A strange chill ran down my spine the first time I said “this is my daughter,” as if I’d been promoted to a position I had swindled my way into. It wasn’t exactly a cakewalk, that 30-hour labor, but I had this sense I didn’t belong.
Growing up with a SAHM in the early years, I was sure I would be a stay-at-home parent. How could I not want to enjoy those firsts, especially with my first? Maternity leave? Sounded like a lovely vacation.
It was also easy to fall in love with the babies littering my Facebook feed. Picture after picture of peaceful, grinning babies, often sleeping, often projecting sheer glee. Tottering babies sitting up for the first time, taking their first steps. I wanted to clutch them all. I wanted my own.
When the time came, it really did feel like a miracle, witnessing those firsts. I saw her roll over for the first time, slither, and crawl herself to freedom. She was constantly practicing new skills. I also caught her standing for the first time in her crib, avoiding nap time and doing pull-ups with a Cheshire Cat grin.
The really special firsts were the moments she changed in the most subtle ways. At around 4 months, one morning I suddenly noticed she was hugging me back, not like dead weight in my arms or merely clutching my clothes or skin, but actually holding me in a way I can only describe as love requited.
I took her to the mirror and showered her with kisses, celebrating the reflection of mother and daughter embracing. She had literally just figured out how to hang on more tightly for dear life. When I came back from a weekend away, I noticed her scratching the back of her head.
Firsts were not always pleasant. There were injuries, bruises, and hospital visits to deal with. The first time she fell off the bed, the sound of her head hitting the wooden floor echoed in my own head for days. Our doctor seemed to be well-practiced at dealing with frantic parents and baby head injuries.
My job called, asking where I’d been. Going back to work meant fewer hours with her. But at the same time, I was busy at work, and I literally didn’t know what I was missing. A few giggles, baby babble, but also nap time battles and food rejection.
My husband was actually the first to make her giggle out loud. I was traveling and missed it, with a tiny serving of mom guilt. But trying to be there for every single first is an exhausting standard allowing no room to breathe.
Celebrating the “Firsts,” Wherever You Are
At 6 months, she started on solid foods, and I still got to see her reaction to the cornucopia of foods she was given. Mashed banana, avocado, even eggplant (which she loved). How quickly she gobbled up her first bowl of cereal. Some of these were firsts, some of these were not.
Increasingly, I was hearing about firsts secondhand, or watching a video. Being a mother has been a lot of things for me – tremendously fulfilling, exhausting, joyful, stressful, and rewarding. One thing it has never been is boring.
My little one’s firsts, no matter how seemingly small or simple, continued to bring me joy, comfort, and laughter. Being away from the home, I focused on them a bit less, but I barely noticed. I was too busy finding my new balance, barely thinking about lost moments anymore. My daughter was still mine, and nothing had really changed.
Motherhood turned out to be way more than firsts, and not the vacation in the early months I’d dreamed of. While working, there was less time for harried Googling of every single little ailment or slightly raised goose bump found from endless examination. Sure, I missed my daughter sometimes, but I also learned to truly be present during and really relish moments at home.
Only upon reflection do we realize just how precious these moments really are; cherish them – when your kids grow up (which they do, all too soon), it’s those very moments you will miss the most.
I still talk to parents who hang onto those “firsts” very tightly. A friend recounted her best friend babysitting while her little one struggled to stand for the first time. Her friend pushed the baby down saying, “Not on my watch!” It’s one of those badges of honor we cling to.
The basic rule of thumb for those who really get consumed with the idea of witnessing those firsts is this: firsts are the first time you see them. And a video of it brings basically the same amount of joy, because a few months later, instead of remembering the memory, I’d just remember the video anyway.
What actually made firsts special was that they were mine: my first chance to see a baby develop, my first window into the growth of a healthy baby. I cherished these firsts, my motherhood cherry popped.