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My first year of motherhood in review

My first year of motherhood in review

Photo by Our Days Photo & Film

Aunties, our June baby is one today. ♥️😭

It’s a tale as old as time: you blink, and they grow up.

I have so many thoughts I don’t know where to begin. I can’t believe she’s a year old, and simultaneously I don’t remember what like was life without her, even though it was only a year ago! It seems like both yesterday and a different lifetime.

I had no idea what to expect coming into motherhood. The most common question I get is, “is it what you thought it would be?” and honestly? It’s better.

This kid is so much fun. I never knew babies could have so much personality even from the youngest age. Her smile (always with the tongue out) is infectious–she is always curious–she loves people and is an aggressive friend-maker. 😂 She goes out of her way to win even the crankiest guy in the grocery store line over.

She’s sweet but she’s very spicy and if you push her too far–watch out. She has had her own mind since day one, she never holds back in telling you how she feels. I love that she’s the first person to clap (for herself!) when she accomplishes something new, she is independent and confident and while I wish maybe sometimes she would need Mama a LITTLE more 😉 I hope she never loses those qualities.

My first year of motherhood in review

I thought today it might be helpful to do a little “year in review” on the topic of motherhood, so I’m answering some questions you submitted over on Instagram stories. I by NO means have it figured out– I don’t think anyone at any point in life “has it all figured out”–because wouldn’t that be boring? But I hope that by sharing my experience, it can help some other mothers or future mothers out there, too.

Answering your questions below, I’m sharing what I’ve learned along the way, what helped me most, what I’ve learned about myself, and the things I think have contributed to my experience with motherhood so far. Keep in mind, every mother and child is unique, and my experience might be different than yours–so I hope this is helpful to some, but like everything in life–take what serves you and leave what doesn’t.

My first year of motherhood in review

What did you envision your first year being like vs. how it turned out?

For some background: I always knew I wanted kids, but I never got baby fever. I never felt like I’d be ready, and I was terrified of losing the life I love so much. That everything would feel turned upside down forever.

I envisioned the first year of motherhood being one endlessly long rough patch–filled with tears, sleepless nights, loss of my identity, loss of my social life–because that’s kind of all you see on social media these days–how miserable mothers are.

I’m not saying this doesn’t happen, OR that this isn’t true for many–especially here in the US. We don’t have any resources given to us to set us up for success–our system and our society is not built for mothers. It’s is HARD. There ARE tears, there ARE sleepless nights, there can be a feeling of identity loss, and your social life definitely looks much different than it once did. But that wasn’t my WHOLE experience.

All of this to say, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the fact that motherhood has been a lot more joyful and FUN than I ever expected.

Motherhood is fun. Why doesn’t anyone tell you that part? Of course it’s hard–it’s trying. Some days seem endless, but most are wonderful. I don’t think anyone thinks it’ll be easy–but I have loved every phase of hers more than the next. It’s so true when they say “it just keeps getting better.” Neal and I often look at each other and say, “can you believe she’s this fun?”

I knew motherhood would be difficult going in, and I was very worried about PPD because I know so many women experience it. (And if you aren’t feeling yourself, know you’re not alone–PLEASE talk to your doctor!)

There are several main factors that contributed to this year being a positive one. The first one I’ll share (others I will touch on later throughout this post) ASIDE from the fact that I have an incredible hands-on partner who truly splits parenting with me 50/50 (which is HUGE)–is because I was very intentional in putting a plan in place ahead of June’s arrival–assessing what Neal and I were going to need to feel like “us.” I was very adamant about not subscribing to the “martyr mom” narrative and I knew the solution to combat that was to ensure I was doing what I could to never “lose myself.”

Some of these plans included:

Making the decision that breastfeeding was not a good option for me, hiring a night nurse to come a few nights per week for the first couple months, and securing her spot in daycare starting in October. (I wholeheartedly understand that ALL of these things are a reflection of privilege, but I am asked constantly about these things, so I want to be open in sharing. Also want to acknowledge that we would have been able to afford all or any of these choices had we had a baby earlier in life, and this is huge part of why I’m so glad we waited to have kids until we did.)

