Motherhood: An Unacademic Learning Curve
By Emmeline Chen
All my life I have excelled academically. I graduated from high school at the top of my class, was admitted to Stanford University and earned a Ph.D. in social-personality psychology from New York University. But when I became a mom, I discovered that my academic achievements had not prepared me for the adventure and challenges that lay ahead.
Before giving birth, I took a breastfeeding class. Yet my tiny daughter lost so much weight during the first week of nonstop nursing that my lactation consultant finally instructed me to supplement with formula. She told me the only alternative was admitting my baby into the hospital to be fed intravenously. So I reluctantly gave my daughter formula, pumped to stimulate my milk supply and cried whenever I saw how little milk I produced–even after months of pumping around the clock.
When my daughter refused to take naps and screamed all night, I frantically skimmed books on infant sleeping patterns and cried some more as sleep deprivation overtook our entire family.
Over and over, the realities of motherhood collided with my book knowledge of how things were supposed to be. I felt like a failure in comparison to other moms in my community. Hip mamas with trim postpartum figures; stylish clothes; perfectly packed diaper bags and happy, gurgling babies who ate, slept and developed right on schedule. Their houses were decorated, organized and spotless. They effortlessly hosted playgroups and offered tasty, home-baked treats.
In contrast, I was ashamed to let anyone visit our messy house filled with mismatched furniture and piles of laundry. I was always late because I didn’t know what to pack in my diaper bag. I couldn’t fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes, had abandoned my contacts for glasses to save time and felt decidedly drab and frumpy.
I was lonely and isolated at home. With no previous babysitting or childcare experience, I didn’t know what to do with my daughter each day, and I struggled to keep up with the relentless demands of a newborn.
At my lowest point, I wondered why God had made me a mother when I was clearly so ill-equipped. Why had God taken away all my sources of pride – where were the glowing report cards and letters of recommendation, the verbal affirmation from teachers and professors, the scholastic awards and scholarships?
Slowly God showed me that he had not made a mistake in giving me my daughter. I had lost myself by focusing on my deficiencies in the domestic arts, yet I finally realized that motherhood is multidimensional; it’s much more than housekeeping, cooking or even looking like a hip mama.
In my academic career, I understood that everyone has different intellectual strengths. I also knew that the expectation to be the best in each and every subject area is completely unrealistic. Yet this was exactly the type of expectation that I had placed on myself as a new mom.
Instead of bemoaning my lack of culinary skills and my disorganized house, I learned to appreciate my talents for choosing great children’s books to read out loud, scouring the Internet to research the best baby gear and finding biblical programs to help both my daughter and I to grow.
I joined MOPS and reveled in the luxury of sitting down and eating breakfast at each meeting. MOPS speakers taught me skills that I had not studied in school – how to control my temper, how to choose guardians and how to apply make-up. I even learned how to bake an apple pie. Most importantly, I found that I was not alone in my struggle with the transition to motherhood.
I had been fixated on other moms, those hip mamas who seemed to have everything together. But God gently turned my head. He taught me to fix my eyes on Jesus so that I could learn to appreciate the mommy God created me to be.