THE BLOG
01/21/2015 05:14 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

12 Lessons From My First 12 Months as a Mother

"Your baby is here!"

"YOU HAVE TO PUSH!"

"NOW!"

The midwife had to be wrong. I had arrived at the hospital only one hour earlier.

This wasn't my baby coming.

This was definitely me dying...

...and the midwife and every person in the labor ward heard me make that claim.

I was clearly wrong, though, because less than 30 minutes later -- in a scenario contrary to everything in my birth plan -- I had a pink bundle in my hands.

As surreal as all 90 minutes of that experience were, I remember the joy of holding my daughter for that very first time as if it were yesterday.

So it's hard to believe that this past week was her first birthday.

A full year!

It has been a full year since my daughter first gave me a glimpse into her stubborn and impatient personality. A full year since she showed me that in life, not everything goes according to plan.

While that may have been the first lesson I learned as a mother, over the following year I picked up many more.

These are the 12 things my little girl has helped me discover in my first 12 months as a mother:

1. Trust yourself. You're doing a great job, even though most days you feel you are not. When you have your first baby, everyone who has ever had a baby before you becomes an expert. Advice starts to flow in -- about EVERYTHING -- and it becomes easy to get overwhelmed and lose confidence. While it's true that those who have done it before you have discovered things that worked for their children, only YOU can know what's right for yours. So trust yourself -- nothing is stronger than a mother's instincts and intuition.

2. Motherhood is not a battle -- you can't win by fighting it. An antenatal yoga teacher once told me about labor, "If you stand stiff at the beach in the face of a coming wave, it crashes into you and knocks you down; but if you relax and embrace it, it will carry you along." Apparently, this applies to motherhood, too. Motherhood changes things: you, your partner, your relationship, your priorities, your abilities, and your responsibilities. It's natural to resist and try to keep the status quo, but when you can't, you end up feeling miserable. So accepting that these changes will happen and choosing to cherish instead of resist them can make the journey much more enjoyable.

3. Unconditional love does not mean unconditional patience. I would go to the ends of the earth for my daughter if she needed me to, but that does not mean I always enjoy or want to spend every waking second with her. Sometimes, when she's woken me up every two hours at night, all I want is to sleep. Sometimes, when she wants me to play the same song over and over 1,000 times, I just want a pair of earplugs. Sometimes, I want to read a book, take a long quiet shower, or watch a TV show. Sometimes, I need a break. Through it all, I love her unconditionally for each and every second. Patience -- that comes in shorter supply. And that's still OK!

4. You can't take care of a child if you can't take care of yourself. We all want to give our children the best care possible. We even feel guilty if we're not all in all the time. But the best thing I did for my baby girl was to take care of myself so that there would be more of "me" to give. Whether it's a nap, a few hours out, handing baby over to someone else for a while, enlisting husband's babysitting skills one night a week, working out, getting a massage or a manicure -- whatever it is -- it's important not to forget to care for yourself too. It will help you recharge, stock up on some more patience, and actually enjoy taking care of your family.

5. "Something's Gotta Give." Wouldn't it be amazing if every day you slept eight hours, looked like you stepped out of a magazine, had a spotless house, were able to take on more at work to fast track your promotion, your family ate home-cooked organic meals, you made every single school show and PTA meeting, you volunteered in the community, you Skyped your extended family every day, you sent hand-written Christmas cards to friends, you went on date night once a week, you spent quality time with your children every day and never missed any of their firsts... and if you were superwoman? Yes, it would be amazing, but it would be impossible. Something's gotta give, but what gives is your choice.

6. Share. Don't Compare. It's tempting to tell that mother who's still waking up every two hours at night that your baby has been sleeping through the night since he was 3 months old -- or to tell that mother whose child at one year is still not standing up that yours was walking at 10 months. But parenting is not a race, and our children are not proxies for our success. Too much competition between parents can be toxic -- for parents and children alike. Opening up and sharing concerns without judgement can ease the anxiety of first-time parenting. Comparing only makes it worse.

7. "All You Need is Love." We've all fallen prey to "stimulating" and "intelligence enhancing" toys because of an old study showing that rats in "enriched" environments turn out smarter than those in impoverished ones. What didn't get as much attention in the study was that the rats in their natural un-caged environment were even more intelligent than those caged up in an enriched one. What kids really need to flourish are love and discipline -- not things. So instead of buying all the stimulating toys in the world, giving our children our time, attention, and love, is a much better way to ensure they grow into the smart and happy adults they are destined to become. Besides, you can buy all the toys in the world and your baby will still prefer your pots, pans, and iPhone!

8. Every child is different. Some children get teeth by 4 months or walk by 9 months; others only do so after their first birthday. Some are good sleepers and eaters, some are not. Some are happy babies, some are grumpy. But ALL of our children were not ordered from a catalogue, and these unique traits -- even between siblings -- make parenting more interesting. Whether a child is in the 10th or 90th percentile, the best gift we can give that child is accepting them as they are and allowing them to develop in their own time instead of forcing them into societies dictated averages and expectations.

9. Don't judge, because you can't know. That mother who is formula feeding instead of breastfeeding? She had an emergency C-section and her milk didn't come in. That mother who went back to work after a very short leave? Her husband's salary wasn't enough and she cried every morning all the way to work. That mother who is still co-sleeping at two years? She is scared of leaving her child in his own room and losing him the way her sister lost hers. It's easy to judge, but it's so hard to know the reasons behind people's actions. I've been on both the receiving and giving end of this judgment, and I've found that understanding is the much better route.

10. "Who's the Boss?" It's not always you! There will be days (or weeks or months) when you find yourself succumbing to the will and whims of a two-foot, tyrannical little boss. Enjoy it, savor it, laugh about it, get over it... and move on!

11. Children are our protégés, not our provokers. When you want baby to sleep, she stays up. When you need baby awake, he decides to sleep. When you take food, he refuses to eat. When you forget to pack food, she screams from hunger. It often seems like our babies are out to get us! When I think of my baby not as my opponent, but as a very inexperienced ally, these things don't get me as frustrated. My baby is a person, but not an adult, and she needs my help and guidance -- to sleep, to eat, to play, to do anything. Signing on for parenthood means I am willing to be a teacher all day every day -- at least for a little while - and I need to keep my end of that bargain.

12. Be grateful for every second because even though the days are long, the years are short. With endless feeds, nappy changes, songs on repeat, laundry, cooking, and sleepless nights, it's easy to feel that the days don't end. But each day eventually ends, and with it an era of your child's life as well.

I know this with certainty now as I look at my wide-eyed 1-year-old angel and notice how many things she has stopped doing, and how many habits have been replaced with new ones. I still remember every detail about the day she was born as if it were yesterday, yet in the blink of an eye, a year has gone.

So next time I feel a day dragging on, I will slow down, savor it, and cherish every precious moment with my daughter, knowing that soon enough another day... another month... and then another year will have gone by.

reem kassis

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