Everyone is so different, but the pressure to breastfeed (I didn’t want to, it filled me with so much anxiety and dread), the anticipation of sleepless nights (I need more sleep than anyone I know to function) and the fact that I would have no time to myself or the thought of being pressured to work while parenting simultaneously–(I’d watched friends try and do this during the pandemic and saw how miserable it was) are the things that were keeping me up at night when I was pregnant.

Addressing these challenges head-on was imperative for me.

I am so glad I went with my gut on knowing these things about myself–because formula-feeding, having a night nurse to alleviate some of the no-sleep pressure in those early days, and having full-time childcare start date is what has allowed us to thrive as a family in the beginning and also now.

Moral of the story is, just be real with yourself. Do the best that you can with the resources you have around you to build a plan with your limitations in mind.

My first year of motherhood in review

What surprised me most?

Lots of things! But two that come to mind are…

One–the hormones:

I think how wild your hormones are during the early days. I remember truly not recognizing myself. I’ve never been a crier or emotional, but man. I was a different person during the newborn days. You can just FEEL them surging through you. You feel like your mind is playing tricks on you. And you wonder if this is just who you are now. You will wonder what’s wrong with you and why the simplest things are so hard. Or why you seem to snap over the dumbest things or why *this specific thing* feels SO huge and like such a big deal. This is NORMAL–nothing can ever prepare you for how it feels, but it’s helpful going in knowing that “this is not the new you” and you will not be that person forever!

I also have never been an anxious person and I think looking back I maybe had a little bit of PPA. I would lay in bed and my mind would just race through all the horrible things that could happen to her. And I was so, so scared she would stop breathing, there were times I would get anxious to cross the street with her. Luckily, the rational part of my brain was able to talk myself through it and eventually that subsided–but I never thought I’d be that “anxious mom” (CBD really helped/does help) but those early hormones do crazy things to you.

Two: How much my priorities would naturally shift:

This actually is really only true in some aspects. The most surprising is that I went from someone who was once VERY career-driven, to someone who is OK with just maintaining the status quo with work right now. I care more about being able to spend time with my family than I care about advancing my career, “climbing the ladder” so to speak–and that’s not something I envisioned. For a while I felt like I was letting my hustling 25 year old self down, but I came around to accepting it, and where I’m at in my life right now feels really good. I wrote about that over in this post.

Thoughts on being a mom by jess keys

What am I most proud of this past year?

I’m most proud of Neal and I as a team. How we shared a vision of what we wanted our lives as a family to look like and for the most part we’ve done a really good job of living that out. He is the most incredible father, we truly share parenting duties equally, and I’m so grateful for the partnership we have.

Life never goes according to plan, and at times you are really put to the test, but for the most part, we don’t let the hurdles of having a baby get in the way of enjoying life.

We go out of our way to still go on date nights (granted, not as often as we should!) and we’re good about making time for ourselves and helping each other get enough alone time. We are good about protecting the other one’s time so they get what they need. And we are really good of knowing our limitations and tapping in and out when we need to, and the other is happy to jump in. We do not revolve our lives around June, we integrate June into our life and bring her a long for the ride.

I also know, comparatively speaking, it’s relatively “easy” (not easy, but you know what I’m saying) to do this your first year of parenting. I know it gets harder as they get older–toddlers are far more challenging (as we’re already finding out) and I know when she starts to get into her own activities it’s going to get a lot harder–but for what it’s worth, I give ourselves an A for year #1.

baby floating in swimming pool

Do you ever long for your old life before June?

I do, but not in the way I thought I would before having a baby. While we still do lots of fun things without her–what I miss most is the spontaneity. I miss being able to make off-the-cuff dinner plans. I miss long, leisurely 9pm dinners before they were considered “dates”. Now I feel like going out to dinner is an “event” because you have to plan ahead, you have to find a babysitter, it’s a thing, you know?

I also miss the times when I didn’t miss her, if that makes sense. We still travel a lot, and it’s still a passion and it’s still a priority, and it’s still SO much fun and necessary to take trips with girlfriends, with the two of you without baby–but in the back of my mind I’m always missing her.

