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What would you tell yourself, if you could?

By Alice Bradley

To: Alice Bradley, July 2002
From: Alice Bradley, July 2008
Subject: You, in a few months.
Hey there, hot pregnant lady! And I don’t mean temperature-wise. The oversized-belly look works for you, seriously. This will be the last time your midsection is ever this taut, by the way, so enjoy it while you can.
So. Look. I know (because I was you) that ever since you found out you were pregnant, you’ve read approximately 35 books on child-rearing. Because of all your book-learnin’, you now consider yourself to be something of an expert on the subject of babies. You truly believe that, armed with your freshly informed brain, you’ll be able to anticipate and tackle each motherhood challenge as it arises. You’re pretty sure you’re going to win at this baby-caretaking thing.
Excuse me while I laugh at you. I’ll stick my face in this pillow, to muffle the hooting.
Mmmmmmf! mmmmf mffffff! Hmmmmmmmffff!
Ah, but that was cleansing. I needed that.
Here’s what’s going to happen fairly soon: a few days after the baby is born, you will be so tired and sore and bereft, you won’t be able to see straight. And all those tips and techniques and procedures you learned, all those baby-facts you memorized, they will leave you as quickly as your pregnant-looking belly will not.
You think your sleep is fitful now that you’re hot and ungainly? You have no idea. You think you’ve got aches and pains, and that your hormones are making you feel a little nutty? What you’re going through now is a week at a spa compared to what you’ll feel like. You’re worried now about labor and delivery, but that ordeal will last for only a few hours. True, you might feel (ahem) a bit of discomfort, but compared to weeks of sleep deprivation and ceaseless screaming, you’ll soon wish you were back at the hospital, enjoying a nice, peaceful contraction.
You will have days when you’ve had less than one hour of sleep—an hour that was won in five-minute increments, usually while standing ov er the crib or while brushing your teeth. Everything, much less baby-raising, will seem like an insurmountable challenge. Trying to find your take-out menus will drive you to tears. You will let gum simply fall from your mouth as you pay a bill. You will talk to yourself on the street. You will answer the door with your shirt open and your bra undone. Not only will you not remember what you read, you won’t remember how to hold and operate a book, and if someone asked you to spell “book” you would whimper. You will know nothing.
And that’s okay.
The bottom line is, you will make mistakes like crazy, but none of it will make any difference down the road. You can put the diaper on backwards and inside out (and you will), lose your temper because he’s crying only to realize that there’s an errant staple stuck inside his onesie (check), watch him slip off your chest and onto the ground (double check) , turn your back for a second while he grabs a handful of diaper rash cream and stuffs it in his mouth (yep). You will misbehave and lose your temper and forget your phone number. And it will all be okay.
Now let’s talk about nursing. You won’t be able to. I’m sorry. I can tell you that now, but I know (because I’m you) that you’ll try for months anyway. Let it go. Nursing is lovely, nursing is wonderful, but if you need to supplement or even just give up, your baby will be fine. If your breasts aren’t supplying enough milk to sustain life, this does not make you a terrible mother.
And your husband isn’t a terrible father, no matter how incoherent he appears. He’s as much a victim of the baby’s apparent love of screaming and hatred of sleep. When you’re in the shit, so to speak, you must take nothing your partner says personally. Let your overloaded brain discard the memory of your spouse declaring his dislike of your baby. You don’t need to hold onto it, because it’s meaningless. No fighting over anything one of you said in the middle of the night.
(Of course, you’ll probably forget this piece of advice when it’s 3 a.m. and the baby just threw up in your bed and Scott is stomping around the room shouting about selling the baby or getting a better baby or whatever the hell he was going on about. Fortunately you won’t be able to recall the fight with any clarity the next day. Sleep deprivation can be your friend.)
Likewise, give yourself a break for whatever you happen to say to the baby in the middle of the night. Really, it’s okay. In fact, now is the time to express your feelings, no matter how inappropriate. The baby will neither remember nor comprehend what you’r e saying, so go to town. You may tell your beloved child that you hate his guts, and that’s fine. You won’t mean it. It might feel good for a minute. Let it feel good. You’re operating on very little sleep, you silly person. Get your happiness where you can. Besides, if you express your disgust and impatience in a low murmur, it’s like a lullaby for baby.
Soon this will all be a distant memory. It’ll change before you know it. As soon as you think you can’t take another day of mothering, it all changes. It will be maddening and stressful in new ways, sure, but once you’re able to sleep, you’re going to feel like a superhero. And soon enough you’re going to wish you could remember that time with greater clarity. That you had started a blog when your child was first born, so you could remember every awful, wonderful day.

