The Best Year of My Life?

 My son Noah turned one yesterday.  It’s so hard to believe.  A friend of mine had a baby a few days before Noah was born, and she recently wrote on Facebook that this has been “the best year of [her] life, hands down.” I thought about her sentiment and wondered if I could echo it. I wasn’t sure that I could.

This year has been overwhelmingly good, but it has also been overwhelmingly challenging. Although I’ve always known that I wouldn’t be a perfect mother (I mean, honestly, who is?), I think I secretly hoped that I would surprise myself. My husband and I adopted our son after years of infertility treatments and adoption disappointments.  He is our blue-eyed, wild-haired miracle, our blessing from heaven after many nights of tears and prayers.

Before he was born, I started to believe that after such a fight to become a mother, I would surely be an enlightened, wise, infinitely patient mama from day one. I wasn’t. At all. And reconciling the disparity between the mother that I hoped I would be and the mother that I actually am was humbling and painful at times—but it has ultimately been an invaluable journey of growth. During the first six months of Noah’s life, he rarely stopped crying. Those colicky days were long and very, very difficult. My rational mind knew that these months would end, that I should be more patient and positive in the meantime—but I often held my bawling baby in my arms and bawled myself.

I felt jealous when I heard that my friends’ babies took long naps and sat contently in their swings and watched their mamas work on projects. I felt guilty when people who knew of our long wait for Noah would say to me, “I bet you are just loving every single minute of this.” Because, truthfully, I wasn’t. There was much of the experience of new motherhood that I loved—but I didn’t love the hours of screaming and the feelings of inadequacy, isolation, and exhaustion.  Did that make me ungrateful?  Did it make me an awful mom?   As Noah got older, he got quite a bit happier, but I still struggled. I loved being a mom, but I didn’t always love being a stay-at-home mom. I thought I was prepared to give up my career as a high school English teacher, but I found that I missed my students, I missed my colleagues, and I missed feeling competent at the end of every day. Without the structure of a job, with its set schedule and definite deadlines, I couldn’t seem to force myself to use my time wisely, and I constantly felt mad at myself for it. It had nothing to do with Noah—I loved him to bits—it was me with whom I was frustrated. Looking back on this year, I know that there were lots of times when I was self-absorbed and a far cry from the mother that I’d hoped I would be.  And yet, in spite of all of those weaknesses, there are a lot of things that I did right.

 

 

I took good care of my little boy.  I snuggled him close, my arms around him, my head resting on his soft hair, as I fed him bottles.  It was the only time of day when he was still, and I took advantage of it. I told him I loved him every day, a hundred times a day. I made a choice not to yell at him when he got fussy in the late afternoons, and instead took him for a stroll around the neighborhood, pointing out dogs, clouds and mail trucks. I let him feed me with his dirty little hands, nibbling on his sticky fingers with dramatic sound effects that always put him into fits of giggles.

 

 

My baby loves me, imperfections and all, and I adore him. I am amazed by how much he has grown and changed this past year. How is it possible that he has gone from a squishy little newborn to a spunky little toddler? How is it possible that just a year ago he couldn’t even lift his head, and now he runs around the house? His physical and mental changes have been so astonishing and so visible that it is sometimes difficult for me to recognize that someone else in the picture has also changed. Though I look very much the same as I did a year ago, I have changed perhaps just as much as Noah has.

 

 

Looking back on the challenges, the changes, the growth and the joys, it’s easy for me to see that maybe, just maybe, this has been the best year of my life after all.

QUESTION: How has each stage of your motherhood journey changed and defined you? What were your struggles and your strengths?

CHALLENGE: Sit down and reflect on your journey as a mother. Write a list of the ways you have changed. Acknowledge and celebrate the growth you have made, and set goals for the future.

Top photo by Molly Hunter Photography.

All other photos courtesy of Rachel Nielson.

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Comments

  1. evs says

    So so much in this article resonates with my own experience of motherhood. I was going to put some quotes in, but realised I would have to copy most of it..:)
    I have struggled to overcome a traumatic birth and pretty much cried most of the time for the early weeks of my son’s life. Bleeding nipples weren’t helping either. Another emotional struggle I was unprepared for is that I didn’t have any feelings towards my son for over a year after he was born. I was shocked that it can even happen. He was very much wanted and here I was – a mom of this beautiful baby and all I wanted to do was forget all about it and cry.
    We did pull through and I love him very much. And I did try to put my best face on for the relatives and friends. And anytime I hear about new mom “enjoying every minute” and having “best time”, I secretly wonder wether to envy her or maybe she’s just like I was – trying to do her best and putting her best face on for outside world..

    this comment is very glum, but things did get better :)) Thank you for being so honest with your experience. Sometimes I feel so alone in my internal struggles xx

    • says

      Thank you so much for sharing your story! You are right that we often “put on a good face.” I always feel vulnerable when I write pieces like this that expose that I am not perfect, but then I remember–who is?? I’ve found that when I am honest with my experience, I get the support I need and also give others permission to be honest too.

