The Most Surprising Thing About Having Kids, According to Moms

Among the list of potentially life-altering adventures I haven’t personally experienced (skydiving, writing a book, getting lost in a foreign country, building a robot, flying to the moon, falling asleep easily), becoming a mom is one I’m particularly curious about. Not only does the concept of humans growing other humans and/or taking care of them until they’re old enough to fend for themselves blow my mind, but the whirlpool of culturally reinforced expectations and stereotypes around motherhood also makes it a particularly complex thing to digest.

Who better to cut it into bite-sized pieces than mothers themselves, then? I asked 45 moms of all ages to share what surprised them most about having kids. Read their responses below and add your own in the comments if you count yourself among this special fleet.

“What surprised me the most was how they were already their own little person — like a snowflake or a fingerprint — utterly original from the get-go!”

Alice, 56

“I’m only six weeks in, but mostly I’m surprised how contradictory/hypocritical it has made me! In one moment, I am so full of love and joy and I never want to leave home or stop breastfeeding or let these girls out of my sight, but at the drop of a hat, on the tail end of that same moment, I can find myself crying about how much I hate breastfeeding, how restricting and depleting and exhausting it is, and how much I want to be able to go out for a drink, or do yoga, or even stop by the office just to sit at my desk and answer a damn work email.”

Leandra, 29

“All the mom guilt. It is real, and I have it ALL THE TIME!”

Jill, 34

“Everything hurts for months and months after you give birth. I felt like a guest living in my own life. Days passed super slowly and nights were horrifying because we lived in fear that our son would have SIDS or something equally terrible. Even when he got older, I remember waking up at 5 a.m. and thinking, ‘Phewzie we survived the night,’ but if I woke up at 2 a.m., I was terrified to think there were still so many more hours to get through. Having the actual baby in tow is the best thing ever, but speaking in selfish terms only, I felt like a tired blob for the first five months. I thought I would bounce back after a week or so but nah, didn’t happen. Part of the problem was breastfeeding — it was MUCH harder than any friends had elaborated on and I think having the pressure that I was the only source of food keeping the baby alive was a lot to handle. It also made my body feel more like a machine than a living being. I had to make sure that I ate a certain amount of calories so that I would produce milk, etc. The good news is that everything slowly but surely got better, and he is the best little gem ever. I would do it all again, but I do try and tell my friends post-labor what to expect, as opposed to what my baby-mom friends told me — lies, lies, lies.”

Karen, 36

“I didn’t think I was naturally programmed to be a mom. Once I had my baby, I was surprised at how everything just started to click. No books! Just do what feels right.”

Leigh, 35

“I was surprised by how unique each of my three kids were — which was wonderful and challenging. They each responded to things so differently. It was funny and frustrating. I also wasn’t expecting (or didn’t understand) what an overwhelming sense of responsibility I was going to feel for the health of their spirits — knowing that what I exposed them to and let them take in had a huge influence on how they viewed the world. It’s a heady responsibility.”

Kathy, 57

“1) You don’t realize how crucial sleep is to your sanity until you have a baby.
2) Parenting is just an exercise in tag-teaming everything with your partner (you clean the bottles while I feed the dog, you change the baby while I pack the diaper bag, etc.).
3) Postpartum depression does not always mean you want to hurt your baby. You can also have PPD with no thoughts of hurting your baby but feel desperately exhausted, angry and like you just want a break from your life.”

Jamie, 32

“Sleep is overrated and the love for them is so big and overwhelming (even a bit scary at times).”

Charlotte, 33

“You think you know your children will have their own personalities and interests [apart from you] until they do — and then you’re shocked and even a little hurt because it feels like a rejection. Then you discover you’re proud and delighted they’re not like you. They’re more than you could have ever imagined.”

Caroline, 53

“I was surprised by how often I uttered the phrase ‘Where’d that blueberry go??'”

Irini, 42

“It’s been easier than I thought (but I’m only two weeks in), and I read up A LOT on postpartum depression and prepped myself as best I could. Also, I’m Canadian and my partner is on six-month paternity leave, so there’s two of us. I really thought I’d have lost my shit by now, but so far I’m surprised by how much I like it.”

Eliza, 32

“I am uptight and anxious by nature, but as soon as I saw my baby’s face, my priorities shifted. Dishes can be left in the sink undone, emails can be left unsent. Nothing matters like my baby.”

Susie, 34

“I was surprised by how out of control you are when it comes to how you will parent and the kind of mom you will be. You have all these ideas about what you’ll do when your kid is at such-and-such an age. Then, as the kid approaches them, you just do whatever you can to keep your head above water.”

Amanda, 29

“That they actually have the same sense of humor as I do.”

Kanya, 34

Falling in love with them has surprised me the most. After I married my husband, I assumed I’d never experience the feeling of falling love again — when you totally adore someone, talk and think about them all the time and just can’t get enough. That’s what it’s been like when I’ve had my babies — this all-consuming adoration for them. It’s why parents are so annoying and obsessed with their kids.”

Lisa, 36

“How lovely and fun and exciting it was, despite all the haters saying it was going to be miserable.”

Brooklynne, 31

“I was super into my career before having my son and was hell-bent on going back and moving up the ladder. But then he came into the world and I couldn’t bear to spend a second without him. So I quit my job. It’s been the scariest and the most rewarding experience of my life.”

