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Expect the Unexpected
By Debra Gilbert Rosenberg

You're pregnant and excited, dreaming of your child and what it will be like to be a mother. You plan the birth, the first few months, and the rest of your child's life. People ask how you're doing, share their own pregnancy and birth stories, and offer unsolicited advice. One of the most common suggestions you are likely to hear is to lower your expectations, yet I am not sure that this is always helpful or well understood. Most pregnant women, certain that they will be different, that their babies will be perfect, and that their homes, their friendships, their marriages, will all be beautiful, too, simply cannot digest what it might mean to lower their expectations or why they should even consider it.

I'd say a better idea is to expect the unexpected. While chances are very good that your pregnancy, birth, and early mothering experiences will all be text-book normal, they are unlikely to be totally as you want or expect them to be. Being open to experience whatever comes your way is a much better stance than trying to be in control of everything.

I've heard too many new moms tearfully describe feeling that they can't possibly be good mothers because they needed medical interventions to deliver their babies safely. I've heard too many new mothers worry that they will never bond properly with their babies because they were unable to breastfeed successfully. New mothers routinely question their competence and value simply because they don't have the feelings that they thought they would, or because they feel disappointment that their babies don't look or behave as they had hoped. New mothers fret that they are crabby and miserable because they are still sore and exhausted six and a half weeks after delivery, that they haven't had time to write thank you notes, or that they can't seem to take a shower before noon. New mothers are consumed by the wish to be good mothers, and they often worry that because things aren't going the way they expected, that they must not be.

Most mothers do the best they can and do very well by their kids. But most seasoned mothers know that motherhood seldom goes according to plan. Mothers who do everything by the book, who read and follow tons of "expert" advice" sometimes have children with problems. Mothers who seem to ignore current parenting wisdom sometimes have children who are amazingly successful and pleasant. But it is also safe to say that mothers whose children surprise them, for whom motherhood is a struggle, have it harder, as they try to mold either themselves or their children into something or someone they are not. And that rarely is good for anyone.

So I say, expect the unexpected. Be open to whatever comes your way. If your childbirth experience doesn't resemble the bathed-in-sunlight, unmedicated bliss you'd hoped for, but you and your baby are healthy and alive, be grateful rather than self-loathing. If you have a boy when you'd wanted a girl, learn to love the boy you have. If you want to stay at home with your baby now that she's in your arms even though you'd always assumed that you'd eagerly return to your full time career as soon as possible, accept that that's who you are and what you want, at least for now.

Just as you had little control over when or even if you conceived this child, and, unless you have a planned c-section, you have little say about when you will deliver, you just can't control or predict what motherhood will be like for you. The sooner you learn to take pleasure in the surprises your baby has to offer you, the more you will enjoy your motherhood. And I believe, the more you relish the process of discovering who you all are and what you all like or don't like, the more you will enjoy each other. Accepting yourself, accepting your baby, and welcoming the experience, no matter what is in store for you, frees you from disappointment and allows you to know what a fantastic mother you really are. Expecting the unexpected keeps you open to the real and enriching experience motherhood should be.

Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, LCSW, is the mother of three, a licensed clinical social worker, and an adjunct faculty member in the Sociology Department at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. She works part time at a community mental health center and runs discussion/support groups for first time mothers. She is the author of The New Mom's Companion: Care for Yourself While You Care for Your Newborn, a guide for first time mothers to help them adjust to the many emotional, relationship, identity, and physical changes that accompany motherhood, published by Sourcebooks, Inc, in April, 2003, and Motherhood Without Guilt: Being the Best Mother You Can Be and Feeling Great About It, a book that helps mothers become more self-accepting and confident about their motherhood, also published by Sourcebooks, Inc.

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