I think another thing to note, one of the only upsides of having a pandemic baby, is that our lives had already changed. I wasn’t really mourning my old life because that old life hadn’t existed since 2020 anyway. So I think this helped make the transition easier, coupled with the fact that most of my friends started having babies a little ahead of me, so there isn’t so much a lot of FOMO as there is just, “ah, remember when life was leisurely and spontaneous?! And not so expensive!? 😂”

Motherhood during the first year

Anything you thought you’d never do as a parent but have since changed your mind?

I think I will definitely have a LOT of that in year #2 😂 but not as much for year #1. One thing that comes to mind is that I would not be the mom that is constantly shoving puffs at her child. “I will not use snacks to pacify my child.” Turns out, I know why every mom loves puffs now. 😆 Don’t ever fly with a toddler without puffs!!!

The hardest part of motherhood so far?

I hated when people used to say this to me, but the fact that your heart now exists outside of your body. The fact that your own happiness hinges on your child and their wellbeing and THEIR happiness.

I think before you’re a parent and you hear people say, “it’s not about you anymore.” It sounds AWFUL–like it FEELS like a huge sacrifice, like your life is over and there’s nothing you can do about it–which isn’t true, and that’s not how it feels in reality.

Your priorities just naturally shift and everything you thought was important becomes background noise, because nothing else gives you as much joy as seeing your baby smile and laugh and learn new things. (Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean time for yourself and having a life and an identity outside of being a mother isn’t important, or that your kids don’t drive you bonkers and that there won’t be lots of moments where you’re counting the minutes until bedtime).

It’s honestly something you can’t understand until you’re in it.

What’s been really hard for me is dealing with the worry in the back of my mind that I know will never go away.

There is so much you can’t control, and you just have to hope that every day they go out into the world they’re going to be OK, and accept the fact that there will never be a day that you don’t worry about them in the back of your mind, and where you don’t love them so much it physically hurts.

My first year of motherhood in review

Best advice for new/expecting moms?

You can’t control what kind of baby you get, but you can control how you react. Know that everything is figure-outable, and everything is a phase–good AND bad.

Trust your gut on everything you can–you know more than you think you do–but also know that sometimes you need to bring in reinforcements. When you run into a road block (your baby won’t sleep, you’re having a feeding issue, ETC) GET HELP.

There are more resources out there for moms than EVER before and we just know so much more about infant-related subjects. From infant sleep, to feeding, to whatever.

Having trouble with your baby sleeping?

There are lots of sleep consultants out there who can help you. (Peaceful Littles or Bumble Baby!) Need help with feeding? There are consultants for both breast and bottle OR combo feeding. (Bumble Baby!) Of course, hiring help isn’t in the cards for everyone, but there is lots of great free information out there too! Ask friends, do your research, search on Instagram–you’ll find a wealth of information.

PLEASE DON’T just accept that “it is what it is.” There are so many things you can do to troubleshoot that you could not possibly know because you are not a certified expert in this area.

You’re the boss of your household, and like any good boss, know that you can’t do everything well–so outsource to the experts when you need to! This doesn’t make you a bad mom, it makes you a freaking FANTASTIC mom, because you don’t let your ego get in the way of your family thriving.

The bottom line is that that this is where a lot of moms get in trouble: they keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result, or that baby will “grow out of it” and it results in a LOT of turmoil. Keep trying new things and more often than not, you’ll figure out a solution and you’ll all be much happier for it!

text to Kate from Bumble Baby

Above: my text to Kate from Bumble Baby–June would’ve been between 6 and 7 weeks old at this point!

On maintaining a social life/making friendships:

Everyone wants to know the secret to maintaining a life after a kid.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it 100 more times: if you don’t want your life to revolve around your baby, then you’ve got to make an effort to not revolve your life around your baby. That’s the long and the short of it.

I often wonder why people don’t compare having a child to getting married, because it’s a very similar concept! If you want to have a good marriage, you have to put the constant conscious effort into maintaining that good marriage. It isn’t easy. It’s hard work. Some phases are easier than others. Everything good in life takes effort–and everything worth fighting for is hard!

Building a life you love with a baby is no different. It is a practice. Being able to live a life you love with a baby in tow requires more planning, more effort, more patience, more frustration (😂) more money–but it’s all SO worth it!

