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The Shock of New Parenthood I Didn't Expect

new parenthood shock

Nine months seemed like plenty of time to acclimate to the idea of becoming a parent. Plus, there'd been the years I'd spent leading up to my pregnancy in giddy anticipation; I'd imagined what our future babies' faces might look like and how parenthood might reshape our careers and marriage.

But it turned out that nothing could've prepared me for motherhood. Dazzling and exhausting, full of anxiety and oxytocin, new parenthood sent me straight into shock.

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Sure, there was the bizarreness of an actual person coming out of my body.

But more than that, it was that suddenly there was a third person in our home—a person who cried all the time, couldn't piece together more than a few hours of sleep and needed constant care. A person who I was quickly falling in love with.

A person who hadn't been here and now, quite undeniably, was.

My son's arrival reminded me of the shock I felt years before, when my brother died.

In the wake of my brother's death, I was struck by his goneness. He'd been here, and then suddenly, he wasn't. My brain had battled to comprehend how he could be dead when he'd been so very alive. I was stunned by his absence.

With my son, I was stricken by his presence.

I was suddenly a mother, though it took much longer to feel like one than to become one.

In the shock that blankets a loss, time often feels distorted. The days after my brother's death felt like months as my brain did the wrenching work of metabolizing the loss. And yet time moved forward as I tracked the weeks and then months that my brother had been gone.

It was similar for me after my son's birth. Some days and nights, time felt as if it was dripping by in slow motion: the hours of cluster feeding, the bracing cries that pulled me from the dreams my body slipped into the moment my eyes closed. Other times, it seemed that the weeks were stacking up on each other as my son grew: three weeks, six weeks, four months, nine months swept by.

When my brother died, my family shrunk from four to three. It felt like we were a table with a leg wrenched off, trying to reconfigure, struggling to rebalance. When my son arrived, my husband and I went from a two-person to a three-person family, and we too wobbled and shook, attempting to realign and redistribute ourselves. There was the imbalanced division of labor that came from being a breastfeeding mom, and the mounting pressure on my husband as the family breadwinner.

After my brother's death, my whole life changed. Though I eventually settled into a new normal, I will never again be the girl I was when my brother was alive. Similarly, my son's birth rearranged me. His presence changed the way I spent my days, which were now filled with eye-gazing, cat naps, the smell of my own milk and the sometimes crushing responsibility of keeping him alive and content. I was suddenly a mother, though it took much longer to feel like one than to become one.

While the shock eventually wore off, and as I did after my brother's death, I found a new normal, I still get little glimpses of it from time to time.

The other night, some close friends came over for dinner with their two young children. In between tantrum-soothing, we reminisced about life before kids: the leisurely quiet dinners, the spontaneous outings, the late-night parties.

For a moment, we stared at our kids playing on the floor.

"There are four more people here than there used to be," I said, smiling.

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Us four adults looked at each other, shaking our heads at the surreal fact that we had created four more lives, and the beautiful chaos that came with them.

While the stark shock of new parenthood is gone, I still get these moments of sweet surprise. Instead of shock, it now feels much more like gratitude.

Photograph by: GaborfromHungary via morgueFile

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