Best known for her roles as Amber in Clueless and Morgan on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Donovan currently stars in the ABC Family franchise The Dog Who Saved Christmas. The latest installment, The Dog Who Saved the Holidays, will premiere in December. Following that, she will costar in MoniKa, set for release in 2013.
Donovan, 41, is also a writer and yogi. A recovered anorexic, she assists in counseling and supporting young women struggling with eating disorders.
She lives in San Francisco with her husband, Charlie Bigelow, and their 6-month-old daughter Scarlett Avery.
These are the moments that remind you it’s all worth it – Courtesy Elisa Donovan
For the record, I’m an idealist. I’ve always been a believer in the ultimately gracious and supportive energy of the universe. A relentless optimist. I’m the person that believes in being the exception to the rule.
Call it my non-conformist punk rock youth roots, but I’m actively irritated by a bandwagon. One of my biggest aversions to a clambake being those who cop out on the rest of their lives once they have a child.
So when people say things like, “Oh when you have a kid everything changes, you’ll see“, and “See if you feel like having sex after you’ve just cleaned vomit and poop off of your shirt for the third time in an hour,” and “Who can put on makeup or change out of sweatpants (that I’ve been wearing since early April) when I barely have time to pee?” it makes me want to run screaming from the room.
I couldn’t wait to have a kid myself so I could prove all of those unfortunate defeatists wrong. I would show them that Life Is Beautiful and having a baby is A Gorgeous Miracle and I’m Eternally Grateful and Amazed, and Jeez Why Do People Make It Seem So Hard?
Let me stop right here and say: Everything I ever said about being pregnant and being a mother before I got pregnant and became a mother, might be bulls*#%.
People always talk about that first drive home from the hospital as “the longest 20 minutes of your life”: those terrifying minutes when you have your new baby in the car for the first time and you’re en route to your home, where you have absolutely no idea what you will do when you arrive.
For Charlie and me, that drive was bliss: loving the movement of the car, our daughter slept the whole ride. Living only 10 minutes from the hospital, I thought maybe we should drive around the block a few times (or up the coast for a few days) before going home, to prolong the peace and false sense of control we thought we had.
Scarlett in her first nightgown and cap – Courtesy Elisa Donovan
Yeah, the car ride was cake. It was the first night at home that was the zinger. After swaddling, shushing, swishing, swinging and singing a freakin’ Hail Mary, Scarlett was still wailing like a rock star at the top of her lungs. There we were: two full-grown adults at the utter mercy of this teeny-tiny monster in her swing with her tiny little snore and interrupted breath, whose every move scared the crap out of us.
“Are you hungry? Is your diaper wet? Do you need to be picked up? Do you need to be put down? Are you trying to tell me something? Do you want me to shut up? Should I leave? Should I stay? Can I get a vowel??? … Am I bad parent? They should make you get a license for this!!!”
Scarlett finally did calm down (I’d love to tell you what it was that worked that made her sleep and give you the magical solution for when it happens to you, but — I was so exhausted I was hallucinating by the time she was quiet, so I have no idea what actually happened).
Then we spent the next two hours lying in bed peeking over the covers holding our breath, checking to make sure she was still breathing every five seconds.
One of the sick ironies of new parenting is that when your baby is crying, you are terrified you’ve done something wrong and you must do something right immediately! But when they’re not crying, you’re convinced they’ve stopped breathing and probably need medical attention.
These little beings rule your world in a way that is debilitating, mesmerizing, totally unexpected and utterly consuming. It’s a double-edged sword of a specific kind of torture for the parent, one which I hear ends — somewhere around the time the child reaches the age of 32.
And if you think your mind was on the lam when you were pregnant, just wait ’til you give birth. During the first two weeks of your little extraterrestrial’s life you will not know what day it is, where you are, who you spoke to, what your telephone number is or where you live.
Faking us out, feigning sleep – secretly about to erupt – Courtesy Elisa Donovan
The first day that Charlie went back to work, he came home in the afternoon to find me wandering around the house, crying, shuffling various items from room to room and mumbling.
