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What Nobody Told Me About Motherhood

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When I was pregnant with my first child, I was told that parenthood would be amazing and hard, kids don’t come with instruction manuals, my sleep would be tattered and my heart bursting with love. These all turned out to be true, but they are only the very beginning of the truth—a truth full of textures and nuances.

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There will be a space between the mother you are and the mother you thought you’d be. Among other things, the space will be occupied by allowing your children too much TV and sugar, dinners of toast and pepperoni, and yelling. Sometimes you will surrender to this space and embrace your own imperfection. Other times, the space will sprout teeth and gnaw at you, leaving you weak and bloodied.

Speaking of bloody, you will spend more time with bodily fluids than you ever thought possible. It will be disgusting and hilarious, and it will teach you hard won lessons about human vulnerability. One Wednesday morning, after scrubbing toddler poop from your thumbnail, you will realize, "Holy crap, my parents wiped my butt every day. They scraped puke from my blankets. They kissed my forehead even when it smelled faintly of vomit." You will feel humbled and grateful, strong-stomached and horrified.

Your body will never be the same. You will find mysterious soft pockets of flesh just above your hips. Your periods turn long and terrible, and you sometimes (usually) dribble pee when you sneeze. Your body will be stronger and more tired and touched than you could ever have imagined. Babies even shake off some of their own cehealls while still in the womb, leaving them behind like pearls floating through your dark blood. These cells may linger for decades, as if to remind you that even molecularly, you are changed.

Your little children will break your heart and sometimes your spirit.

And yet, you are still the same. You still love "Gilmore Girls" reruns and yoga, but for a while they will get pushed to the edges of your life like broken furniture. You sometimes still feel more like a child than a parent. You sometimes miss the younger you so much it aches, the you who took spontaneous road trips with the radio blasting, sucking cigarettes. She is just beneath the surface, watching you with her impossibly smooth forehead and kohl-lined eyes.

You will clock more hours cleaning than ever before. And yet your house will almost always look like it’s just been ransacked by a hungry, toy-crazed motorcycle gang.

You will do bizarre things to make your children laugh. You will let your son tie twine to your belt loops and then run around the lawn with you on the twine leash, both of you laughing hysterically. You will scoot down the stairs when your toddler daughter asks you to, leaving you with a mild case of rugburn and a cameltoe the size of New Jersey.

Your little children will break your heart and sometimes your spirit with their unconditional love, their omnipresent need for you, their radical acceptance of your faults. You are their sun, and this is both taxing and amazing. They will seek you out in the crust of night. And again just before dawn, they come for you like zombies. They become, and will likely remain, the only people who want to hang out with you while you’re pooping. To them, your body is an extension of their own, and they will climb you like a jungle gym, kick you like a ninja and squeeze your boobs like a pervy 15-year-old.

You will be connected to all of the world’s suffering. You will wince or cry or turn your head from news stories about wounded children. You will not be able to conceive of living without these little people whose faces you couldn’t have imagined. Your need for them to keep existing, healthy and whole, will make you pray and plead, expose your nerves like sparking wires and crack your heavy heart wide open.

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You will be the holder of shed skin. Each phase your child goes through will lodge itself into your heart and mind. So many memories run off of them like water—the months and months spent breastfeeding, crying through the first weeks of preschool, only eating white foods. The first time he rode without training wheels, the first time you realized she had a crush on someone. You will grasp each of these versions of your children, stacked inside each other like Russian Dolls, long after they forget these discarded stages.

Sometimes when you look at your child, you will see all the ages they have ever been, and it will leave you breathless.

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