I am still in my pjs. Which, if you’re a faithful reader, should be of no surprise to you. This is an usual occurrence during teething times in which I am up between 3-5 times a night with an uncomfortable, whiny baby. But as I was sitting in my pj’s this morning with my third cup of coffee writing out invitations to Ellie’s first birthday party, I was hit in the chest with an immense realization. I have been a Mother for one, whole year. A WHOLE YEAR. Over the last eleven and a half months I have watched my little zygote smile for the first time, roll over, blow raspberries, say “Mama” as her first word, wave and give high fives to strangers, sing to herself in her crib as soon as she wakes up in the morning. And have had practically nothing to do with these developmental milestones. Amazing, isn’t it? We’re put in charge of these little beings and yet, there’s nothing we can really do to dictate their behaviors, their moods, their personalities. We can do our best to guide them, but ultimately, they’re their own person. That I just happened to carry inside of my body for 8 months. So I suppose it’s also of no surprise that the lessons I’ve learned during my first year as parent have almost little to do with parenting, but more about myself.
Trust Your Instincts
Many first time Moms- myself included- are overwhelmed at the thought that they must choose a parenting technique/method/routine to subscribe to. There a million to choose from, each with very faithful followers. There are BabyWise parents, BabyWhisperer parents, Happiest Baby on the Block Parents, Attachment Parents, Unattached, Disillusioned Parents, and the list goes on and on. I read them all. And nearly ripped my hair out trying to implement a lot of their ideologies in our home. You know which one I ended up going with? The Shannon Parent Technique. The best advice I ever received this year was from my friend Vesper who told me that no one knows what’s best for my child but me. There were times when Ellie needed to be left to cry because there was nothing wrong and she was being stubborn and it was my job as her parent to teach her obedience and the important life skill of falling asleep on her own. And there were times when she was ill or frightened or just really needed a snuggle when I needed to go in and sing to her. And hold her. And comfort her. Because that is also my job as her parent. No book ever outlined the needs of my, specific child. No book ever will. I feel so strongly about it, I won’t even donate the books I purchased because I don’t want to perpetuate the cycle. I felt like I failed as a parent those first few months when I couldn’t get her to do the things the books told me I should. This is not to say that people have not benefited from those books- there are some people who are less intense than me, less guilt-ridden and more secure in themselves as parents than I was that have gleaned useful tips from these books and were able to leave out the less useful. I am just not one of those people, so it’s best I refrain entirely. If they helped you in any way, I am glad! I have learned to trust my own instincts when it comes to my child this year and I am eternally grateful.
Motherhood Doesn’t Come Naturally
I have a friend who is Super Mom. She has four kids and somehow she manages to still bake bread from scratch, homeschool effectively, run a household and wear lipstick and earrings. Having known her for years- but having missed out on witnessing her first year as a Mama- I thought Motherhood would just come naturally. That’s why we’re equipped to bear children, right? As soon as they emerge we’re supposed to know what to do with them and be radiating peace and joy at the prospect of bringing new life into the world. RIGHT?!? The transition was anything but natural for me. Breastfeeding was the first, biggest challenge. This should be easy, right? This is what everyone does all over the world! They’re built right in! Not so, for me. It was frustrating and difficult and panic-inducing and time/life/spirit consuming. It got a bit easier after a while and I kept at it until Ellie decided she didn’t want to nurse anymore at 9 months. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved. The sleep deprivation, the loneliness, the mourning of the death of our old life, my slow recovery after a long, hard pregnancy, severe pre-eclampsia and delivery that left me unable to move- or see, for that matter-very well were all part of the, “When is this going to start feeling natural?” Some women are natural mothers. Some are not. That doesn’t mean you aren’t meant to be one, just that it takes a little getting used to. That’s ok. Your kid’s just getting used to being a kid as well, so you get to adjust together. I’m so glad that I am able to accept this lesson and know that it doesn’t make me a bad Mama- in fact, just the opposite. If we have any other children, I’m glad they will reap the benefits of this lesson as well.
I am Beautiful
Before you berate my choice of narcissistic language, let me explain. When I was pregnant, I was huge. I had stretch marks. Dark spots. My feet were swollen to Fred Flintstone like proportions. I had an insanely itchy rash that I was told wouldn’t go away until after I delivered that has left scars. I spent the remainder of my last trimester crying-as most women do- over lots of things, one of them being the fact that my body will never, ever look like it did before. What completely shocked me was how, months after delivery and losing close to sixty pounds, I felt more beautiful, stronger and more confident than I ever did before. I carried a living thing as a vessel and she was healthy and alive. These stretch marks, dark spots and scars inside and out are evidence of how brave I am and because of their story, they are beautiful. I am lighter now than I was before getting pregnant because I take care of myself so much better now that I have someone who depends on me. I am even coming around to clothes shopping! An event I detested because I never felt comfortable or confident in how I looked in anything. On most days, even the ones in which I’ve gotten less than 3 hours of sleep, I feel radiant. Beautiful. I was chosen to be Ellie’s Mama. It’s an honor and it makes me feel beautiful.
I am Brave
As a child, I would kick doctors and nurses alike who tried to come near me with needles. I refrained from sledding because I was terrified of running into trees. I wouldn’t learn to ride a bike because I had nightmares of being run over by a car. At every audition I have ever performed for I have forgotten words, been off-pitch and have trembled violently. Fear has been a prevalent friend in my life. But, this past year I gave birth without any pain management, in a room with low lighting, my favorite playlist on my ipod and one of my best friends as my attending OB. I felt every pain, every tear, every tug to free this child and for once in my life, I was not afraid. I looked forward to every contraction, knowing that it would bring me closer to the finish line. The first faces my daughter saw were those of her parents and someone who loves her nearly just as much. If I can do that, I am strong enough to face anything. To do anything. To be anything. I have never felt as brave as I do now that I am a mother. I am thrilled to take on things that have been pressing on my heart for years now. I am thrilled that my Ellie will grow up thinking and believing that her Mama is brave. That there is no fear in love.
God Will Provide
Choosing to be a stay-at-home Mom is hard. Choosing to be a stay-at-home Mom in Essex county New Jersey, while paying for a mortgage and diapers and formula and groceries and phone bills and car insurance on one salary of 50,000 is insanity. I have learned this year of God’s provision. It has not only been monetary, but with strength, mercy and tons of support as well. God has provided for us and our little family. We have learned that he is trustworthy, worthy of our praise and adoration. That He just calls us to believe- that’s it- and He’ll take care of the rest. That if I’m less than thankful, or even if I’m shaking my fists at Him in anger at Ellie waking up for the 5th time at 4 am, He will still provide. He still wants to carry our burdens. To comfort and care for us. The gospel looks different all of a sudden when you have a child. My heart swells with love for Ellie and I am instantly reminded that God feels the same way about me. He is a great Dad.
Has Motherhood taught you a lesson that surprised you? I hope I’m not the only one.