eliza berkon is a journalist and musician based in washington d.c. 

On becoming a parent: a letter to myself

Inspired by Victoria Beckham’s letter to her younger self in Vogue, I have composed a letter to myself at 29, the year I had my first child:

Dear Eliza,

Remember your senior year in college, when you were juggling a full course load, a job at the college paper, a political internship, an a cappella group and student loans—all while trying to figure out what to do with your life? Things are about to get much harder.

Let’s gloss over the whole labor process, as I think it best that I spare you the details. Just know that it will be more painful than you can possibly fathom, so please don’t be a martyr—just get the epidural. In fact, the more you can just go with the flow, the better. Play some Beverly Hills, 90210 episodes on your laptop, chow down on hospital Jell-O and just ride the whole thing out. It will be over eventually. And you can finally say goodbye to your swollen ankles.

Now when your adorable little daughter arrives, you will feel some momentary euphoria as you cradle her whimpering and blanketed little being in your arms. Treasure that. Try to hold on to it. It’s what will get you through all the sleepless days ahead. 

People will tell you that you won’t get much sleep in these early months to come, and you’ll probably shrug it off, remembering how you occasionally pulled the college all-nighter. Well, let me tell you that this is totally different. For the next 12 weeks or so, you will not get a full night’s sleep. Instead, you’ll take on the slumber habits of a giraffe, logging an hour or just a few minutes whenever you can. This lack of sleep will have a profound effect on your mood, your well-being and your general ability to function. So here is my advice:

Take it one day at a time.

In fact, that motto will take you pretty far as you start this journey. You will have days where you’re so tired, you’ll put your shoes on the wrong feet or forget to put them on at all. You will get so frustrated with nursing that you will literally hit the wall and sob on your bedroom floor. You will be way too hard on yourself, questioning every minute decision and adopting a new refrain: “Am I a good mom?”

You’ll observe the activities of your other mom friends. (You’ll need to make some of those, BTW. Try Stroller Strides and finally introducing yourself to the neighbors.) You’ll compare your parenting to all the examples you see around you. You’ll install baby gates, insert plastic protectors into outlets and try to instill your daughter with an intense fear of stairs as you do everything you can to keep her safe.

You’ll wonder about your job, whether everything’s getting done without you and whether you are missed. You’ll question how you’ll ever return to an office when your life has suddenly become so little about you and so much about taking care of someone else. You’ll have to reassess who you are and who you are becoming.

It’s a lot. A lot of change all at once. But you can do it. And you’re not alone. You have your wonderful husband, who’ll come home each night and help out. Your parents and in-laws will jump at the chance to babysit (definitely take them up on that). And most important, you have your friends.

But if you can wake up each morning and remember to take each day as it comes—just that one day and nothing more—you’re going to be just fine. You don’t have to figure everything out at once. You don’t have to teach your daughter to read at 1 month old. You don’t have to sign her up for baby swimming, painting and opera classes. You don’t have to be the best mom. (In fact, she doesn’t exist.) You’re allowed to make mistakes, and you will. And it’s all OK. You just have to get through each day, which will continue to get easier and easier.

Just focus on the snuggles. The giggles. The moments where you and your baby aren’t really doing much at all, just being mother and daughter. That’s where the magic is. And that’s what makes this whole thing the best decision you’ve ever made.




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