In my first few weeks as a new mom, I was in tears nearly every other day as I questioned the new role that I had been given and who I was “supposed” to be. I didn’t recognize my face in the mirror. This woman was exhausted, without a shower for three (okay, maybe four) days and continuously nagging and snapping at my husband. I kept reiterating to myself, “This isn’t who I am. I have become the person I promised myself I would never be.” But it is very much who I was. My identity was shaken.
I thought that my life of ‘glamour’ and freedom was gone. The days of sleeping in whenever I chose, having some form of “date night” with my husband every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, getting dressed up for a dinner with friends or just driving to get a Starbucks simply because I felt like it – that life seemed so far gone. I longed for the ability to be selfish again. To be free.
I had been warned that being a mother would “change my life”, others said that I “had no idea what i was in for”. I refused to acknowledge those words of caution because people offered the same advice about marriage, yet I had never experienced so much joy and fulfillment in my life as I did with my husband. But when I first became a mom, I did begin to wonder why I hadn’t listened to “those people.”
As the months passed, I finally acknowledged and understood that I was battling relatively severe post-partum anxiety, extreme exhaustion, lies and condemnation daily. It affected my state of mind and stole all of my joy. I was always present with Sutton, but I never felt mentally present. I couldn’t stop daydreaming about the “what if’s”, yet I felt guilty every time I did.
I didn’t want to be without my son for even a moment, but I couldn’t figure out who I was with him.
I left a profitable career and established position that I had pursued for quite a long time because I chose to be a stay-at home-mom. It was, and is, important to me that I was present with my little guy and I was blessed to have that option. In the midst of my anxiety, I did still believe that that was a calling in my life and what I wanted to do.
Yet, I struggled with confusion and comparison as I watched my friends from college go off to do ‘amazing things’ and I envied them with every fibre of my being. Traveling the world, pursuing huge careers and new, exciting adventures? I’m covered in spit up, doing the dishes for the fourth time today and desperately searching for somewhere to pull over because my screaming baby can’t last 5 minutes in the car.
These thoughts ate away at me – I believed that I was a terrible mother for even thinking this way. I was afraid to put him in the carseat and had no logical reasoning as to why it scared me so much. My husband changed nearly every diaper and outfit for the first three months because I illogically feared I would break his bones (there are no words to describe what an amazing and hands-on daddy my husband has been from day one. I am so grateful for him.) Needless to say, my postpartum anxiety was debilitating. When Sutton first started smiling and laughing, nearly every single time I would break down hysterically in tears, hurt and heartbroken, and say to him, “Why can’t I always enjoy you this much? Why am I living in fear?”
As time passed, I acknowledged that taking on any new role was a challenge. The anxiety was the main factor, but this was also a very new experience that I had to adjust to. A new job brought on its own frustrations, relationships are challenging at times and this, along with everything else, was just one of those things – it was a change of season that called for assimilation and adjustment. I sought relentlessly for a solution of some sort that would pose as an emotional bandage and just make it “all better.”
In this season of confusion and desperation tightly woven together with joy and excitement, God reminded me: This – motherhood, family – this is not my identity. My identity is in Jesus. My hope, joy and freedom come from Him. Although this job can be thankless, tiring and redundant, it is the greatest and most rewarding gift that He has ever given to me. My family is my greatest ministry and there is no successful career that could ever replace the joy and light that they bring to my life.
On his 5 month birthday, I woke up smiling and realized that I was finally coming out of the blinding, debilitating fog of postpartum anxiety. I began to see my life and my son for what they really were.
There was so. much. joy.
And now, as time rolls forward as quickly as every parent promises that it will, I find myself a few days before his first birthday. And although I still have some hard days, I see now the work that God has been doing in my heart and that the good drastically outweighs the hard.
So, as a loving letter to “those people” who warned me about this new role: Yes, there have been hard moments. But a novel filled cover-to-cover couldn’t be enough to ‘warn’ me about the beauty and elation that comes with being a mom. There is nothing in this world that compares to the blissful feeling that I experience every single morning when I wake up next to my husband and we go to get Sutton and see his smiling face. Nothing I have ever done, nowhere I have ever been can beat the rewarding moments when he learns something new. I thank God every day that He has chosen me to be Sutton’s mom – I’m in awe that my heart has the ability to explode with a happiness so great that I never would have fathomed it existed.
And now- when something startles my son at 2 in the morning, I rock him more (a lot more) than I need to. It is less and less that I am desperately praying to just get some sleep and more that I am cherishing any time that I get with him.
Rather than constantly searching for the next moment of “me” time, I pick him up and cuddle him any time he will let me. I realize that the time is limited in which I can just scoop up my little baby in two arms and show him, without words, how much I love him. It has become “him” time. And I am now so much happier with that.
When I have dishes to do, floors to clean and writing to complete, I make a choice to play with him on the floor, tickle him until both of our bellies hurt from laughter and give him as many kisses as he’ll allow. I stop time in my mind and take a picture with my memory of these fleeting and beautiful moments. I am pretty sure I enjoy that time even more than he does, and I definitely enjoy it more than all of the chores that can definitely wait until later.
In the quiet moments where his little fingers wrap around my pinky or he rests his tiny hand on my cheek, I rest in that and realize that there is genuinely nowhere else in the world that I would rather be.
And as an encouragement to you sweet mommas who may be going through something similar, I want to remind you that you were there. You were there for your baby even when the fog of life, depression, anxiety and fear were so thick that you couldn’t hear yourself think. You were still there in the midst of the panicked moments and feelings of failure. You still held your baby. You still fed, loved and raised your little one. Even if only a little bit – you were there. Have grace on yourself and do not sit in guilt. You have always been there. And we always will be.
God is ridding me of a selfishness that I hadn’t even realized existed. My heart longs to be about Sutton so much more than it longs to be “about myself”. I want the world, the moon and the stars for him. I pray 100 times a day for only the best things for him, desperately wanting to protect him from any harm or hurt. I am beginning to see what it means to take care of someone as I would take care of myself, and even to forget myself to care for his daddy and for him.
Because in the blink of an eye, he will be one, then five and then ten. And I don’t want to wish away these days that turn into years. I don’t want to wish for bedtime, no matter how tired I may be, because that is wishing away one second of what will never come again. I want to be present – and for him. Not only for myself.
I know that the hardship isn’t over. And the terrible two’s and a future sibling will bring an entirely different set of challenges, but I no longer question if this is where I’m supposed to be – it is exactly where I’m meant, and where I want, to be. And somehow, I already miss it.