Education & Family
Three Moms on the Beauty and Brutality of Motherhood in the First Year
Being a mom is a wild ride. There’s bliss and exhaustion, laughter and failure, and that’s just in a 15-minute span.
The day Parker was born was remarkable. Of course, all births are pretty spectacular, but his was notable for a variety of reasons.
His mom, Kate Rowe, 36, has survived ovarian cancer—twice. In between her two oophorectomies—the surgical removal of her ovaries—she went through IVF to retrieve her eggs, in the hope that she would be able to get pregnant when her body was healed. A first pregnancy ended in a heartbreaking miscarriage, but luckily her second resulted in Parker, a red-headed, blue-eyed ball of brightness and joy.
Two weeks before her due date, Rowe was diagnosed with preeclampsia and her husband Tom, tested positive for COVID. She tested positive a few days later too. That meant a quarantine stay at Johns Hopkins Hospital as the “COVID mom,” says Rowe. They checked in on March 23, 2022, Parker was born via C-section on March 27, and they were finally discharged home on April 1.
Five weeks later, on Mother’s Day, Rowe was back at the hospital, after passing out from blood loss connected to the delivery. A few days later she’d be recovering from another surgery.
“I told Tom all I want for 2023 is just boring contentment,” says Rowe. Last year was filled with extreme highs and lows, and she could use a little normalcy. “Joyful, intense life-giving moments are amazing—you don’t not want them—but just having this good day
is a win,” she says. It’s been a struggle to trust her body again. “I’ve just had all these situations that feel like my body is attacking me.”
But she’s trying. Right now, that means avocado toast from Atwater’s and a happy, babbling, toothy-grinned Parker inside their cramped Canton apartment—soon to be traded in for a new house in Baltimore County’s Phoenix.
As Rowe can attest, being a mom is a wild ride. There’s bliss and exhaustion, laughter and failure, and that’s just in a 15-minute span.
Allison Banks became a first-time mom at age 42. “She has black curly hair and came out screaming,” says Banks of Ava, now three and a half months old. “She’s a real baby now,” laughs Banks. “She’s plumped up and we’ve started seeing a personality. But I’m frightened every day. Am I doing this right?”
One thing that Banks has realized is “nobody knows what they’re doing”—no matter what age someone becomes a mom. “We are all just figuring this out.”
Lane Harlan, one of Baltimore’s most successful restaurateurs with Clavel, Fadensonnen, WC Harlan, and the upcoming Coral Wig bar, met her match this year. Brune Charo was born “fast and furious” on the last Sunday in August. “It’s been amazing, it’s been hard, it’s been nebulous,” says Harlan, now eight months into this motherhood voyage, drinking her coffee black on a Tuesday afternoon at Artifact. “I think nebulous is a really good way to describe it. As soon as you sort of get a rhythm everything changes the next week.”
The first year is slippery, she says. “I can’t get a grip on it. And I don’t think you are supposed to get a grip because the second you get it down it changes.” It’s been hard, she admits, for someone who likes—okay, needs—organization and systems. “It’s really challenging to release some of that control, and I understand she’s teaching me as much as I’m teaching her,” Harlan says.
She’s also learned to rely on her intuition. Those first few weeks you’re just dropping in and out of hysteria, says Harlan, 36, who went back to work when Brune was just three weeks old. You have all this doubt creeping in “to totally freak you out,” especially in the newborn phase. But “most babies make it to the adult phase,” says Harlan. “I just kept telling myself that. Most babies grow up to be adults. Why am I sweating over all these little details so much?”
Banks, from her Patterson Park rowhome, had similar feelings. “I’m responsible for this whole person,” she kept telling herself through the fog of hormones, exhaustion, self-doubt, and days that never seem to end but also manage to go by too quickly. “The first four to six weeks are still kind of a blur. It honestly felt like three long days.”
And now that Banks has started back at work, she’s learning how much capacity she has to “do everything.” She’s been putting off finding childcare, she admits. “I’m not ready for anyone else to take care of my baby. Three months is not a lot of time.”
“AS SOON AS YOU SORT OF GET A RHYTHM EVERYTHING CHANGES THE NEXT WEEK.”
For Rowe, a ceramic artist and teacher at ClayGround Studio & Gallery, having a nanny for Parker a few hours a week, “lets me breathe air that he isn’t breathing.” Pottery was essential to her healing after her second oophorectomy —“it saved me in a time when I needed saving.” And it was there for her again when she was happily pregnant with Parker but still needing to mourn and process the miscarriage.
“I really enjoyed being pregnant. It was beautiful, it was hard. It was all the things I wanted it to be,” says Rowe. “But I definitely held myself back from feeling some of the joy I know I felt but didn’t want to let myself have.”
Since having Parker there’s been a lot of pure delight. And a lot of other feelings, too. Something happens when you become a mom. You have all these competing thoughts. You want to teach them to walk, but don’t want to ever let go. You dream they’ll be the best of you, but somehow completely their own person, too. You want them to experience the world, but from the safety of your arms.
“It’s changed my perspective,” says Harlan. “I think in the past I had been more nostalgic and looked backwards and now I look forward. It makes me think about the future.It makes me think about what the world is going to be like for her. I think my perspective
on the world has changed because I am now caring for the future.”
