Like so many women in my life, and so many of my clients, I approached  my first pregnancy expecting a dreamy experience. I anticipated an easy pregnancy, an ideal birth, and a graceful transition to motherhood. 

Before my first child was born, I didn’t really understand what sleep deprivation meant. I couldn’t imagine what constant breastfeeding would demand of me. I didn’t anticipate what healing from childbirth felt like. I didn’t know what balancing my relationship and being a new mother required of me. I couldn’t imagine how to work through the parenting challenges that come with two people of different family cultures, all the sudden on center stage with their new baby.  

Because I didn’t expect these (very normal) bumps in the road I felt anxious, isolated, and confused. Was I doing this pregnancy, birth, motherhood bit right? I felt alone and shy to share with friends because mothering should be so easy and natural, correct?  By reaching out, I would have to share my imperfection – how vulnerable that felt, maybe even shameful!

It was not until I was pregnant with my second child that I challenged my beliefs about perfection. I started wondering: what if I entered this time frame of pregnancy and the perinatal year with the expectation of imperfection. What if I just expect it to be “clunky”? My tension and anxiety immediately eased. 

Research tells us that about 80% of women experience a normal transition to motherhood and about 20%  experience a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. These numbers are pre-pandemic and may not accurately capture motherhood over the last 9 months. Even so, if most of the population of women fall into the 80% category, I believe it is a public service to redefine the “normal transition” to motherhood  and rename it the “normal but clunky” transition to motherhood. This much better captures the reality of the perinatal period!

Let’s try this on. What if instead of expecting a normal: breastfeeding experience, infant sleep, transitioning back to work after maternity leave, staying home with baby, navigating partner relationship after baby; weaning; childcare transition all the way through sending child to college during a pandemic (hmmm), what if we assume that each and every stage will be “normal but clunky”? We go from a black and white expectation of the situation to the possibility of grey (or purple, or turquoise)… All of the sudden, there is room for birth to unfold the way it does without it needing to be rigid and fixed. There is room for the  sleep routine of your family to be just fine even though it is so different from what that book said or what your best friend does with her child…

For so many of my clients, “allowing clunkiness in”, creates liberation and room to be just exactly as they are on their journey through motherhood. 

Over the last two years I have been organizing Mobile Mama Strategies into a book for mamas on navigating the period of time between conception through motherhood. I sent the manuscript to a few publishers who loved the idea and sent it on further to be peer reviewed. One of the reviewers, a perinatal mental health provider, gave me this feedback:

“I do not personally like the word “clunky” so suggest finding a better adjective.”

I get it, nobody likes clunky! It is not ideal, it’s messy and it doesn’t look the way we expect it to look. But try as I may, I can’t find another term to capture this period of time.  The funny thing is, once providers and clients hear me define these stages as clunky, they too start using the term. In fact, my heart was warmed this morning as my nine year old referred to learning to ski as clunky. No judgement, just a really good description. 

So this is the experiment, wherever you are on your journey of preconception, fertility, pregnancy, loss, the postpartum period, raising toddlers, middle schoolers, college age, take a deep breath and ask yourself: What do I expect of this stage? What is normal? What would it look like if I aimed for “perfect”? Sit with this, maybe journal or draw or mind-map about it. 

Now, shake your body out a little, take another breath. Get curious, asking yourself: What would this stage look like if I expected it to be “clunky” but normal? Allow yourself to look beyond the perfect instagram expectation and make room for the messy, good enough, uncomfortable twists and turns. Capture these ideas and images in your journal.  Play around with adapting your lens on your parenting, your children’s behavior, your pregnancy etc. If you redefine this stage with “normal but clunky” as the expectations, what changes? As I write this, I notice myself taking a deep breath shifting my lens from expecting perfection and allowing even this blog post to be a little clunky…what liberation!

It takes some reminding to redefine our expectations. So brining this experiment a little further into your day, week and season of life, take out a sticky note and write down this soundbite:

“Plan for clunky”

Now place it strategically in your home where you can touch on that little truth multiple times a day as you navigate the journey through motherhood.