1. Baby Adores You
When you talk in a funny voice or blow raspberries, your rapt audience of one goes nuts. Put a shoe on your head and your baby will assure you you're hilarious. Making your sweetie laugh gets addictive! It's enough to spur you to sing all the time, even if you can't carry a tune. After I had my first son, Lance, I dug up every old camp song (and even my dad's favorite lullaby, which was, strangely, Elvis's "Hound Dog") to entertain him. Soon, I was assigning a theme song to all kinds of ordinary moments. As Lance started to pull himself up, I'd belt out Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up." The payoff came when my son sang back to me, at 13 months, "Don't give up the spice!"
2. You Gain a Feeling of Belonging
At first, you miss sleeping in, going out for grown-up meals, and being part of the late-night movie crowd. But your old life is quietly replaced with a different sense of community. Trust me, I desperately wanted to get out of the house -- I enrolled Lance in Kindermusik when he was 5 weeks old. Our early outings gave me the chance to scope out nearby homes and yards, see who lived in my neighborhood, and keep an eye out for local teenagers (future babysitters!) and toddlers (whose moms I could hit up for advice!). As your baby grows, you'll discover the best story hours, kids' museums, parks, and baby-tolerant restaurants. Suddenly you'll know the name of the librarian, the crossing guard, and the barista who works the Sunday sunrise shift. You become part of the fabric of your town, thanks to your tiny sidekick.
3. You'll Make New Friends
Coworkers aside, you don't get very many chances to make lasting friendships after high school and college. Then pregnancy comes, and you've got an open door again. For me, birthing class and La Leche League meetings resembled the first days in a freshman dorm. I had so much to discuss with these women!
The birth-class crew included Cheryl and Lisa. Though our life stories couldn't have been more opposite, and we took different paths to motherhood, we quickly came to love hanging out together. I'll always remember listening to Lisa describe how she was painting her daughter-to-be's nursery; all the while, I was obsessively adhering to every possible pregnancy superstition (like leaving the crib unassembled until the last minute). At some point, though, I realized Lisa's calm nature and innate confidence were qualities I needed in my mommy arsenal.
My other buddy, Cheryl, was convinced during her entire nine months that she was carrying a boy. So when her little girl came days after my son, my pal showed up at my door, ready to give me all the baby-blue clothes she'd collected during her pregnancy, and we laughed for what seemed like hours. We three ended up nursing on each other's couches, comparing notes on baby behavior, and easing each other's worries about our perceived mothering shortcomings. We developed a genuine intimacy that I still treasure. Oh, yeah, and our children (now school-age) have all become friends too.
4. Your Heart Opens SO Wide
Suddenly, the inconsolable baby crying next to you on a flight gets your empathy instead of your ire. Mothering gives you the ability to step into other parents' shoes, and you appreciate the giant job they undertake with their own kids. It's no wonder that any other parent's tragedy (or triumph) strikes a chord and makes you a blubbering mess. Movies with plotlines centering on missing children are now unwatchable. Human-interest stories on the news break your heart. If you're already a cry-at-the-card-commercial kind of gal, motherhood is the perfect hook on which to hang your "I'm a softy" hat. How does this make your life better? It's hard to be jaded or self-centered once you're a mom. You gain much-needed perspective, your compassionate side blossoms, and in many ways, you finally grow up. It's a beautiful thing.
5. You Get Things Done
Remember those old days, when time would slip by and you'd think, "What have I done all day?" Yeah, I've forgotten them too. Motherhood has a way of turning you into an efficiency expert -- you'll never look at a spare 20 minutes the same way again! Working moms become ?ber-productive on the job; there's no staying late when you've got a sitter to relieve or a day-care center that closes promptly at 6 P.M.
And all moms learn to set a reassuring routine. When my sons were infants, I used to talk through the order of the day each morning. "We're going to gym class and then the grocery store," I'd say. "Then home for lunch and your nap." Each of them, by age 2, uttered the question "And then?" after any mention of a planned activity. We all thrived on knowing what to expect.
6. Your Body Is Awesome
Sorry, no: By that I don't mean you're quickly sliding back into your skinny jeans. Once you have a baby, your self-worth becomes more about the size of your heart than the size of your heinie. "I was able to remind myself to be calm when I saw my reflection," says Erin Grady, mom of Teagan, 2, and expecting a second, in Park City, Utah. "It's not like my body was rockin' before pregnancy, but after a baby, there is no mercy. So I like to remember that I earned every one of those stretch marks."
Taking care of yourself (hello again, treadmill) is still important, but knowing that you're caring for someone else who appreciates all your efforts can make you more patient with the nearly-a-year-to-gain, nearly-a-year-to-lose process. You just grew a person in there!
7. You Know What Matters
I have to warn you: Your house may be a mess for a while. But you learn to be a little less precious about your belongings. "I'm getting rid of things so I can make room for my child's world," says Pratima Rao, mom of Thorin, 3, and expecting a second, in Portland, Oregon. "High school memorabilia isn't that important to me anymore. Nor are fancy clothes, now that life is more laid-back." You may find yourself giving away items that, you realize, you don't really need. Living with more love and less stuff is liberating!
8. You Cut Yourself Some Slack
As your child grows and continually tests you, you'll come to the freeing realization that parenting is no place for perfectionism. "There's no need to be supermom," says Elizabeth Williams-Renkens, a mom of two in Nashville. "You worry less about achieving the ideal in anything, from the state of your house to the inside of your purse." After all, who has June Cleaver's life? Yours is pretty darned good.
9. You've Built a Family
"With the addition of a baby, your priorities and your values become clear," says Dana Levin, a mom of two in Irvington, New York. "Also, I was impressed by how my husband and I became much more of a team once we had kids. We still frequently turn to each other and say, 'We're so lucky!' " Even mundane moments, like heading out to run errands together, can feel warm and fuzzy when there's a tiny person bundled into a front carrier along for the ride. Levin says, "You look at this little family and you think, It's all mine!"
Originally published in the January 2011 issue of American Baby magazine.