Letting go of the expectations of motherhood and embracing the unexpected

This post first ran on my Written Creations’ blog back in March of 2012. That was almost a year before my son was born and when my daughter was 2. I read it again last week and got choked up. While I’ve learned so very many more lessons about motherhood in the seven years since then, they all have defied my expectations. Here are my words from seven years ago with minimal editing:

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing some major cleaning in my house. It was a Saturday morning and my husband offered to help me deep clean. So we shipped the kiddo off to her grandparents’ house a few minutes away and got down to work. Thanks to my mother, I can’t clean without music cranked. Well, I can and have, but I much prefer some tunes on to rock away to. I found a purple CD. My husband had made it for me right after we were married when I was halfway through college. I had forgotten completely about it. But, it had some of my favorite songs of the time on it. I stuck it in the kitchen radio and had a great time while I was cleaning. Oh the memories that flooded back!

As I was mopping the floor, I was reflecting to myself, “Man, if that collegiate newlywed Stacey only knew how things would turn out, she’d be surprised.” Then I almost literally stopped in my tracks. When I was in college and you asked me what I wanted to do, I’d have told you that I wanted to work at a magazine and then eventually be a freelancer while I raised a family. I took a bit of a roundabout path, but it hit me I am doing exactly that. I am a freelancer. And it is great while I am raising my kiddo.

I didn’t get here how I expected I would. I thought I’d work for a magazine first. I was wrong. After being an assistant historian for a while at a museum, I quit and began freelancing full-time. It wasn’t my plan. But, it was what worked best, especially because I was barely able to leave my house for a while. My health had taken a downturn for sure. However, it jump-started my freelance career and slowly but surely I began building up a base of editors and clients. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t what I had planned, but somehow it was perfect.

My work is far from the only thing that’s different than I expected. There have been a whole slew of hard times that I didn’t see coming (who ever does?). There have been challenges. But, there has been lots of goodness. And more than any thing else in my life, motherhood has been the most unexpected.

I expected to be a mother. I very much wanted to be a mother and knew that somehow, someday I would be. My plan maybe got pushed back a few years thanks to my health and some other circumstances, but when the time was right, it was right. My husband and I agreed. The whole thing started out defying my expectations. I figured it would take a while to get pregnant. By the second month, I had a positive test.

I fully expected that my bladder wouldn’t go into remission and I’d be miserable throughout my pregnancy with IC. You know what? I did go into remission. I ate things I could never have otherwise. I even drank some — gasp — orange juice! To give you an idea of how major that is, orange juice has caused me bladder issues my entire life. I still seldom give it to my child because I feel like I’m giving her poison when I do. So, yeah, it was remission.

Then I went through labor and delivery. I had expectations of how it would go. Ha, ha, ha! Silly Stacey. It wasn’t what I expected. But, man oh man, that didn’t compare to motherhood. Holy cow! I expected it to be hard. But it was way harder than I could ever have imagined.

These feelings have been popping up recently as I’m working on an article about exclusively pumping. You see, I also had expectations that I’d breastfeed my baby. I had no grand desire to do so. I was fine with, “I’ll give it a try and see what happens.” I wanted her to have some breast milk. I liked the benefits. I liked most the one bit of information I’d found that said breast milk reduces chances for UTIs. Having suffered with my bladder like I have, that seemed like a golden ticket to me. My goal was to go for six months of nursing if I could. And if I needed to go back on my bladder medicine sooner, then I’d stop.

That first week was so freaking hard. My daughter couldn’t figure out where to put her tongue to suck effectively whether she was taking a bottle or nursing. She wasn’t getting any food and my milk was drying up faster than the Sahara Desert. I started a regime of exclusively pumping thanks to advice from my pediatrician, a lactation consultant and my sister-in-law who was three months into exclusively pumping for TRIPLETS!! (Yeah, if she could do that, who was I to complain?) I also started down a path with one complication after the next for myself. By the time my kiddo figured out what to do with her tongue it was a month and a half later. And she wasn’t going back.

I tell you all this to tell you it certainly wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t what I planned. But, it worked. By Christmas (about three months later), I had pumped every two hours for long enough that I was able to completely feed her milk without formula. I maintained that for a year! A whole entire year! It was twice as long as I had set out to do. Maybe that’s why I needed to pump. Maybe that was God’s plan. 

It wasn’t what I expected. It was hard. It was exhausting. I had times I wanted to throw that pump out the window. I HATED getting up when everyone else was asleep (including my baby) and hooking up to that machine. I hated washing the bottles. I hated washing the pump parts. I hated having to put my baby down instead of taking extra snuggle time because I had to pump.

But, at the same time I loved it.  I loved seeing those little thighs get chubby. I loved seeing her smile (once she started smiling) when she got her bottle. I loved looking deep into her eyes as I fed her. The kid never once held her bottle on her own. She was eventually fully capable, but she was just never interested. And that was OK with me. It was our time. We weren’t bonding like I had thought we might with her breastfeeding, but we were bonding nonetheless. And she was growing. And she was healthy. And she was strong. And she was beautiful. And she was perfect. And she was worth it.

I look at her now — at my vivacious 2-year-old — and I’d do it again. It was unexpected. This motherhood journey is quite unexpected. Heck, even just looking at her and seeing what I see is unexpected. Having brown hair and brown eyes and being married to a man with black hair and hazel eyes, I never dreamed I’d look at redhead with blue eyes and call her mine. Motherhood is full of surprises and the unexpected. Some of it is good. Some of it is bad. And some of it just is.

I think the biggest challenge is to get over what we expected. To let go of what we had planned and just enjoy and appreciate what we have. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I had thought I was 100 percent reconciled to the fact that I ended up having to exclusively pump. I thought I had dealt with those emotions of disappointment, sadness and frustration. They’ve been bubbling up as I’m working on this article. And that’s OK. It’s a grief process sometimes to let go of what we expected from life and move on. But, that’s what we need to do. We need to move on. While we don’t want to get stuck in the past, neither should we get stuck in what we expected. I don’t think any adult on this planet would ever tell you his life turned out as he had planned. And that’s OK. If my life went exactly how I’d planned, I’d have missed out on some good things along the way. I’d have missed some lessons. And I sure as heck wouldn’t appreciate the good times nearly as much as I do for having been through the hard ones.

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