      I am so sorry that your son’s first year was so difficult, and I am so glad to know that things got better. Motherhood is so hard but so worth it.

  2. says

    I can SO relate to your feelings, Rachel. Even though my first son wasn’t adopted, my experience was very similar to yours. You and I are both growing into motherhood…and isn’t that an amazing accomplishment? :)

  3. Karen says

    I came across this article from a friend of a friend on Facebook. It was beautifully written and contains many of my exact feelings. I think anyone who claims their mothering is top notch and perfect or that they are enveloped in everlasting bliss every second of the day has some serious dillusional issues. That being said, I wanted to share my story. After miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage I was fearing I would never have another baby. I say “another” because I already had 3 healthy happy boys. I felt like our family just wasn’t complete and so we started trying for a fourth. My first three pregnancies were normal and without complication. No trouble conceiving at all. Then for some reason I went through a period of 7 miscarriages. My doctor couldn’t help much and he only told me it didn’t make sense because my body obviously could support pregnancies. His exact words were “you probably don’t want to hear this, but I think it’s just bad luck.” I had crushing guilt because I felt so disproportionately sad. I already had three kids. Was I being greedy? I knew there were struggling couples who couldn’t have any children. I felt so sad and devastated with each miscarriage. But I kept thinking, “think how much worse these would be if you didn’t already have kids?” I couldn’t explain why I was so sad. I just was.
    When I finally got pregnant again for the last time, I knew that this was it. If I lost this baby, we’d be done. I couldn’t do it anymore. I spent the entire 9 months convinced I was going to lose this baby, too. The day of my scheduled C section I was bitterly expecting a stillbirth or something like that. I wouldn’t allow myself to hope that things would be ok. I gave birth to a healthy baby girl and from the moment our eyes met, my life changed. I thought I knew the love of a mother for a child, already having 3. And I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t love my 3 sons. I do. Very much. But having gone through such an emotionally dark time with my miscarriages, I knew I had taken for granted the ease of conception and pregnancy with my boys. I learned that each life is so sacred and special. And these really should be the happiest days. Nobody likes tantrums, poop, and stubborn willfulness in our children. And the days are long and tiring. But I guarantee I’d rather do this than not have them in my life at all. I support motherhood in all its forms.

    • says

      Karen–Thank you for sharing your story! I am so sorry for the heartache you suffered during your years of miscarriages, and I am so glad that your baby girl was born healthy and happy. You are so right that going through the struggle to get a child makes you appreciate him/her in a different way than if it had been easy.

      I think it is common for people to discount the grief of couples who are struggling to have more children when they already have several, and it shouldn’t be that way. I think people who are already parents grieve deeply when they experience secondary infertility because they really KNOW what it’s like to love a son or daughter, and they just want to give that love to another baby. There is nothing greedy or ungrateful about that! Those feelings are so natural and should be respected.

      A friend of mine recently had an ectopic pregnancy after having three children, and as she was driving to the hospital to get her fallopian tube removed, one of her relatives called her and told her she should “just be grateful” for the kids she already has and “stop trying for more babies.” Wow–so insensitive! When you are a mother, you can’t hold back the love you want to give to a baby. And when you can’t do that, the pain is very real.

      Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I appreciated you sharing your story! Thank you for commenting.

  4. says

    Such a beautiful and important post, Rachel! Thanks for sharing. Wow, I sure had a similar experience with my first baby who cried constantly and didn’t seem to like me a bit (and I had a hard time liking him sometimes too!). Now he’s a wonderful 12-year-old with a new set of challenges as he heads into the teen years. Yep. Motherhood is SO hard but SO rewarding and while the hard parts often outnumber the lovely parts, the beautiful parts vastly outweigh the hard parts.

    • says

      Thank you for your comment, Saren! I love what you said: “While the hard parts often outnumber the lovely parts, the beautiful parts vastly outweigh the hard parts.” So true! And so well put! I think before I became a mom, I thought it was the other way around–that’s probably why my first year of mothering was an adjustment. But it really was a beautiful journey of growth and worth every moment of the struggle.

      • says

        **When I say “Before I became a mom, I thought it was the other way around,” I mean that I thought the lovely parts would outnumber the hard parts. I had unrealistic expectations that nearly every day would be a bliss of cuddling and giggling. :) That said, I’ve always known that the lovely parts would outweigh the hard parts–which they do!

    • evs says

      while the hard parts often outnumber the lovely parts, the beautiful parts vastly outweigh the hard parts.

      THIS. I am going to print this and put it on my wall.

  5. says

    I love you, sister. You are gifted writer and a wonderful mother. I am so grateful to have lived close enough to be a part of this “best year” of your life! I love Noah, Ryan, and you!!

  6. Rebecca Y. says

    I love this post! It goes right along with the recent Spiritual Sunday post. We think we are adults and so grown up when we have our children. But God certainly is raising us while we raise His children. It reminds me of a quote I heard recently (though now I can’t remember who said it), “We must remember how very young we are spiritually.” We should not get discouraged. We should realize that we are growing and learning just a few years ahead of these little ones.

