By Carmen Cristo
I have been that person more times than I can count, the one gawking at the mom trying to pacify her screaming child across the restaurant. I have walked in once-spotless homes and been shocked by the piles of laundry and dirty dishes crowding the sink. I have stared with complete naiveté as mothers cried for reasons that just did not add up in my adolescent mind. I have been shocked when women left successful careers to change diapers all day. In so many situations, I wondered what had happened to these polished, professional women I had known. Did childbirth include a lobotomy? To gain a child, would I have to lose my mind? I just knew that I would be different.
On a warm September morning, I was swiftly knocked from my high horse. I gave birth to a person–a real, alive person–and it changed me in ways that are inexplicable. The shift was instantaneous. After 24 hours of labor, they laid him on my chest, and the words shot out of my mouth without thought: “Is he okay?” I asked five more times before I was satisfied. I had no idea how many more times I would ask this question–of his doctors, of his father, of myself. What no one tells you is that, especially in those early months, you spend so much time asking that question that all the others fade into the background noise of breast pumps and noise machines. Is my career okay? Are my friends okay? Is my house okay? Is my marriage okay? Am I okay?
So, here I am eating crow and owning it. You will find me in the grocery store, struggling with my latest baby carrier of choice. You will hear me constantly asking visitors to overlook the piles of laundry in every room and the distinct stench of baby puke. When you see me comforting a screaming Ellis in a restaurant, you can keep on staring. The big secret of motherhood is that none of us care. By the magic of some evolutionary adaptation, we have developed tunnel vision. My world is still so full, but yes, he is at the center. And that’s more okay with me than I ever thought it would be.
To every mother I judged before I felt the pangs of mom-guilt, of true sleep deprivation, of hormonal lunacy, and of life-changing love, I apologize. Now, I am you. And I am happy. I have been ripped apart and put back together again. And while the new me might not be as polished, as prompt, or as social, I am more compassionate, more hopeful, and more confident of my own strength.
That’s why I’m launching a monthly parenting blog. I am (slowly) learning what it means to be a parent and what that looks like for me, so I am sharing the things I wish someone would have told me. I hope that my victories, failures, and ‘oops’ moments along the way will remind you that we are all just keeping our head above the water, parents or not.