do you need?” and explaining “this is what I need.”

You can give yourself permission to meet your own needs without guilt.

There’s more. The very same techniques you use to get through labor and birth will serve you very well when the parenting poo hits the fan, as it will. Practice them. For instance:

Take lots of deep, cleansing breaths. This will take you further than you can imagine.

Trust in the process. In yourself. In your child. I know that can be hard, dear mothers. It’s okay to fake it ‘til you make it.

Use a mantra. I can do this. I can do this. I can do this. I AM doing this.

From time to time, look into your loved ones’ eyes, and pause to simply be in awe and wonderment at the whole thing.

And you know what? Just like labor, you WILL get through it. You really will. One day at a time; one breath at a time; one leaky diaper, skinned knee, forgotten homework assignment at a time.

And then, as with labor, you might eventually look back through a filter of love as the memories blur and the pain recedes. You might even find that you miss it and would do it all over again given the chance.

But please do me a favor. Some day, so very many years from now, when the tables have turned and you are becoming a grandparent, dig deep. Rose-colored nostalgia might tint your view of birth and parenting by then (as rose-colored expectation may tint it now), but please don’t gloss over the realities to your future son or daughter.

Instead, be honest. And then ask, “How can I help?” Because as you are about to discover, new parents need all the help they can get.

Now go get yourself a massage.


Your Friendly Neighborhood Doula, keeping it real


  1. Sara, I love this. Should be mandatory reading before birth. And it will carry me through the day, struggling with school issues of my 8 and a half year old! It has been said before, but not often so clearly...

  2. This is so good and real. I totally fell into the comparison trap and trying to do things 'by the book'. Wish I knew then what I knew now. :)

  3. Amazing and a great refreshing perspective!

  4. Sara! This is awesome. Miss you. Love you. I'm so glad for our world that you're a doula, a writer and my friend.