    • says

      Yes! Love that quote, Rebecca! So true! It’s so easy to beat up on ourselves as moms, but we need to be patient with ourselves just like we are patient with our children. We are all learning and growing.

  7. says

    Thank you so much for sharing! You are definitely not alone. I’ve had moments when I was glad I’m working out of the house. I don’t think I’d be a good mom if I stayed at home all day. And I feel I miss the bar more often than not. Your honesty is refreshing. It’s so hard not to put on a good face when things are difficult. And I agree, Deanne, we are growing into motherhood. It’s not always something that comes naturally. So grateful to be on the journey though!

    • says

      Thank you for your comment, Jessica. I have actually been looking into working part-time now that my son is a little older and doesn’t cry all day. :) I would really love to be using my talents and passions outside of my home at least a few hours a week because I truly miss teaching–it makes me happy, and if I can figure out a way to do it part-time (as a tutor or something?), I think I will be a happier and better mom.

      Yes, we are all growing into motherhood and figuring it out as we go…and that’s the way it should be. :)

  8. camdancer says

    I’ve had 3 children who all had reflux. Crying was a normal part of their first year – for all of us! The way I look at it is that I’m lucky. While my children grow, I grow to love them more and more, and have more fun with them. I’m not always looking back and regretting that those days have gone. I’m looking forward to what new and exciting things we’ll learn together.

    Thank you for talking about this. It can be a bit of a taboo to not enjoy having a newborn baby.

    • says

      Noah had reflux too. Those were long, hard days. But you’re right–I now appreciate the good days SO much. I don’t take them for granted. And on his first birthday, I didn’t feel sad like a lot of moms do…I felt accomplished as I looked back on the tough year we had overcome together, and I felt so excited for the years to come. Thank you for your comment! It’s nice to know that I am not alone in my experience!

  9. Beth says

    Hi Rachel,
    Your story touched me as I adopted a baby 4 years ago. Going through that process felt SO different from the experiences biological parents go through. I wondered – would being an adoptive parent feel different, too?
    But it doesn’t feel different at all – the highs and lows and joys and frustrations and doubts and laughs and exhaustion and fun are all there. No matter how we come into parenthood, we’re parents! And isn’t that great?

    Thank you for sharing your story and giving me a chance to reflect on this.

    • says

      You are so right, Beth. Being an adoptive mom is just being a mom. And the love I feel for him is so incredibly strong, real, and right. Sometimes people ask me if I truly love him like I would a biological child, and the answer is, unequivocally, YES!!! I can’t believe how much I love him.

  10. says

    Beautiful Rachel! I cried. You really do have a way of putting things. WHat an amazing piece of writing. Little babies are SO difficult. I love where you went with this article. I have always felt the way you have in your beginning statements…but it is hard for me to come to peace with, or my mind to make sense of. I can never come up with a “solution” to all my frustration with little ones. But I LOVE that you wrote about all the positive things. It’s amazing how it outweighs the bad. It made me think that maybe I am to hard on myself as a mom. It’s so easy to remember the bad things you do, and so hard to remember the good. And for the record…you are a FANTASTIC mother! Thank you for sharing your thoughts in a way that so many can relate to! I love you my dear friend!

    • says

      Tiff, you are an amazing mom! You should sit down and write a list of “the things you’ve done right” like I did at the end of the essay. I know they will far outweigh the things that have been hard for youl. I have seen firsthand that you are an awesome mom. Thank you for your comment! I’m so glad you liked the essay!

  11. says

    Absolutely beautiful – brought tears to my eyes! When each of my children turned one, I felt like it was a big accomplishment – simply because we both SURVIVED, sanity (mostly) intact. But loving every minute? Oh far from it. Mothering is as challenging and hard as you describe, but as good and full of growth and joy too, as you say.

    • says

      Yes, his first birthday was such a special day. I didn’t feel sad–I felt happy and proud. We made it! And we had lots of amazing moments along the way.

      Thank you so much for your comment.

  12. April Perry says

    Rachel, you have helped thousands of mothers with this post! Thank you for opening your heart and reminding all of us that we aren’t alone. I can tell that you are a very good mother. xo

  13. Elsje Denison says

    Beautifully written Rachel. It takes courage to admit that you don’t love every minute of mothering, especially when you had waited so long for a baby. You’ve done a beautiful job growing from your experience and helping others have the courage to admit to others, as well as themselves, that mothering is sometimes truly hard!

  14. Debbie says

    You are a fantastic writer. It is so refreshing to read the very honest/intimate feelings of another mom. I can relate to so much of what you said! Our babies are almost the same age (my daughter turned 1 in December). The first year was a whirlwind for sure! Ever since our daughter was born the highs have been higher and the lows have been lower. But like you, I try to treasure the “highs”. :)

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