Whoever said there’s no use crying over spilled milk was clearly not a breastfeeding mom.
Returning to work after my maternity leave—that is, leaving the tiny baby that three months prior had been living inside my body—wasn’t just the hardest thing I’ve ever done emotionally, but physically, too. My boobs wanted to be with my baby—they were literally throbbing, swelling and leaking—beckoning his tiny mouth. But he was at daycare, drinking meticulously measured bottles of my expressed breastmilk every four hours. My one respite from the hormone-induced hell of being away from him and having to talk to people about everything but him was the pumping room. I feel beyond lucky to have had such a peaceful space to post Instagram stories of myself hooked up to flanges, decorated with cow emojis. You know, important stuff.
But forreal, important stuff does happen in that room, and when you’re new to the breastfeeding game, your back-up milk supply is scant. I needed to pump exactly 16oz—or four, four oz. bottles. Less and my son would be hungry. Nope. Can’t let that happen, mama.
So on this particular day, after finishing the 20-minute ritual of actually pumping, sanitizing all the parts for when I’d be back in that room three hours later, then painstakingly pouring every precious drop into sterile bags, I spaced for a second and set one bag down on the countertop… open. You can guess what happened next: Breast. Milk. Everywhere. Dripping down the cupboards and soaking into the carpet. (Apologies to Christin, who used to pump after me, because that stuff smells fun-KY).
I didn’t cry once it sunk in, I bawled. Snotty, short-of-breath, “Omg, did someone die?” sobbing. It wasn’t totally unexpected. The exhaustion of getting up with a baby every three hours at night, being away from him during the day and the hormone-fueled, 24-hour rave going on inside my body was enough to make me lose my shit. And I didn’t feel bad. Sometimes it feels really, really good to cry over spilled milk when you really just need to cry more generally. I ended up adding another pumping session to make up for the spillage and learned to seal those bags the second I filled them. *High fives myself.*
It got me thinking about other clichés and which ones totally make sense—or don’t!—as they relate to motherhood. I decided to survey a few smart, cool moms I know to see which ones we could agree on.
The Writing’s on the Wall
“Hell no, I would not let my son actually color on furniture in our house, but the writing was definitely on the wall when it came to our idea of traveling with him. We always thought, We’ll have a well-traveled baby, but then we quickly realized traveling with a very active dude is insane, so we adjusted it to, ‘We will have a well-traveled kid.’” —Sunny, 35, mom of one, Photographer
“Very true in our house. We’ve had so many ‘masterpieces’ drawn on our walls, furniture, doors— you name it—that I can pretty much tell you how to get rid of any medium. Crayon on the door? Blow dryer and a paper towel. Pen on your leather chairs? Rubbing alcohol. I could go on. At least we’re learning something, right?” —Jessica, 32, mom of three, Social Media Manager
“Literally! One day, I came home from work and my kids were super-psyched about something. They pulled me into our hallway, which daddy allowed them to make into a drawing wall. Now the entire length of the hallway is covered in marker and crayon. Sometimes you run out of rational things to do with two kids.” —Helen, 44, mom of two, Creative Director
My thoughts: Before I was a mom, I thought someone would have to be insane to let their kids draw on their walls, but here I am, sitting in my apartment, crayon murals abound, and you know what? I actually kind of like it. It also occupies my son for hours.
A Chip off the Old Block
“Yep. I’ve inherited my Iranian mother’s obsessive cleaning tendencies and my 17-month-old seems to have as well. Anytime there’s a spec on the ground he says, ‘Uh oh,’ then picks it up and throws it in the garbage. This has backfired though, because now he wants to pick up disgusting NYC garbage like wet bags and cigarette butts to throw out.” —Sunny
“Seriously. I have videos of my five-year-old daughter jumping off the window ledge onto the couch when she was just a year old. Now she loves to jump off the bunk-bed ladder from four steps up. And guess who else was known for jumping off high things? Dad. I get told the story when he jumped off the garage roof at least once a year by his stepdad.” —Helen
“When my husband was little he hated shots so much that he would hide under the table and the nurses and his mother would have to pry him out in order to administer the shot. My eight-year-old daughter is no different. She panics in a major way. One day I told her the story about her dad, thinking it would make her feel brave because she wasn’t that scared. MISTAKE! Not only did it not make her feel brave, but it also made her bug out more. Daddy takes her next time.” —Jessica
My thoughts: I mean this is for sure true, but it does connect to the whole nature/nurture thing. Like, does my son smile 24/7 because I too smile a lot and have done so in his face since the second he came out? Maybe. But also maybe he’s just hella happy (I hope!).