(Or you may decide that you LOVE a life that revolves around your baby and your family! And that’s great too!)

Jess and friend Kate with their babies

Our first time taking June to a BBQ at my best friend Kate’s house. June is probably about a week old here. It was a big deal and we were so proud!

On making plans:

Don’t stop hanging out with your friends. I know it’s hard to get out of the house (with or without your baby) and I know it’s easier to reschedule, or to stay home, or you’re worried about missing a nap or screwing up bedtime.

In the beginning, you will be scared to just walk down the sidewalk with your baby alone. You will be scared the first time you take her to lunch by yourself. You will be scared the first time you travel alone. But you have to do it! What is the alternative? Just not living your life?

Find yourself a good, reliable babysitter. Or ask a friend or family member to babysit.

Also–don’t forget that you need time with your friends solo. Leave your baby at home with your SO and go get drinks. Have coffee or lunch with a girlfriend when your kid is at daycare.

Bring your kid to your friends BBQ–bring their PJs and pack n play, and put them down there.

They might wake up when you put them back in the carseat to go home, but who cares. This is how they learn to roll with the punches. Or they can nap in the stroller on the go. Or in a baby carrier. It’s all an experiment! The more you get them out and about, the more adaptable they will be–and in turn, this sets them up for success in LIFE. Not to mention, you’ll be much more happy, fulfilled parents because of it.

Of course, I am not saying this will be the case with EVERY baby, but from what I’ve learned watching my friends–I know this to be true in most cases. You don’t know until you try. It’s OK if you get off schedule, it’s OK if they miss a nap. It’s not always a cakewalk, but there has never been a time where we have said “that wasn’t worth it.”

On the flip side, like I said before, your priorities change, and maybe it DOES just feel like too much for you. That’s okay too. So… host your friends at your place! Start embracing dinner parties so baby can go down at your house. Or plan a trip to a brewery with friends at a time that works for you! (Maybe between nap windows, or before bedtime, etc).

grandma holding newborn baby

On making mom friends:

I also highly recommend, if you can, making friends with a mom who has a baby around your age. I can’t tell you how big of a difference it makes–just ONE friend who has a baby within a month or so of yours will be your lifeline, because they’re in it with you–you can talk about all these nuanced baby-related things and ask each other all the questions that your mom friends with older babies have already forgotten. Ask friends of friends if they have anyone having a baby around the same time as you–(or ideally just ahead of you!) join a local moms Facebook group–there are so many ways to make mom friends, you just gotta put yourself out there!

On friends without kids:

What about friends without kids? I always love hanging out with my friends without kids, especially in the early days because I was so damn sick of thinking and talking about baby stuff and I was grateful to be able to step away from “mom Jess” for a second. But also, I know during that phase, it can be hard because new motherhood is so consuming that it’s all you can think to talk about.

Be honest with these friends when your brain is mush, or you’re too tired to do anything but hang out at your house with a glass of wine. Apologize when you’ve been out of touch. If they’re a good friend with your best interest at heart, they’ll understand. They want to be there for you, and they’ll be there when you’re out of this new mom fog. They love you and they love your baby, too! Don’t forget to include them in this new phase of your life. Aunties are so important and they will play unique, key roles in your baby’s life as they grow.

I won’t lie, some friendships do fade after having kids, and that’s OK too. If a relationship is meant to be, it will withstand the test of time. Having a baby just naturally strengthens some friendships and causes others to fade. It’s just part of life.

My first year of motherhood in review

How much of June’s laid back nature is due to nature vs. nurture?

I think it’s a combination of both things. June is a happy baby by nature and has never been a “bad sleeper” (outside of the inevitable leaps) but following Moms on Call (we just got the book but they also have courses if that’s more your speed) and Peaceful Little’s newborn sleep tips (we did a newborn sleep consult with her) worked really well for all of us and definitely helped us avoid many of the rough habits newborns can develop that make life for parents a lot harder.

I was pretty strict with her schedule (whether you follow a schedule or wake windows) in the beginning and that set her and us up for success.