As a mom you constantly feel like there is something you need to be taking care of every single second (because there is), so whenever the kiddie is having a blissful moment of rest, you want to take advantage of that 10 minutes to scrub the poop off the wall and brush your teeth and move the load of laundry into the dryer and wash the bottles and change the sheets and empty the dishwasher … and …
You will get by on adrenaline for an impressive amount of time, but there comes a moment when the sleep deprivation reaches a crescendo from which the only way down is a freefall nosedive into the muttering, puttering mess of goo that Charlie found me in.
“Ummm — E? I think you need to go to sleep,” he suggested.
After my initial resistance, and a few more tears (Yes, it’s okay if you cry more than your kid in the beginning. I certainly did), I acquiesced and let him walk me over to the bed and literally put me in it; all the while still mumbling, “…Where are the … I need to … diapers … laundry is … crib?”
Be not concerned. Things will even out, you will gain back your faculties and your mind will return to its prior state of brilliance — okay, yeah I don’t really think this part is true. My daughter is six months old and I still ask things like, “Who is that?” — referring to someone we just spent the evening with the night before, and “I never said that, I don’t remember ever having that conversation, Charlie” regarding a lengthy conversation I invariably had with Charlie not a few short hours before.
I have heard this behavioral phenomena referred to as “new mommy brain” and I have heard that this too, passes — around the time the mommy reaches the age of 82. At which point it is replaced by general senility which no one faults you for; in fact you get credit for simple longevity (rightfully so) and everyone marvels at your wisdom and awesomeness.
Positive affirmations hat – Courtesy Elisa Donovan
So here is the real straight-up truth, with no idealistic sugar-coating: each terrifying and disastrous moment of those first weeks was, without exception, followed by a breath-taking, awe-inspired tear-jerker-of-a-beauty of a moment. Every single day consists of both.
And this my friends, is how the human race forges on. This is how we continue to procreate and evade extinction. Because there is the existence of the two. Somehow, that tiny little hand with its tiny little fingers gripping my comparatively giant-sized mitt, has the power to slay me — erasing my memory of the marathon sleep deprivation and the buckets full of spit up.
I so purely, entirely and unconditionally adore her. I didn’t know it was possible to love something so much.
If there is one thing I can recommend with complete assuredness and confidence based on my limited experience of pregnancy and giving birth and motherhood thus far, it’s this: Let go. Prepare as best you can, and then just let go of every expectation, hope, fear, need and idea of what’s going to happen. And everything will be perfect.
It is hard and scary to begin this whole new phase of life full of responsibility. It is stressful to try to predict what’s going to happen, while not knowing how the sweet little bean you’re carrying is going to enter the world, or how you are going to manage her arrival. But I have learned that the majority of all of this is beyond my control.
I had plans and beliefs about what I wanted to occur, of what stories I wanted to be able to tell. And thus far, very few of those things have wound up going down as I anticipated they would; and I have wound up with very different stories to share (believe me — I have birthing stories and breastfeeding debacles that in no way-shape-or-form were supposed to happen to ME! Don’t worry, we’ll go there in the upcoming blogs…).
I have tried to be at ease with all of it, and miraculously for the most part I have been. Because I believe it’s exactly the way it was meant to go. I believe my willingness to trust that, however it was all going to shake down was right, has really and truly served me more than anything else.
Fierce love (note the dark circles under my eyes) – Courtesy Elisa Donovan
SO. What to REALLY expect in the first weeks of being a parent? Expect not to know what the holy heck is happening, but love it anyway. Expect in one moment to know exactly what you’re doing, and in the next to be convinced you are totally lost. Expect that nothing will go as planned, and everything will be perfect.
I might encourage you to trust. And I might beg you to have a sense of humor.
Have faith that whatever is happening is the right thing. Your baby is going to come into this world in exactly the way that he or she sees fit. Existence is inherently divine, so trust that you’re being taken care of.
Help your little bean to feel welcome to enter the world, and then let go. Just let go.
– Elisa Donovan