At My Wits’ End
“I live my life at my wit’s end. The other day I had a work crisis, a screaming baby, an eight-year-old refusing to do her homework, and a five-year-old having a meltdown over not being allowed to have snacks before dinner. When my husband walked in the room, I handed him the baby, made a cocktail in a kiddie cup, and locked myself in the bathroom where I sat on the floor for a full 20 minutes. It’s called self-care.” —Jessica
“When I’m at my wits’ end I put on a little ‘poor mommy’ speech and my kids immediately stop their antics and start showering me with hugs and praise about how much they love me and how I’m the best mommy in the world (who doesn’t love to hear that sometimes?). I try not to do it too often, only when I really need it, and it works.” —Helen
“When my partner leaves town for work, I’m at my wits’ end because that 20 mins you get to hand off your toddler after being with him all day is really, really crucial to a person’s sanity.” —Sunny
My thoughts: I think this cliché rings truer a.) the more kids you have and b.) depending on their age. My two-year-old definitely leaves me at my wits’ end way more now than he did at eight months. But the thought of having multiples is inconceivable to me, so I guess it’s just a matter of perspective.
Blind Leading the Blind
“Figuratively yes, and also literally. My daughter likes to pull her scarf up over her face and walk ‘blind’ to school. Needless to say I’m guiding her the whole way but it certainly makes for an extra-challenging morning hustle to get to school on time. I’m also like, ‘Wtf?’” —Helen
“I actually feel like I got some really great advice from friends who were moms before me, then realized every baby is different and took what applied to me and lead with my gut about the rest. It’s worked out pretty well so far. We’re all blind to the future but it works itself out.”—Sunny
“For sure. Especially when it came to our first, who we had at 24. It’s been eight years since she was born and we have three kids now. Nobody knows what they’re doing, it’s a crapshoot. Every kid is different.”—Jessica
My thoughts: Oh, yeah. You’re blind. Your partner is blind. Your toddler’s blind. And once you think you’ve got something figured out it just changes again. I think it’s best to just lean all the way into the unknown.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
“Yes! Now that my kids are getting a bit older, I can start to see their personalities come through in a more defined way, and I can’t wait to see who they become. I’m excited to hang out with my grown-up kids someday.” —Helen
“No matter what is testing my patience, sanity or identity, it always helps to remind myself that it’s TEMPORARY. Pumping was my life and hard and boring, but it was six months and I never looked back. Teething screams in the middle of the night were rough, but now he has all his teeth. Whatever it is, it’ll be something else tomorrow. You got this!” —Sunny
“We are still in the trenches with our kids—they’re eight, five and 10 months, so the light at the end of the tunnel is just a glimmer. But, I have to say, I’m not really racing toward the glimmer. Despite my bitching, despite the mom-rage moments, despite the middle-of-the-night and too-early-in-the-morning wake-ups, I’m enjoying this part.” —Jessica
My thoughts: Honestly, I’m not really working toward some end game and just trying to enjoy the experience. Especially if I want another one. As crazy as this whole ride is, it’s also unbelievably awesome, and the kid I have now will not be the same dude in two years, so I’m just trying to enjoy every single minute. (I’m also sentimental AF.)
I want to know: If you have a kid, which clichés proved true or untrue for you after become a mom?
Jesse Dickenson Breeden is a mama and writer living with her husband and son in Brooklyn, New York.
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.