As the oldest of five kids, I grew up doing basic baby maintenance, a chore I considered to be about as romantic as emptying the wastebaskets. As I slid into adulthood, babies were like pets and partners: I was happier spending time with other people's.

Then I fell for the girl with the dog. She was so sure about having children, and I was so fond of them anyway, I just shifted from confirmed aunt to potential parent, and the next thing I knew, I had a station wagon with a dog gate and a car seat.

I knew I wouldn't be going out much for a while, I'd be up all through the night for a long time, and there'd be a lot of poop and crying. I'd definitely have to make more money. But how hard or mysterious could it really be? You change the kid, feed the kid, burp the kid, hold the kid, put the kid to sleep, and then do it all over at slowly lengthening intervals until she learns to feed herself and use the potty. Then you help with homework and go to soccer games. I was patient and had a sense of humor. I felt adequately equipped.

Some of my preconceptions were dead-on. But there were some repercussions of motherhood I couldn't have imagined. I was shocked to find that babies cause a nearly total lack of control over the aesthetics of your surroundings. Babies bring ugly, brightly colored plastic things into your home. People loan you these ugly things and you are grateful.

Amateur-level worrying gets up-graded to professional-strength anxiety. While I used to indulge in concerns like, "Do I have restroom-floor pee on my cuffs?" now I constantly sneak into my daughter's bedroom to make sure she's breathing. I check her in her car seat, because her neck really shouldn't be folded in half like that. I check her in her crib. Every molecule of air between my eyes and her chest quivers with my focus. And then she sighs, and I also let out my breath. Until the next time.

Another shocking discovery: Babies make lesbians disappear. The rote social disapproval that I've grown to expect as a big, short-haired gal instantly dissolves as I round the corner in the QFC with my daughter in the cart, and not because lesbians with babies are suddenly cool. If I'm alone with her, my husband is assumed to be elsewhere. If I'm with my partner, she is perceived as the mom, and I'm her friend along for the trip. A baby with a woman is pretty much assumed to have come shooting out of her personal vagina, after having been planted there by a man. A woman in a checkout line once asked me if I "tore much."

A wonderful thing babies provide is a welcome vacation from sarcasm and ironic distance. Babies are not metaphors, or postmodern--they're not post-anything. Babies are literal, immediate balls of need, and don't have much interest in wry detachment. I now understand why every parent feels like their child is brilliant. You bring home a kid who's unable to lift her head or engage with you in any significant way. Basically you're parenting a loaf of bread that eats, pees, and cries. But she changes so quickly that every morning you wake up to a slightly different child. They seem brilliant because what they're going through is brilliant.

What else do I know now? If you have a burning dream, be well on your way to accomplishing it before you manifest a child. Finding yourself while finding the wipes and the zinc cream is really, really hard. Actually, if you want to dream at all, sleep now, before the child arrives. The physical exhaustion from parenting an infant is a cliché, but no lie. That eventually lets up, but the emotional exhaustion keeps rolling along, because your baby is always there. She's the party guest that doesn't go home. Doesn't she know that it's 3:00 a.m., and everyone should be in bed? No, she doesn't, and she won't be sobering up into that opinion in a few hours, either.

But you know what I really didn't know then that I know now? I had no idea how much I could love someone who is so new she doesn't have anything to tell a therapist. Or that she would give me so much, from the desire to make the best I can of my life so she'll be proud of me, to the look of happiness and recognition I see in her face when I come home.