05/21/2014 03:35 pm ET Updated Jul 21, 2014

Best and Worst Piece of Advice for New Moms

Jessica Holden Photography via Getty Images

Yesterday I was sitting in a coffee shop waiting for my friend to show up when I overheard an older woman saying to a new mom: "Enjoy this precious time because it goes by so fast." I wanted to tell the older woman that this is not what you say to bleary-eyed new moms who have been kept up all night by a wailing infant. It just makes many of us feel worse for not seeing the "precious" part. Far more suitable advice, I believe, is what my friend Dana told me when I was losing it one night.

I cracked three months after giving birth to my daughter. I missed my magazine job that gave me purpose and structure, dinners with friends who made me giggle, dates with my husband where I had real stories to share that didn't involve the word "poop." I felt guilty that I wasn't glowing with happiness and treasuring each "precious" moment, terrified I'd be stuck in this rut forever.

I grabbed the phone and told my husband I was going upstairs to the rooftop to make a phone call. When I got there, I frantically dialed Dana, who was an "expert" because she had a 1-year-old; maybe she could assure me it would get better. And when she answered, I spilled my guts to her, admitting I'd inadvertently wrecked my life, that I was a miserable, and that I wanted a do-over. And Dana sat quietly on the phone and listened until I was done.

Then, she said the words that changed my life: "There is a church in a nearby town, and if you leave your baby on the front steps in a basket, they HAVE to take her." This was not what I was expecting. I thought Dana was going to assure me life would get better and to hang in. Her advice felt strangely reassuring. There was a church. And they'd have to take my baby. And it wasn't like Dana or I would have ever (ever) abandoned our babies, but just knowing that there was an escape plan, an option B, was one of the best gifts anyone ever gave me. I thanked her, hung up, and enjoyed the cool breeze of the evening before going back inside. I thought of this mantra about the nearby church many times that first year.

Today my girl is 9. Parenthood got much easier and more enjoyable for me when my daughter turned 5, and started having a life of her own. I knew this was the part of mothering I'd love -- when my child was old enough to form and express her own ideas. I relish her absurd humor, her thoughtful takes on life, and even her challenging questions. This is the point where parenting does start to fly by.

Motherhood is still really hard at times, but I am better equipped for this kind of hard. I wouldn't go back to those early baby days for all the money.

Still, when friends who are new moms call me in tears because they feel they are going crazy, I don't tell them about how it gets better if they can hang in there. I tell them what Dana told me, that there is a nearby church where they have to take your baby if you leave it in a basket.