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What I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Mother

March 5, 2015 | by Debbie Gutfreund

I stared at her beautiful face and held her tiny hand and thought: I have no idea what I’m doing.

The afternoon that I held my Ivy League diploma in my hands, I looked up at the cloudless sky and felt ready to take on the world. Every door seemed to be open in front of me. I had learned how to beat the curve in organic chemistry. I had learned how to stay up for nights on end absorbing hundreds of pages of knowledge. I had learned how to write lengthy term papers in record time. I had learned so much, but I knew so little.

Because even though my education paved the way to graduate school and to my first job, it left me fairly clueless about life itself. The morning that I held my firstborn child in my arms, I looked out the hospital window into the cloudless sky and felt totally overwhelmed. Nothing could have prepared me for this seemingly insane responsibility of having a newborn baby completely dependent upon me. I stared at her beautiful, angelic face with her huge, blue eyes that seemed to look back in wonder into my own. I held her miniature hand and thought: I have no idea what I'm doing.

I had learned to achieve but not to nurture. I had learned to be fast but not to be still. I had learned how to speak but not how to listen. I knew how to be efficient but not how to be patient. I knew how to meet deadlines but not how to be interrupted. I had learned how to be the center of attention but not to be attentive.

My life, up until that point, had no room for mistakes. No time for connection. No space for being. And I wish someone would have told me before I became a mother that no course, no advice, no wisdom could have prepared me for that moment. That moment when my heart was suddenly no longer hidden within me but instead embedded within this vulnerable, tiny being in my arms. A being that would go out into the world bringing my heart with her. I wish someone would have told me just how frightening that would be.

And I wish someone would have told me that nothing would prepare me for the exhaustion of those first few months. That pulling all-nighters for work is not the same as feeding and soothing a newborn baby every two hours. And that nothing could come close to that kind of peace and closeness I would feel holding my baby in the middle of the night.

I wish someone would have told me that even though I had never been a worrier before, I would become one. I would worry about that first cough, whether she was eating enough, sleeping enough, not sleeping enough, growing too slowly, growing too fast. And the worrying would change as she grew, but that it would never go away.

I wish someone would have told me that I would need endless patience, not only for my children but for the myriad details that would go into caring for them. And I wish someone would have told me that holding a child is like holding a whole world. That listening to a child is like giving her a diamond for her soul.

And I wish I would have known that time would seem to crawl by in those first few years but would really be flying right out of my arms. That I wouldn't be able to get back that first smile, that first word, that first step. That I would one day regret the moments that I was distracted, that I was impatient, that I wasn't fully present in my child's life. That I would be astounded by the way my child became her own person with a life suddenly separate from my own. And how that would make me both deeply happy and achingly sad at the same time.

Before I became a mother I had learned so much but knew so little. I didn't know that holding a child is like having the whole world suddenly cradled in your arms. I didn't know that you can only walk through one door at a time. I didn't know that the day I became a mother, I would then begin to build. I would then begin to love. I would then begin to truly learn.

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