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 (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, watching 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.
While he was learning to eat, walk, and communicate, I was learning to adjust my expectations, to hold on through the hardest days, to cherish what I have been given, and to find joy in the simple moments.
I was learning to be a mother.
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 did your first year of motherhood change and define 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 and bottom photo by Molly Hunter Photography.
All other photos courtesy of Rachel Nielson.