This helps you plan your day ahead of time, and avoids a lot of stress–you know when they’ll be hungry, you know when they’ll be tired–there are very few, “OMG WHY IS SHE CRYING!! IS SHE HUNGRY? IS SHE TIRED?” panic moments.

Going back to what I shared above–there were challenges in the newborn days, those are inevitable–but I approached any speed bump kind of like an experiment–I called in the experts when I needed to– tweaking this or that–a lot of texts back and forth with Kate from Bumble Baby (who is a Moms on Call consultant) on changing up little things to get her to sleep in longer stretches. (And it worked!)

This paid off and established good sleep habits in the beginning and now because of that, I’m a lot more flexible with her schedule and she’s become a pretty go-with-the-flow baby. I don’t have to worry if she misses a nap at daycare, I let her sleep in if she seems to need the sleep, we keep her up late if we’re with friends or family (because she likes being around them, too) etc–because I know we get back on track eventually. Big fan of the 80/20 rule over here. (We try to follow the schedule 80% of the time and the 20% of the time if it’s going to get in the way, we don’t worry about it–and we get back on when we can.)

The other thing–I’d describe us as fairly laid back parents by nature.

(So I guess maybe that fits in both the nature AND the nurture category? 😂) We’ve both become conscious about controlling what we can control and making the most of what we can’t. Of course, we aren’t perfect–we both have our moments. But as a rule of thumb, kids feed off their parents energy–just as adults do. I think the overall philosophy of Bringing Up Bebe kind of sums up our parenting style and it’s worked well for us so far. (More on how so over here in this post).

New mom experience
One of my favorite photos: the girls at daycare snapped this behind the scenes pic from “picture day” when I was in Paris. The best stage dad!! 😂

On the mom guilt:

Honestly, I stopped caring what other people think a long time ago, so I don’t get hung up on a lot of day-to-day “mom guilt.” I can attribute this only to something that must come with age. (I guess that also has a lot to do with my job. You have to stop caring about other people’s opinions when you open up your life on the internet. 😂) Anyway. I have zero qualms about accepting help or prioritizing my own needs. I truly DGAF.

And I have never thought I could “do it all” and I’ve never wanted to.

I do not feel guilty that she’s in full time daycare. Because I can put my head down, get my work done, and when I go pick her up, I’m able to give her my FULL attention and not feel distracted by work. Daycare is also wonderful for her development. She has a very strong bond with her teachers and is so happy to see them each day! (This would be true with whatever kind of childcare she had, by the way!)

I don’t feel guilty leaving her with a babysitter to spend quality time with my husband. Because the best shot we have at raising an emotionally healthy daughter is her parents leading by example and showing her what a healthy relationship looks like.

I don’t feel guilty leaving her at home with Neal to take a trip with my friends. Because I come back as the best version of myself and I’m able to be a better mom because of it, and it’s important one-on-one bonding time they wouldn’t get together otherwise!

I don’t feel guilty keeping her out past her bedtime on occasion, or missing a nap here or there when we’re having fun with our friends. Because this teaches her the important skill of being adaptable and rolling with the punches–something that will serve her well her entire life.

You shouldn’t feel guilty over any of these things either.

So stop buying into the mom guilt narrative. I know it’s bullshit, you know it’s bullshit–one of the best gifts you can give your child is an emotionally healthy parent and the example of a life well-lived.

Do I feel guilty when she falls and bumps her head when I should’ve caught her? Yes! Do I feel guilty if I forgot to put diaper rash cream on and now her skin is irritated? Yes! Or when I had no idea she had a double ear infection and I thought she was just being annoying and whiney!? HORRIBLE. Those are understandably things any mom would feel guilty about, but don’t feel guilty about making whatever choices you need to ensure your family as a whole (and yes, that includes your mental health, and the health of your relationship with your partner) is happy and healthy.

baby bathing in sink

On what advice to listen to, and what to tune out:

OK. This is maybe the single best piece of advice I can give on advice. (LOL). Only take advice from parents whose life and parenting style aligns with yours.

(So if at any point you’re reading this post being like NO NO NO–don’t take my advice then– if my lifestyle doesn’t align with yours, it’s not meant for you! 😂)

The people I have the most in common with parenting-wise are always who I go to for advice. We approach things the same, we share similar sentiments and attitudes, and most importantly–their lives look like mine, or the lifestyle that I want.

