Pregnancy and Newborn’s April Book Club pick, Surprised by Motherhood, is about a woman who never wanted to be a mom. Then she had kids. Lisa-Jo Baker lost her own mom to cancer when she was just a teenager and because of this, never fully felt equipped for motherhood. Baker shares what the typical how-to books will never truly prepare you for: the true love and joy that parenthood brings.
Pregnancy and Newborn: What was the hardest part of becoming a mom after not wanting to for so many years?
Lisa-Jo Baker: How it felt like breaking up with myself. Because there are all these things you used to love about yourself and your life without kids. Things you didn’t even realize were special at the time. Those late-afternoon naps. Those spontaneous movie nights. The tidy house and pretty things that could easily break. Lots of pretty things. Unbroken, pretty things. Uninterrupted meals, sleep, bathroom breaks. And kids arrive and they huff and they puff and they blow down the life you used to know and love. And it can be a disorienting experience that takes a while to wrap your head around – how you are breaking up with yourself for someone you love so much more.
P&M: You have a very strong faith. How does your religion play into your role as a mom?
LJB: It’s the single most significant reminder that all the seemingly small and mundane moments of my life are in fact an act of courageous self-sacrifice. And that the more I learn to lean into an upside down world where we aren’t striving to move up some ladder, but instead are bending low to tie laces and wipe bottoms and offer milk and a hundred night time kisses, the more I grow into the best version of myself. Before I had kids I didn’t realize how selfish and petty and demanding I could be. Kids are like a mirror – they show us what we look like on the inside. And force us to grow up and out of our own self-centered existence. I think that’s one of the beautiful gifts God gives us in our children – an escape hatch from a life that has always revolved primarily around ourselves. And a reminder that great love is always born from great sacrifice.
P&N: Like you said in your book, the how-to books in the world don’t prepare you for the exciting and frightening parts of parenthood. Personally, what would you say your most life-changing moments as a mom have been?
LJB: Discovering how motherhood has made me both the bravest and the most terrified I’ve been in my life. The fact that I grew and pushed three human beings out of my body still blows my mind. How wildly courageous moms are – I sort of can’t believe that it’s routine and that babies are born daily without more public parades and medals. The fact that my body could nurture them and still be able to put itself back together. And the fact that despite the scars and wrinkles and extra weight I would still do it all again. And then there’s the part where you’re almost terrified by your love for these tiny humans. How every day you risk your heart when you send them out into the world. The books don’t warn you about that part. Forget teaching them not to choke on solids, I needed a warning label to stick across my chest the first time I dropped one of them at preschool and thought I would never be able to drive the car away. Moms are fiercely brave all the while introducing themselves as “just a mom.” I can never get over the contradiction.
P&N: Back before you were married with children, did your family and friends insist that “one day” you’d change your mind? If so, what was your response to that?
LJB: Yes, they did. And it would make me so mad. There are people all over the world who are basically going to be telling me “I told you so,” from here to kingdom come once this book comes out.
P&N: If you could tell your younger, teenage self something now that you didn’t know then, what would it be?
LJB: That your worth is not tied up in a title on a business card. I was so sure I needed to “make something of myself” more important that “just” being someone’s mother. And while I’ve loved the jobs I’ve had and the work I’ve done and still do, I’d say nothing has shaped my identity as powerfully as being the mother to three children. Nothing has grown me out of myself, taught me discipline, love, sacrifice and commitment more than being a mom. No job I’ve had has been more demanding, exhausting or rewarding. And even if I could tell my teenage self that I still wouldn’t have believed it. Motherhood truly has to be experienced to be believed.
P&N: South Africa, Ukraine and the US! Wow! Would you say that your travels around the world have helped influence your parenting style?
LJB: Absolutely. They’ve taught me how resilient and adaptable kids are. That they are curious learners and one of the best icebreakers for making new friends. That moms are moms are moms the world over and that we all ache over the same worries and fear and great love for our kids. It’s helped me be more relaxed about food choices especially when you see the wide array of different things children are fed depending on where you live. But my favorite thing is how children are like an international language that cuts across all cultural barriers and creates an immediate starting point for sharing something in common with someone you can’t otherwise communicate with.
Job title: Social media manager for incourage.me
State of residence: Virginia
Children’s names and ages: Jackson, 8; Micah, 6; Zoe, 3
Celebrity: Author Madeleine L’Engle
Indulgence: Staying up too late to watch too many episodes of Elementary
Workout: Elliptical machine in my office—it mocks me
Beauty product: Ponds Dry Skin Cream
Weeknight dinner: Tacos