Published July 4, 2008. Last updated May 10, 2010.
Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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  • Therese

    July 4, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    So I guess we go through life always thinking that we’re wiser, when in reality, we know less and less, hmm?
    Reading your letter to you made me feel better. I can’t even say why, exactly, except that the concept of telling yourself that even though you are a mess, that is totally okay, it won’t last forever… I find that incredibly reassuring.
    I hope you do too, if somewhat belatedly.

  • procrastamom

    July 4, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    I’ll need three copies of this, thank you. This letter needs to be sent to Procrastamom in 1991, 1996 and 1998…because she’ll either misplace it in 1991 or throw it away along with the manual nursing pump that vice-gripped her boobs, the nursing pads that didn’t stay put and the empty tubes of medicated ointment the doctor gave her for Mastitis. She needs to know that breastfeeding is not the be-all end-all of motherhood (yes, she needs to be reminded THREE TIMES even though she thought it would be different for each one) and that her kids will grow up strong and healthy anyways.
    Also, remind her not to eat so much crap, because those lovely size 12 pants don’t fit anymore.

  • Becky

    July 4, 2008 at 7:02 pm

    Dear sweet heart broken self,
    You spent one whole month in the hospital in hopes of prolonging your little baby’s womb stay. He wanted to come early and yet you wouldn’t allow it. He was far too small to battle the world outside his little safe haven. You spent day in and day out watching 3 tv channels, eating a strict diet of what tasted like packing peanuts. Lying in bed for 30 days tested your strength but you never complained once because it was for your sweet little one. Finally the day came where you couldn’t keep the little guy inside. Two months premature meant that he’d have to stay in the hospital for quite a while. You spent every night crying because you couldn’t be with your newborn son.
    As the mother of your 4 month old son I suggest you SUCK IT UP and realize that for a month, some other poor woman had to take care of your child while you slept FOR MORE THAN 20 MINUTES AT A TIME. Do you realize what’d I do be told that I must stay in bed for 30 days and have food prepared for me? I’ve considered selling our son for some of those nice packing peanuts because at least I wouldn’t have to cook them myself.
    Over tired, puked on and starving Self

  • Johnna

    July 5, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Wow. I’ve loved having newborns and I love nursing. Even though it hasn’t been easy. Our first baby died at three days old (birth complications), so I guess it taught me a bit of perspective when our next three babies came. I’m still crying for missing the sleepless nights and hearing his cry, I guess. I rarely make negative comments, and I love this blog. But I’m sad after reading all the previous comments. Sorry.

  • drowningindoghair

    July 6, 2008 at 12:31 am

    Lovely post. So true. My daughter is now just one year old and I’m starting to crawl out from under the fog of no sleep. It’s amazing how you forget the worst parts and start thinking about doing it all over again. It must be the way we were created to make sure the species will survive.

  • Fairly Odd Mother

    July 6, 2008 at 9:55 am

    So much truth in this. And, I laughed out loud about the gum falling out of your mouth. Check.

  • Kim

    July 6, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Anybody else see this in Newsweek?

  • Michelle

    July 7, 2008 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for writing this – and Johnna, that was really unncessary. I’m sorry for your loss, but to imply that somehow makes you a better mother or love your babies more is just….wow.

  • Cobwebs

    July 7, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I particularly like the sticking-your-face-in-the-pillow part. I look back at my naive little pregnant self and all of my plans on how I was going to raise my child and think, “Bwahahahahaha.”
    If I could go back and chat with myself, I think I’d emphasize that my parenting stress would lessen considerably the moment I stopped sweating the small stuff.
    And also I’d tell myself to lay off the cookies.

