No one told me how hard motherhood would be.
After struggling with infertility, I felt like motherhood wasn’t allowed to be difficult. It almost felt like if I said anything about struggling, that I would be complaining about being a mother.
I read many “what people don’t tell you articles” about becoming a mother. None of them scratched the surface of how momentous a change having an infant is.
I didn’t quite understand that having a baby meant that none of my time was my own anymore. Realizing that this small person needed me all the time was overwhelming. I don’t know how I didn’t realize before Madeleine was born that I would no longer have my own time, but I didn’t.
Having Madeleine has taught me selflessness in a way that I have never experienced it before.
In marriage, there is give and take…at least usually. When things are going well, you have a sense of balance, even in the midst of hardship. You and your spouse support each other, giving the other what they need. And even when things are rough, generally speaking your spouse will be more understanding than your screaming baby when you tell them, “I need an hour to myself, and I need coffee, a shower, a meal, and a nap.”
When caring for an infant, however, there is only giving.
Your snuggly, cute little baby doesn’t realize or care that you haven’t slept, or eaten, or showered. They also don’t care if you’re sick or have had an awful day. They will still need to eat, to sleep, to have diapers changed, to be held and loved regardless of whether you have eaten, slept, showered or had your morning coffee.
The first few months with Madeleine are still a blur in my mind. Madeleine took hours to eat. She would scream if I attempted to feed her anywhere but home, and sometimes she would still scream at home. My arms ached from holding her, and my hands wanted to give out sometimes while trying to feed her anywhere but home. I became a mother while not realizing that I was dealing with an autoimmune disease on top of it. I remember laughing when the doctor asked me, “have you been experiencing any unusual fatigue lately?” as I held my three month old daughter on my lap. I still wonder how much of my fatigue in those early months was due to lack of sleep and how much was due to my arthritis.
Motherhood pushes you to do things you didn’t think possible. It has asked me to give until I thought I couldn’t give anymore, and then give beyond that point. It has been exhausting and humbling.
Motherhood challenged my identity. It has pushed me to consider who I am in light of this new role. Sometimes I have felt that now I am “only” a mom, and that simply isn’t true. I have had to deal with complex emotions I never anticipated, such as feeling like I’m too young to be a mom, that I will never be myself again, that I’m not enough for this role, that I will never feel like myself in my body again.
Motherhood has made me stronger, though.
When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I didn’t give up on my fitness goals. I said to my husband, “I will show Madeleine that chronic sickness does not have to define who you are.”
When I have been at the end of my rope, exhausted, mentally and physically, and thinking “I can’t do this”, I have been shown again and again that I can. I have learned that I can give much more than I think myself capable.
When I have been frustrated and wondering when this will get better, when will I ever be able to actually get things done again after a difficult day with my daughter, she has looked at me and flashed a smile, and occasionally rewarded my patience with rare giggles.
I have learned that motherhood, for me, is about becoming selfless. It is choosing to get up yet again, after only a thirty minute or an hour stretch of sleep. It is choosing to smile when you just want to scream. It is holding your daughter for hours and getting nothing done so she can nap because she won’t sleep otherwise. It is saying again and again, “I love you little one. I am here, and I will take care of you” no matter how physically or emotionally depleted you feel.
To every new mom out there feeling alone, you are not alone.
To every new mom feeling like you can’t give anymore, you can.
To every new mom feeling guilty about feeling frustrated at motherhood and mourning the loss of your freedom before motherhood. It’s ok. Mourn, cry, scream, do what you need to do. We all go through it. It may take time, but you will figure out who you are again and how motherhood fits into that new identity.
And it is so worth it.
Through all the struggles, there has been joy. Madeleine is so energetic and bright. She has always been moving and observing the world around her. Seeing her grow into the determined, stubborn, happy eight month old she is today has been one of the greatest joys of my life. She is a true gift. And although I still struggle with balancing my faith, marriage, work, and self-identity with being a mother, I now know that even on the worst days, I can get through it with the love of my husband and a whole lot of prayer.
I am still integrating the role of “mother” into my identity. It has challenged everything I thought I knew about myself. I’m still struggling to accept the changes that have come with motherhood and my daughter is 8.5 months old now. I’ve often felt that I can’t share this struggle and that doing so makes me a bad, ungrateful mom. I think a lot of new moms share that feeling, and it prevents us from finding the support we need. It keeps us isolated and prevents us from reaching out.
We need to end the isolation. Motherhood keeps us so busy that texts we meant to send are forgotten, and coffee dates we wanted to make don’t get made. But it takes a village and a whole lot of prayer to get through this, and so if you’re struggling as a new mom, I want to hear from you (especially if you’re in Cincinnati!). Let’s see if we can find a way to make our role as mothers just a little less lonely today.
And if you’re not a mom, and you’re struggling, reach out too, especially if your struggle is infertility. Our struggles should not make us weak or isolate us. We should not feel guilty for struggling. And when we share our struggles, when we choose to be vulnerable, it is then that we have to greatest opportunity to build the village that we so desperately need to get out of our struggles.