Recently while flying to Spain with her husband, Matthew Pierce, Harlan found herself emailing all her passwords to her parents, who were watching Brune—“in case we’re lost at sea.” She suddenly finds herself thinking about life insurance, because “for better or for worse it puts me face to face with mortality.”
Harlan has started a Dear Brune letter, in the Notes app on her phone, typing usually in the wee hours when she takes the overnight shift for a baby who does not like to sleep. “There is so much I want to tell her now.” Sometimes it’s profound thoughts, other times it’s, “We went on a walk today, this is what you looked at, this is what you loved, this is what I saw.” It’s for both of them. “The practice helps me cope with the anxiety of not knowing what tomorrow will bring,” she says.
Rowe is also at a crossroads. “Something is shifting. Maybe it’s because he’s not a baby baby anymore,” she says. She feels an emotional change within herself. “I wanted a baby so much and now he’s becoming a kid and it’s really shifting my brain. It’s beautiful and it’s brutal every day. It’s so amazing to see him grow and it’s so hurtful to know that every day he’s bigger. He’s taking steps. Like cool, you’re taking steps to walk away from me,” her voice cracks. “It’s a lot.”
But for now, there’s still walks in the stroller to Bark Social with their pup, Murphy, sticky hands full of puffed snacks, and naps that allow Rowe to prep a few dozen mugs for the kiln.
For Harlan, it’s no surprise that introducing food to Brune has brought a lot of bliss. There was an abundance of food in her childhood, mostly due to her Filipino-born mother, who would always “cook way more food than you could eat.” Harlan says she remembers eating “rice and bananas with soy sauce” and Spam. And though Brune’s first foods have been slightly different, Harlan did start her eating very young.
“The process is really fun and funny and messy. I have this long list of every single thing I want her to taste, and I want to see her experience.” That includes things like lemons and tinned fish. Anything with “really intense flavors.” And yes, she knows at some point even her child will only want chicken fingers and cheese quesadillas.
“Basically, as soon as she crawled out of me, I was like, ‘You’re your own. I need to get to know you. What do you need?’” So far, they have logged countless miles walking from their Tuscany-Canterbury home to Sherwood Gardens, Linkwood Park, and the Baltimore Museum of Art. While Brune takes in the world, Harlan can revel in not having to be the constant source of entertainment. Often, she has one hand on the baby in the carrier, and the other wrapped around a cup of coffee.
Banks, who now expertly maneuvers her stroller up and down her steps and the narrow entranceway to her home, also loves walking to ice cream shops, grocery stores, and to pick up dinner with the baby. She’s constantly thinking about her own mom, whom she lost when she was 11, so she makes sure to take plenty of photos of herself with Ava. She never wants her to wish there were more pictures of them together—like she does with her own mother.
Another friend, who also had her first after 40, told Banks she was putting her baby in every ensemble she wanted—even multiple changes a day. “I waited this long; he is going to wear every one of these outfits,” her friend joked. Banks realized she could also allow herself that freedom. “I waited this long and I’m dressing her up in everything I always wanted to—including bows. I don’t care. I’m just enjoying all of it.”
She pauses. “I was waiting for her. Out of all the babies, this was my baby. This one’s mine. I know she was meant for me. I’m just grateful. I am feeling all the feelings.” Banks laughs—motherhood will do that to you, turn you into a sappy person who didn’t exist before. Into someone who says, “feeling all the feelings.” And she admits that when Ava is in her room napping, when there is finally a fleeting moment of quiet, “I miss my baby.”
“I WAS WAITING FOR HER. OUT OF ALL THE BABIES, THIS WAS MY BABY.”
After what can be years of thinking about a baby, getting pregnant, being pregnant, and then being the baby’s entire world for the first year, it can be hard to let go. Harlan knows she must work extra hard to be in the moment and not control the moment.
“I hope that Brune feels supported in her interests,” she says. “And I hope that I can approach motherhood less like a manager, as I do with a lot of my businesses, and more like a supportive witness.”
She pauses, knowing how hard it is to unteach yourself something you’ve been doing for over a decade. “I have had a career and managed a lot of people, but I don’t want to fall into the pattern of doing that with her. I hope she can teach me how to sit back and be more of a spectator versus a manager.” Harlan is learning how to get out of the way a bit: “I want her to be free to find her own voice.”
As she approaches her second Mother’s Day, and with a newly minted one-year-old, Rowe is realizing just how fast it goes. She’s emotional. Her baby is getting older, and they are starting to pack up the only home he’s ever known. “Everyone has very sweet input,” she says. “They say, ‘This age is so good. The next thing is going to be so great.’” Her voice breaks. “But it’s so hard to let go of the part that you like so much. I loved when he was a little loaf of bread and fell asleep on your chest. That was a really hard time in the hospital, but it was just us and it was a beautiful time we had.”
Parker is busy in his little fenced-in play area, banging on his walker with one chubby hand and holding onto “his” remote with the other. Naptime is approaching. You can’t stop time. “Change is so good and so hard,” says Rowe. “It seems like it’ll either be so hard or so great, but it is all of those things at the same time.”