“Parenthood is the ultimate on-the-job learning experience,” my father commented a few months ago. “You simply can’t learn to be a parent without doing it.”
I believe that. Having recently experienced baby boot camp, I have learned a ton. Now, as the mother of an infant, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on some of the unanticipated lessons I learned during the course of my pregnancy. Each lesson may have been an inconvenience at the time, but taken together, they should make me worthy of a Parenting Master’s degree.
Everything Is Relative, Even Pain
I have been a regular coffee drinker since taking high school physics. As any coffee drinker who fasts on Yom Kippur knows, it hurts to go without. Over the years, I have periodically worked to reduce my caffeine intake, and the effects are typically painful.
Last fall was the big one, though. Newly pregnant, my favorite morning ritual was suddenly making me nauseated, which forced me to revise my plan to slowly taper down my coffee intake. I went cold turkey instead. Yes, in a normal world, two weeks of non-stop withdrawal migraines would have been unspeakably awful. However, my all-day morning sickness was so intense at the time, it managed to dwarf all the headaches. So those withdrawal headaches felt more like background noise. This experience taught me that all things — including pain — are truly relative. Also, even an addict can be reformed for the sake of her baby.
All You Need Is Patience
We’re all used to living at 80 miles per hour. As someone who has made her living as a speechwriter, I am used to tight deadlines and packed schedules. What was new for me was filling up my day with not much of anything.
Pregnancy knocked the wind out of me. During the first trimester, and again in the latter months, I found that my days are not very productive, when measured against traditional metrics. It took me a long time to get out of the house. It took me a long time to cross the street. And it took me a particularly long time to get dressed. About halfway through my pregnancy, my legs began to swell painfully and I had to start wearing special pressure stockings, which made it less painful to stand on line or walk around. Their downside was that like a coat of armor, they required work to put on and take off; I needed five minutes just to get into them.
All of these experiences taught me to be patient, because I was moving as fast as I could. The speed wasn’t objectively fast, but that was alright. Slow is cool. I decided to make sure and remember that when I toted my newborn around town at a snail’s pace and didn’t have many adult accomplishments to show for a given day.
Mind & Body Rebalance Their Relationship
As the typical hyper-educated Jewish woman, I love the world of ideas. Pregnancy is not just a theory, though. It is all about practice, and it doesn’t just encourage — it pushes — you to focus your attention on, and cater to, your body. There is no ignoring the various changes your body experiences over nine months of pregnancy.
In particular, as the baby grows and presses on your bladder, your priorities change. You make sure the path between your bed and the bathroom is clear, so that when you wake up in the middle of the night — again — you can make it to the bathroom without tripping. You insist on sitting on the outside of the booth when you go out to eat with friends, so you can more easily escape to the ladies’ room. And you most certainly don’t patronize public establishments without restrooms.
A few months back, I complained to a female relative about my sleep’s being interrupted on a nightly basis. She replied that this was nature’s way of preparing me; when the baby arrived, she would be waking me in the middle of the night. On the upside, having survived the nine months of pregnancy, I have been ready to deal with my baby’s middle-of-the-night feedings and infinite diaper changes.
Imperfection is the New Perfect
Single people watch new parents feed babies and cringe at the mess. Food is on the baby’s face, on her clothes, and all over the floor.
I have long been a neat eater and consider myself a big booster of table manners. Yet, whenever I ate during late pregnancy, my clothes left the meal rather decorated by fruit juice and salad dressing. Perhaps I was always a sloppier eater than I realized and the food just dropped into my napkin, but my new, larger belly became a catcher’s mitt for my food. This experience gave me a new appreciation for bibs.
The experience also enabled me to better empathize with my baby’s likely inability to aim food directly into her mouth. After all, if her grown mother can’t eat neatly, how can I expect it of my family’s newest member?
Identity Isn’t Static
My mother still bumps into people who met us when I was in elementary school. If they haven’t seen each other in a while, the other person will often ask, “Aren’t you Melissa’s mother?” That is, of course, my mother’s other name and has been since I was born. After 32 years of being known by my given name, in late pregnancy I realized I was on the cusp of being famous — at least in certain circles — for being my baby’s mother.
Pregnancy offered a great deal of practice in this respect. Whenever I waddled around, strangers commented first and foremost on my enormous belly. Friends and family were happy to see me and hear from me, but I spent a great deal of time answering questions about my belly’s resident. Some days I felt like the White House press secretary, only with a much tinier boss.
All of these lessons are things I have learned only by living. College and graduate school were useful in their own way. But as a training ground for mommy-hood, neither was all that practical. Only pregnancy helped me gain new insight into myself, my own limits, and how I might push those limits (sometimes after being pushed). One thing I know for sure is that my on-the-job learning has only just begun. Now my “doctoral studies,” are being led by my daughter.