Corinne, 34

“The overwhelming joy. And the endless chores. So much joy and so many chores.”

Laura, 33

“The quickness with which a smile or giggle can reverse the anxiety of ‘Am I doing this right?’ Also, the grossness you’re willing to tolerate because it’s your kid (poop, vomit, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, bright green snot, etc.)”

Lindsay, 32

“The size of my nipples.”

Erin, 32

“I was completely unprepared for the jolt of self-assuredness and confidence my son gave me. Who knew that wrinkles, stretch marks, sad nipples and dark circles could be commensurate with high self-esteem? Who knew??”

Alexis, 31

“That I finally understood my own mother, and what she must have felt and why she did what she did when my brother and I were small. The realization brought a lot of guilt.”

Trudi, 38

“I never thought I was ‘mom material’ or that any aspect of motherhood would come naturally to me, but the opposite has been true. I feel like I was made to be a mom for my little boy. You birth your own kindred spirit. It’s absolutely crazy!”

Emily, 30

“That babies are REALLY boring (but thankfully toddlers are fascinating).”

Carlie, 40

“I was surprised at how difficult it would be to watch them grow up and move out on their own. While there is a side of me that enjoys seeing them transform into independent adults with lives and interests very separate from mine, there is also a side of me that would like to keep them at home by my side forever.”

Chris, 53

“You miss them when they go to sleep, but at the same time you are SO relieved they are finally sleeping.”

Emily, 28

“I was surprised by how many of my friends just casually decided I was too ‘mumsy’ to hang out with after I had my kid. They claimed I had changed overnight. They were okay with me while I was pregnant, but as soon as I gave birth, they saw me differently.”

Chloe, 27

“The breast crawl at birth. My newborn, eyes closed and wailing, crawled up my stomach and bobbed his head about and latched into my nipple and started having a feed. He was like, 30 seconds old.”

Laura, 32

“Having a baby suddenly leaves so little room for creative or intellectual pastimes. I knew I’d be busy with a kid, but I didn’t grasp how busy until it happened. Reading a whole novel is a major achievement now.”

Gabby, 33

“I realized what fear really was after my first daughter was born.”

Carla, 36

“I thought having a child would be like meeting a new person, but after having my son, I felt like I had known him my entire life and was rediscovering all the things I loved about him so much. It was amazing looking at him and thinking, ‘Of course he has beautiful blue eyes! Of course he loves to dance! Of course he has that raspy giggle!’ Everything just made sense because he seemed like a part of me from the beginning.”

Madilyn, 23

“I gained this new confidence and sense of peace. It didn’t happen overnight, but I quickly realized that a mother’s intuition is undeniable and pretty magical.”

Lauren, 33

“I know everyone (including my own mom) always says it goes by in the blink of an eye, but you don’t truly understand how quick life happens until you have a little one. They change SO MUCH in such a short amount of time. It’s truly miraculous. And scary and sad and exciting. The roller coaster of emotions is beyond anything I could have imagined.”

Kate, 36

“Motherhood opened my eyes to how much love, strength and power I possess. I pumped milk out of my boobs six times a day and then ran 17 flights of stairs for exercise! I’m a legit superhero.”

Tira, 38

“I’ve been surprised by how much I love being a mom. I was certain I didn’t want kids until I turned 30 and even then had to do a ton of soul-searching about whether it was for me. But it turns out it’s the thing I’m best at in life.”

Kristen, 38

“How much my life would revolve around poop.”

Hannah, 33

“I was always skeptical about this endless love moms are supposed to have for their children, but after becoming a mother of twins, I realized every woman has their own way of loving their children, and it doesn’t need to conform to stereotypes. When I figured that out, it freed me to love them fully, in my own way.”

Carmem, 24

“Nothing. They’re just as stinky, gross, intelligent, imaginative and lovable as I expected they would be, if not more.”

Emelie, 21

“That I can actually function on three hours of sleep a day, be on my feet all day and not realize how tired I am until I actually go to bed. That I actually have more patience than I gave myself credit for. Oh, and that kids will always find a way to interrupt a great meal/movie/phone call.”

Mariam, 34

“I was surprised by how much more I get done post-having kids. It’s a different style of productivity. I’m more disciplined and purposeful.”

Devin, 25

“Raising kids is new, but also familiar. It feels like revisiting a place you thought you’d never come to again: your own childhood. It’s a weird intersection of old and new, reality and dream world. Navigating parenthood makes me feel at once so small and sometimes, miraculously, like I’ve been allowed to carry a piece of the universe within myself and it’s poured out of me in these tiny beings that have become my teachers and inspiration for being a better, kinder soul.”

Soon, 35

“I didn’t have an instant, overwhelming feeling of love for my son at birth. It took about two months for me to have that feeling, and the love grew over time.”

Hannah, 28

“My biggest surprise was really how much love I had hidden away in my heart that I’d never accessed before. It was like a tidal wave that just swept over me. And with each of my three children, it kept happening. It had no limitations and no expectations.”

Roxanne, 63

“How often I have to tell them not to lick things. Door handles, handrails and the car are particular favorites, but really anything at tongue height is fair game.”

Natalie, 34

Collage by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

Harling Ross

Harling is a writer and was most recently the Brand Director at Man Repeller.

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