The Secret Recipe…

Kaly Sullivan essays

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The only way I survived was the swing, you have to have the swing.

This is the only diaper rash cream that works. I've tried them all.

These swaddling blankets saved my life, seriously saved my life.

Just another four hours watching a first-time, mom-to-be maneuvering gifts around her bulging belly. I take a gulp of lukewarm champagne and plaster on my best, Isn't it adorable? smile.

I was an early bloomer on the marriage and baby front so by the time most of my friends were wrapping up their first pregnancies I already had two babies at home. Every baby shower was an exercise in torture. I knew too much.

About two hours into the gift opening, I would fantasize about standing up as another hooded towel emerged from pink and blue striped paper to yell:

This is bull shit. None of this matters.

Old ladies would gasp. Guests would look away embarrassed by my outburst. Concerned friends would gently steer me in the direction of the watermelon carved into a baby carrier. And while I was escorted away from the fragile mother-to-be, I would feel relief. Because I knew that I spoke the truth.

I never acted on that particular fantasy. I took a more passive aggressive approach. Instead of bringing a gift for the baby, I would bypass the registry, and load up a basket with things for the new mom. I carefully selected items like shower gel and lotion, tinted lip balm, chocolate, warm cardigans, anything that might give her practical comfort in those early days.

The underlying message: this is more about you than you realize.

Maybe in the card I would acknowledge that the birth of a mother is as beautiful as the birth of a child, but I never told the whole truth. I never gave her the secret. The secret that I, as a mother, had discovered.

Partially because I knew she wouldn't believe it. I knew if I told her, she would hold her hand protectively over her belly and smile and nod, but it wouldn't take seed in her heart the way that it needed to. Because the secret is counterintuitive. At first, it doesn't make sense. And it can't be purchased at Babies R Us.

The secret to motherhood is to put yourself first. If you get what you need, your children will get what they need. Figuring out what you need—that is the hard part.

We stock up like if we have the right arsenal then we'll be prepared. But none of that stuff helps when you are physically and emotionally split right open.

Becoming a mother forces you in the most primal way to figure out who you are and what you need. It leaves you cracked wide open, staring at the pieces trying to figure out how to reassemble them.

You know you'll never be the same, but you have no idea how to create something new and whole. And now there's this other living, breathing piece. And how does it fit?

Putting yourself first. That is the secret to putting yourself back together again. It doesn't happen overnight. It's only with time and patience that the pieces start to come together.

I know the mom-to-be at the shower has to figure this out on her own. I know I can't tell her the secret any more than I can promise her that her baby will love the swing.

So I silently offer a mom-to-mom blessing that someday not too far in the future, the secret will come to her. And she will know what she needs to do.


About the Author

Kaly Sullivan

When Kaly doesn’t have her nose in a book, she wrangles and referees two elementary age boys and about her often humorous efforts to lead a mindful, connected life. She's the co-founder of Harlow Park Media and is the author of Good Move: Strategy and Advice for Your Family's Relocation. Her writing has been featured on Mamalode, In The Powder Room, and Scary Mommy. You can follow her on , and .

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