  • kim

    July 7, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Wow, I see that everyone (excepting the no doubt be-haloed and be-winged Johnna) had that same first six months or so that I had. I had the same problem with breastfeeding–when the nurse told me that my first daughter was “failing to thrive” and that I’d have to supplement with formula, I thought that I was the worst mother in the history of motherhood, and that she didn’t need me any more. Luckily, my mother-in-law saw where I was headed and snapped me out of that in a heartbeat.
    So yeah, my message to self would be pretty much the same, except replace the staple incident with the first clipping of the toenails in which sleeping baby wakes up howling and THEN you notice that one of her toes is bleeding. Egad. And yet, we’re all alive and none the worse for wear. And also? Even though my children probably didn’t get more than an ounce apiece out of my defective breasts, my third-grader is reading chapter books just because she likes to, and my first-grader is showing signs of becoming a computer geek. I think they’ll make it in spite of me.

  • RLJ

    July 8, 2008 at 5:29 am

    I actually thought the first year of my first son’s life was easier than being pregnant. And then came little mr. age 1. Oh My! THAT was the hardest time of my life! I knew I would have to pay for my “easy baby” in time. He was 3 on Saturday and I am still paying. I think it ends when they go to college.
    This also means that I can’t fully enjoy my second “easy baby” (9 weeks) because I know what is coming… every time DS1 has a meltdown I remind myself “and in a year or so you will doing this All Again.”
    Alice, by the second one you are so used to functioning on limited and interrupted sleep that you don’t even notice the difference (Husband is whinging a whole lot more though since DS2 was born; probably because he wasn’t trying to deal with a demanding 2yo while pregnant so doens’t know anything about Real Exhaustion.)
    (Why do I think describing DS2 publicly as an “easy baby” is an invitation for him to develop colic, insomnia and an ear-drum-shattering scream that no doors or earplugs can withstand?)

  • e.darcy

    July 8, 2008 at 6:25 am

    Oh sigh. When my husband and I lay in bed at night and talk about what our future will be like with babies, how we will raise them-what we will do and what we will sooo not ever do.
    Gah-I realise then and there when we say it that it’s total crap, complete shit, so dreamy and pure.
    We tell ourselves that oh-kids are so hard to raise, we sometimes bring up the hard bits, blah blah blah-but at the end of it, well-I guess you have to be that way to actually be crazy enough to go through with it.
    Because no matter what people tell you, no matter how many mom’s warn you-no matter how many women like to scare the shit out of you with their terrifying birth experience, you’ll want to do it yourself-you’ll want to prove them wrong, and if not, then you’ll just want to join the freaking club.
    So, the sleepless nights-I welcome you… To sore boobs and tearfully long, draining days that go on and on. To smelling like sweat, milk, and baby poop. To going un-bathed for days… I’m ready for you-so bring it on.

  • Becky

    July 8, 2008 at 1:14 pm

    I just needed to add that its all totally worth it. Please don’t let my humor imply that I don’t value my child. I’m currently in the rough so joking with fellow mothers helps me feel less overwhelmed.

  • Jen

    July 9, 2008 at 3:10 pm

    So, yeah, this is the best post ever. I’m seriously wondering why, at 3 mos into #2, that i decided to do all that again. And, after 4 days (yes) of labor and a c-section, the overwhelming pain of breastfeeding when my pain meds were wearing OFF really kinda kaibashed that one. My mom reminded me that I was bottle fed, and turned out just fine. I wish I had known to just let her come on her own and not to try to rush things. That, mostly defines my whole parenting experience.

  • Ally

    July 9, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    That was beautiful. (No, like fo’ real.)

  • mallory

    July 9, 2008 at 8:57 pm

    My best friend can’t have children (and desperately wants them), so I am *extremely* grateful to have gotten pregnant easily at 38. I don’t take any of it–the good, bad, ugly for granted. But Johnna, here’s the news flash: it is still hard. It is impossible to describe the disorientation that results from not sleeping for a month. What Alice wrote was funny and true and she summed it up best with her final words about wanting to remember every wonderful, awful day of it.

  • diane

    July 18, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    OH MY GOD! YES! I have a 7 week old and EVERY BIT OF THIS TRUE! I even told my mother the other day that while I loved my some more than anything or anybody, I had a real hard time liking him the other night/morning when it was 4 am when he decided to go to sleep and my alarm was set to go off in 2 hours so I could get ready for work. But its worth it!

  • Mom24

    July 23, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    I would love to have the money and the space to create a fantasy room for my kids so they never wanted to leave. However, it’s worth noting that I vividly remember having sex on our family room floor, so I think that parents are deluding themselves if they think that having their teens at home means they won’t be engaging in sex, drugs, or drinking.