For example, maybe you love being out and about–experiencing new restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, etc.

You don’t want that to end when you have a baby (and it shouldn’t if you don’t want it to!) But the friend who is a homebody and happiest staying home with her kids isn’t going to be the right person to give you the best advice on getting out and about with kids. So if she tells you something like “that’ll all change later” or “it’s just too hard to get out with kids”–that’s HER opinion. That is HER truth, but it doesn’t have to be yours. Nod and smile, and reach out to the friend you have who is always out and about with her baby–and take HER expertise to heart.

Another example–maybe you are feeling very adamant about raising your baby in the city.

Well–the best friend who is thriving in the suburbs isn’t going to be the right person to talk to about all the ways raising a child in the city is wonderful. She might tell you “it’s just too hard in the city with kids” and that’s certainly true for many people. It MIGHT be true for you later–who knows? But she isn’t the person you need advice from right now–reach out to the friend who IS raising her kids in the city, and get her tips instead.

See what I mean? Everyone is different, and what works for one person isn’t going to work for another. Bottom line: If you don’t want a person’s life, don’t take their lifestyle advice. Find the parents with the kind of life you want, and do what they’re doing. Otherwise, navigating all the advice out there can get really overwhelming!

10 Random Things 3.25

Tips for feeling less than/mom comparison?

If there is anything in your life that isn’t serving you or making you feel like a bad mom–get rid of it. Hit the unfollow button, delete your instagram if you need to, pull back on a friendship, stop reading any advice, books, articles, etc that doesn’t feel good in your gut. I’m serious. Be ruthless about it. Put those boundaries up. You don’t have time for that shit–you’ve got a human to raise!

Remember if someone is raising their child differently than you–it doesn’t mean one way is better than the other, and it doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong! You are doing a GREAT job. Nobody knows what they’re doing when it comes to motherhood–we’re all doing the best we can and that looks different for everyone. Every parent, no matter how old their kid is, or how many kids they have, is learning on the fly. You aren’t any different. You’re an amazing mom, you get to decide what being the best parent looks like for you and your family–and anything or anyone that makes you feel differently can–pardon my French–GTFOH.

family of 3 photoshoot

In hindsight, do you wish you would’ve started a family earlier?

No, I don’t. I think we had her at the exact perfect time. (I was 32 and turned 33 when she was a couple weeks old). We had a LOT of time with just the two of us. And I wouldn’t have wanted to lose as second of that. We are more emotionally mature than we’ve ever been as that’s something that I think can only come with age and life experience.

We are also more financially secure in our thirties. And having a baby before that point would’ve put a ton of strain on our marriage because babies are expensive. (Paying for our own wedding was financially straining enough, having a BABY at that point?)

I also think I would’ve had a much harder time career-wise had I become a mother earlier on in my blogging career and that would’ve been a big cause of stress. For so many years my blog WAS my baby and I don’t think I would’ve been able to grow it to the place it is had we had kids earlier in life.

sleeping newborn baby

Any last parting words for expectant moms?

Listen to your gut! Know yourself. Know that you have no idea how you’re going to feel until you’re in it!

And know that every cliche is true: the days are long but the years are short, and it’s truly the best adventure.

Cherish every minute–take in the sweet moments, TRY and laugh off the frustrating ones–because they’ll never be as little as they are right now.

Know that in the moment, everything seems like a huge deal. Feeding choices, if the bottles you’re using are the right ones, when and how you should start solids, whether your kid should be crawling by now–but none of these things are a big deal in the grand scheme of things, so don’t worry about them TOO much. Trust that your baby and YOU are where you’re supposed to be right now.

You’re going to do great! I’m so excited for what’s ahead for you.

toddler standing and smiling

Happy birthday my Junebug. You light up our lives. We’re so proud to be your parents. ♥️

Other blog posts that may be helpful:

Why we chose to formula feed from day one, bottle feeding resources, my hospital packing list, baby registry: what we used and didn’t use

…and more motherhood posts in my motherhood section!