People don't mention much about motherhood I suspect because the challenge is always changing, so it's hard to say. The most shocking realization has been how much advocating I would have to do.
The advocacy started the moment I went into labor. I didn't know much, but I knew I didn't want an epidural. Luck for me the doctor was all for my decision, and I didn't have to push. Then I didn't have breastmilk, they offered me donor milk but, otherwise, I would have needed to request. So far so good, but it went down hill fast.
Nine years in I think there are three main parts to advocacy:
1. Gathering Information
Knowledge is the bases of all advocacy. You have to know what you want, and a lot of times that means researching all the options yourself. I went into labor having no clue about water births or doulas, in retrospect, I wish I were informed enough to pursue a home birth with a doula. People aren't always that forthcoming, or they just assume you know all your options and your making a decision. Knowing the laws in your state and nationally around a given topic aid always ideal but obviously not possible. There is a lot to know at any one given time, some are predictable, like school and childcare, other are unpredictable like medical emergencies. I went into labor knowing virtually nothing, but labor happens no matter what. Breastfeeding, not so much. I knew even less about breastfeeding than I did about birth. I had no idea that having a premature child would mean not having a supply. It doesn't always happen that way, but it did in my case. I had no clue about donor milk so thank God the nurse offered it. I wish I could say I learned the importance of research but it took till school for me to take research seriously.
2. Using Your Voice/ Standing Your Ground
I was going to have to speak up for what I thought was best all the time. I put my son in daycare at seven weeks the earliest possible date because I didn't see another option but I also just made assumptions about what my options were. Something I regret deeply. His first two daycares were terrible. At about nine weeks, I paid a surprise visit to his daycare after I called before heading into class and realized the number was disconnected. Needless to say, I skipped that class and headed across town only to find a woman I had never met before alone with all the kids. She assured me that she was working on her certifications. I am not sure what else she said I picked my son up and never looked back.
The next daycare had much better conditions regarding code compliance, but I found myself with a filthy child and the end of each day. Sometimes with a days worth of spit up and snot caked on his face and neck. An aunt had assured me that if I sent him there clean, they would know I was a "serious" parent. Not so. At least not for me. At one point I walked into the infant room, and his provider was on her laptop. I had walked to the middle of the room and picked up my son before she noticed. I knew I needed to do something but without other options causing an issue at the daycare not matter the scale didn't seem like a good idea. I researched my options and found a voucher that would subsidize childcare for me as a student then talked to anyone who would listen until I got him a spot at one of the best daycares in the city, on paper at least. That daycare turned out to be quite elitist and racist but the facility was sparkling and they actually, engaged the kids. Heaven after the experience I had previously. These experience also let me know early how important choice is. As a young low-income single mom I rarely had good choices. The bulk of my advocacy for pushing my way to more choices.
The advocacy never stops. It's exhausting at times. Big schools systems and limited resources. Reading food labels, hunting down natural remedies. Finding the right speech pathologist. Whatever path your journey some battles will take longer than others. This is the part I am still getting used too. It's the most tiring and, depending on the situation, utterly terrifying. It stretches you, makes you taller and braver. If you let it, it can make you more tender. The remember laying my head next to my son's tiny toddler lap and letting the tears stream down as I explained we would be moving to daycare number four, I was going to beg the owner of a small home daycare a few friends of mine went to the next day. The final and perfect place but I didn't know that then I wasn't even sure it would work. I cried until we both fell asleep. The next day we got up and headed straight for the daycare.
This cycle has been a constant and I suspect it will continue well into teenage years.