I had the opportunity last night to address the Medical School Alliance for medical spouses at a nearby university about how to keep a marriage strong during the long years of medical training. Of course, not all medical spouses are female or have children, but as it turned out, the group who came to the event were all young mothers.
As I surveyed the women in attendance, I discovered that every one of them was either pregnant or had between one and three children. Several of them had babies with them (who fussed and cried at times, as babies do), and a few more had to leave early to get home to their babysitters (presumably because their husbands were on call).
As I observed these young moms and shared my own experiences as a young mom with a husband who was rarely home, it brought back a flood of memories and some unexpected feelings of awe and respect. I didn’t really think I was that far removed from this stage of motherhood (my youngest is just seven-years-old), but it became very clear to me last night that I was in a completely different phase of life than these women.
While my to-do list is miles longer now than it ever was when my children were all little, there is no denying that those early years of chasing toddlers while pregnant, trying to establish a home on a shoe string budget, and doing it all with little to no sleep while Dad is often away getting his career off the ground are some of the toughest years a woman will experience. (And yes, some of the moms also had full or part-time jobs, making their already full plates filled to overflowing.)
I can remember being in the thick of those incredibly stretching years, and having conversations with other moms in the same boat about how we would never become one of those older moms who forget what it’s like; we would never forget. But you know what? When you aren’t living it day in and day out, you do forget.
So for just a few moments today while my kids are all in school and I am enjoying a quiet afternoon to myself, I want to acknowledge those women who are doing so much with so little by sharing some of my own “favorite” young mom moments and memories.
- Climbing up on the roof of our home while pregnant to clean the leaves out of the gutters in order to prevent flooding in our window wells from a coming storm, and shoveling thick, wet snow from our driveway early in the morning while wearing a baby on my back so I could get my young daughter to preschool on time.
- Making countless dinners with one arm while nursing a crying baby in the other (par for the course, right?), and changing countless diapers (or nursing) in the worst places imaginable: on an airport floor, on the top of a minivan hood, on a sandy beach, in a convenient store bathroom–you name it.
- Leaking through the custom made satin bridesmaid dress at my new sister-in-law’s wedding and trying to find a good time and private place to get out of that same dress and actually nurse my baby.
- Spending most of the night awake taking care of a crying baby, teething toddler, vomiting preschooler (or a combination of the above), only to have to get up and take care of everybody all day long again, and the many frustrating hours spent trying to get a baby/toddler to take a nap only to have them accidentally woken up moments later because of a doorbell, noisy sibling, or the need to transfer them to the car to pick up another child.
- Going to great lengths to make sure the baby would be asleep at just the right time so I could teach my bi-weekly piano lessons and have enough money for groceries or shopping at my favorite second hand store’s bi-annual 50% off sale where I purchased all my growing children’s clothes for the next six months. Other money saving tactics: volunteering several hours a week in the local gym’s daycare center for a free gym membership and enlisting my kids in random studies at the university for free diapers.
- Waking up several days in a row to find rat feces covering my kitchen counters, table, and (wait for it) the baby’s highchair. (We had an old house demolished across the street from us and one of its former inhabitants moved in with us for a few days.) Trying to keep the baby off the floor and out of the kitchen while I washed everything with hot soapy water, then bleach, and then lysol–and still get the older kids to school on time.
- Among other traveling adventures, enduring an 8 hour car trip alone with a toddler and a baby who cried almost every minute of the trip, traveling from California to Iowa by plane alone while 7 months pregnant with three young children, and then taking the same trip a year later with four young children only to have our plane diverted because of weather, all rental cars sold out, and my luggage lost. (It was the weekend of my 20-year high school reunion.)
- Wanting to take a “real” family vacation so bad that we drove from Iowa City to Mount Rushmore with only enough money to camp out and make food over a fire every day. Our two oldest children were 3-years-old and 3-months-old at the time. (It’s actually one of my very favorite memories.)
- Walking home from a Japanese grocery store in the pouring rain while holding and consoling my crying baby with one arm, pushing the groceries in the stroller with the other, and holding an umbrella precariously under my neck in an effort to keep us all dry.
- All the hours of fear, worry, and uncertainty that surrounded a baby in the hospital with RSV, a toddler in the hospital with a severe reaction to a tree nut, the same toddler in the hospital with severe dehydration from a bad bug, and on and on and on. Few mothers get through those early years without at least one or two good scares, and there is nothing worse than being the mother of a baby or toddler in pain who doesn’t understand what is going on.
The crazy thing is, there is nothing terribly unique about this list. Most young mothers have very similar stories (which I would love to hear in the comments section below). As I reflect on my own stories, I seriously wonder how I did it! Caring for very young children day in and day out is, quite simply, one of the most heroic things that happens on a daily, widespread basis. In truth, it makes me want to call out from the housetops, “Hats off to you, young mothers!”
QUESTION: What are some of your “favorite” young mom moments or memories?
CHALLENGE: Don’t become one of those moms who forgets! When possible, give your younger counterparts a smile and a word of encouragement during stressful times, or maybe even a break by offering to babysit.
Originally published on October 24, 2014.
Image: Jomphong / Freedigitalphotos.net