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It Wouldn't Matter If They Told You

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It wouldn't matter if they told you how tired you would be. How in awe you would be. How magical his nose is. Or how her fingers make you feel so heavy with trepidation and light with love. It wouldn't matter if they said that you would be so exhausted your body would buzz with your need for sleep. That you would forget your credit card and leave your groceries and dignity at the supermarket as you ran to the car and sobbed because you were embarrassed, you were tired and now you will have to grocery shop with a baby all over again.

It wouldn't matter if that mother had grabbed your knee over coffee and said very gently, "Oh the poop. The poop you will deal with. Dear God, the poop!"

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Or if she had very firmly told you that people say the dumbest stuff to moms with babies. If she had told you that women will stop you to say, "Oh the precious time!" or when your baby is destroying the candy in the checkout aisle, "Someone needs a nap!" Or men will say, "Wow, you have your hands full!" and blissfully continue on without opening a door. If she had done all of that, it wouldn't matter.

You still wouldn't have known.

Because you were told. You really were, the warnings the signs, they were all around you. Look, that lady in the checkout aisle buying children's Tylenol and whiskey at 11 p.m. The one who dropped the diaper on the floor as she reached for her wallet. Her giggle sounded like a sob. You didn't make eye contact. That lady, her baby was probably teething, she was your warning.

It's an awful, beautiful mess, and right now you can't see that, but you will.

Or what about the woman at the park, who you overheard arguing with her kid? "Look, honey, the bathrooms are closed. Pee in this diaper or we have to go home!" You thought she was nuts. She was nuts. Is nuts. She also had no choices.

Or what about the woman you overheard talking about how brilliant that little dullard beside her picking his nose is. What a genius. And you think, why can't she see it? Why can't you see him for who he is? Just an average little kid.

And there were the women who did say something to you. Who grabbed your knee. Who plied you with wine and said, "Take all of those mesh panties from the hospital." Or who told you that your vulva would never be the same. Or that whatever the thing you think you want most of all, that thing will be taken from you—organic food, natural childbirth, easy potty training, a ballerina, a boy. That nothing is as you expect and some things are even better.

And you thought, Thanks, but I'll be different. I'll do my kegels. My kid won't be a jerk like yours are. I'll be smarter. Baby food isn't that hard. And maybe you will be different, but then you won't. There will be that time when you aren't.

Then, you will drag yourself to the store at 11 p.m. for Tylenol and whiskey because you can't sleep and your baby can't sleep and you don't want to give her Tylenol, but nothing will shut her up, and the doctor said it wasn't that bad, can it be that bad? But what about that article on the dangers of Tylenol? And I'm still breastfeeding, so is whiskey OK? It's not? Or maybe if I have just a sip? But oh god, these diapers keep falling from my purse. Am I lactating right now? How embarrassing. Is everyone looking? Everyone is looking. How dare they? No one told me it would be like this.

Every new thing will surprise you, just as it has surprised every mother for millennia.

You will call someone and say, "No one told me!" And they will say, "I know, I know. I'm sorry. It's hard. It's OK to have some whiskey." But really, what that person is thinking is, "I told you. I told you. I told you over and over. I wanted you to know. I wanted you to see, not because it's awful, although it is, but because it's beautiful too. It's an awful, beautiful mess, and right now you can't see that, but you will."

Then you will, and you will wish someone told you that, too.

Maybe this is why new mothers feel like the first new mothers on the earth, why each new child is like discovering a new world, perfect and unsullied. Because they can't know, really. Even if they wanted to, they couldn't. Because each child is a new world holding its own challenges and resources and wonders. Each journey to this place is the same. Each journey is different. You are one of millions and billions. You are an adventurer alone. Every new thing will surprise you, just as it has surprised every mother for millennia.

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You too will have the ancient wonder of the new mom. You too will be afraid of this new but charted territory, this foreign and familiar terrain. It will surprise you anew, because it is new. But just know that it also isn't new. It's an eternal return. Over and over. The shock, the bewilderment, we have all been there. Welcome.

How can something be so isolating and new? So, old and well-traveled? I don't know. I wish someone could tell me.

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