Both my mother and my maternal grandmother had trouble getting pregnant. As a result, I thought I would too. So, before my husband and I started trying for kids, I did my research. I bought books, read articles, spoke with friends, and spoke with my doctors. When it came time to start trying, I went about it strategically and armed with knowledge. I can’t say that it was because of this knowledge or just sheer luck, but I was pregnant after the first month of trying. I was dumbfounded because I was convinced that it was going to be difficult. I also believed that I would know I was pregnant because I would feel different. Neither of these things were true. At least in the very beginning—before the onset of morning sickness—I felt exactly the same as I always had. Who knew?!
I went into motherhood convinced that I was born for this role. I had been a babysitter, worked as a resident camp counselor for three summers, I was a certified teacher with a master’s degree in reading, I was happily married, and had a stable home and career. Most importantly, I have a sister who is 12 years younger and a brother who is 17 years younger than I am. I saw my mom pregnant twice and was a built-in babysitter. I was ready.
Except, I had never been pregnant before. I had never had to deliver a baby before. I never had to experience sleepless nights or nursing. I was never the one who had to figure out childcare or car seats or… Nevertheless, I was blindly optimistic. For my oldest, I was induced. I went into the hospital with him being two-weeks overdue and they started me on Pitocin to start my labor, and start it it did! Within fifteen minutes I was in full-blown labor with minute-long contractions. Eventually, several hours and two epidurals later (the first one only numbed half my body), it was time to push. Unexpectedly, when I pushed, Nolan’s heart rate dropped. After several attempts, the doctor decided that an emergency C-section was the best thing for Nolan’s health. I was wheeled into the O.R. and Nolan was delivered so quickly that my husband didn’t even have time to get scrubs on and get in the room.
If you’re keeping track, that’s two unexpected incidents on my path to parenthood: (1) I got pregnant my first month trying and (2) I had an emergency C-section. Here are a few more from week one of Nolan's life:
Neither Nolan nor I had any clue about how to nurse an infant, so we both had to be taught.
I got the “baby blues” in the hospital that lasted about a week.
Nolan cried every time I put him down.
I didn’t realize that he would eat every two hours.
Again, this was just the first week. The. First. Week.
Becoming a mother was something that I wanted and yet it was also something that I was utterly ill-prepared for despite being prepared. It was the most precious gift and also the most challenging role. How is it that I was a well-educated, well-experienced, well-meaning, well-loved, well-loving, and well-paid person who was thrown for such a loop? Nolan was so needy. It was so hard. I am so human.
As educators, we went into the job with very specific and deliberated preparation. We decided at some point in or before college that teaching was what we wanted to do. We took courses. We did formal observations of teachers. We did student teaching. Yet, when I think about my first year of teaching, what I remember most is the doubt, the tears, and the feeling that I made a mistake. I’m obviously not alone. There is much written about the attrition rates of teachers within the first five years.
“Seven Trends: The Transformation of the Teaching Force – Updated October 2018,” by Ingersoll, Merrill, Stuckey, and Collins states that “more than 44 percent of new teachers in public and private schools leave teaching within 5 years of entry” (p. 20).
I cried a lot my first year of teaching. If after I gave birth I had “baby blues,” after my first year of teaching, I had what I would call “new school blues.”
The first year of anything is hard. My first year of college. My first year of grad school. My first year of my marriage. My first year of teaching. My first year of being a parent. They were all hard. I would NOT want to relive them even knowing what I know now. I’m glad they’re in my rear view mirror rather than in my windshield. Why? Because even though I know better now, many of the things that made those firsts difficult were also things that were out of my control, so while they might be made easier by my experience, that doesn’t make those experiences easy (which is why I’m done having kids).
Yet, here I am in my 21st year in education and not a day goes by that I wonder if I made the right choice. I’m in my 18th year of marriage. I’m in my 14th year of parenting. I’ve been a college graduate three times over. I have no doubts about my choices; I have conviction about them. I can’t imagine a different profession (really I call it a craft), a different husband, and certainly not different children. In fact, despite the fact that my first child really threw me for a loop, I went on to have two more beautiful children and I adore all three of them! With the second, and ultimately the third child, there were surprises and I still made mistakes, but both were easier than it was the first go-around. In fact, by the time I went into the hospital to have my third, I thought, “hospital and hotel both start with an H. I am going to order off of that menu like it’s room service and stay here as long as they’ll have me.”
I’m saying all of this because even if you have never been married or had a baby or gone to college, you have had to go through firsts. What’s more, this year of the COVID pandemic is a first. Let’s not be surprised that it’s hard—I mean, really hard. It is. Part of it is because we’ve never had to do so much of what we have to do right now. Social-distancing wasn’t a thing. People only wore masks on Halloween. Zoom was something you said to toddlers while pushing Matchbox cars. This is a year of firsts no matter who you are. And, I want to remind you that this will get better. I do not believe (even a little bit) that the current state of affairs will last forever. I don’t think that I will be talking about how much better we are with social distancing ten years from now. It’s not that I’m an optimist, it’s that this is not the first or last pandemic that will ever happen; these things happen and then they pass.
In the meantime, if this feels hard, it’s because it is hard. However, I encourage you to look in your rear view mirror and identify something (and I’m sure there are many things to choose from) that was once difficult in its first year that is no longer as difficult now. Just lik