Reflections on the First Year of Motherhood

Sweet Jacqueline Ruth, two weeks new. Photo credit: LMB Photography

My baby turns one next Tuesday, and I’m swimming in a sea of emotions. How did this happen? I might as well wear a fanny pack to carry around all these soggy tissues.

Oh motherhood, what a journey you are! What a beautiful, emotional, exhausting, joyful, challenging adventure the past twelve months have been. To my fellow sisters on the same journey, what a blessing it is to love and be loved by these babies! To my sisters who long to join us one day, I hold your dream of motherhood close to my heart.

Every day, I am grateful for the girl who made me a mama; it’s the greatest honor of my life. I’d be lying if I said I loved every second; I struggled and stumbled this past year, too. But, I believe there’s beauty in the vulnerable moments of motherhood. These moments, they have the ability to mold us into better humans should we give them the chance.

If I could go back in time and give pre-mama-me any advice, I’d tell her the following:

You are stronger than you think.

Birthing a child is a crazy experience. It takes incredible physical, mental and emotional strength. Had I received fair warning about the delivery/recovery in my midst, I would’ve ran to the hillside and super-glued my legs. (Thank you, naivety. I had no idea what was in store.) But millions of women before us survived. My Grandma Mages delivered 18 babies…18! She is a warrior. Ladies, we are warriors. During those piercing contractions and fist-clenching pushes, a woman finds strength she never knew she had.

Going home after a whole week in the hospital!

I discovered the depth of my strength in the days and months following Jacqueline’s birth. Shortly after delivery, I developed an excruciating headache. Any light or sound made my head feel like it was going to explode. I could barely move my body or nurse my baby…but I did. Initially, we thought the headache was a result of blood loss during childbirth, so I received a blood transfusion. A few days later after little improvement, my doctor concluded I had a spinal headache, an event that occurs when spinal fluid leaks after an epidural or intrathecal injection. [Side note: I am SO grateful for the doctors and nurses who cared for me during this challenging time. They were simply amazing.] Ultimately, a blood patch solved the leak. Thank you, Jesus and modern medicine!

While all this was going on, I also developed a hematoma. And after days of monitoring, I ended up needing surgery. I’ll never forget the nurse who helped assemble my breast pump moments before my procedure. I wanted nothing more than to breastfeed my baby, even amidst this chaos. She honored my wish, held the pump to my chest and waited patiently for those couple drops of gold to appear. And when they did, she cheered as if I just finished a marathon. It was a big deal; my baby was able to drink breast milk while I was in surgery. To this day, I’m so stinking proud of that.

Finally, after a week in the hospital, we were able to go home. It felt like the biggest victory! We made it to the finish line–or so, I thought. Much to my surprise, my body healed at a snail’s pace and I found myself in physical therapy nearly six months later. Looking back, I realize those painful, trying days following Jacqueline’s birth made me strong enough to handle the long road ahead. Mama, you are stronger than you know.

It’s so important to be honest about your feelings and ask for help.

New Year’s Eve with friends. All smiles here, but struggling beneath the surface.

I remember New Year’s Eve like it was yesterday. We had plans to celebrate at a friend’s place in town, and my parents offered to watch Jacqueline. Perfect.

That night, Billy was out in the car waiting for me, but I couldn’t get myself to leave our bathroom. In that moment, I felt so alone–like no one understood just how much I was struggling as a new mom. I sat there on the tile floor and cried. I didn’t want to be around other people–not my friends, not my family. I had felt this way awhile. I was four months postpartum at the time.

A week later, I went in and shared everything with my doctor; the feelings of overwhelm, my inability to juggle “it all”, the constant lack of energy, the occasional day-dream of a life without the stress, pressure and duties of motherhood, marriage and a full-time career. She listened and acknowledged my feelings. We talked about postpartum depression, coping mechanisms and made a plan of action.

I feel slightly uncomfortable telling you all of this, but I’m doing it anyway. Why? Because postpartum depression is real and it’s hard, my friends. But it’s ok; you’re not crazy and you’re not a bad mom. All you need to do is ask for help. Please, please, please talk with someone about the way you feel. I promise you your friends, your doctor, your mom, your husband–someone will listen. In fact, they’ll probably all listen. You don’t have to suffer in silence, and you’re not alone. There’s help for you, mama; things will get better!

Give yourself grace and LOTS of it.

Every day of motherhood is a new adventure. I’m not sure all the parenting books in the world could prepare one for this crazy roller coaster ride. But I’ve learned to take it in stride, enjoy the simple moments, celebrate the little “wins”, and trust my intuition instead of worrying, wondering or questioning my parenting ways.

The truth is, if you show up for your child every single day and try your very best, you’re doing a fabulous job. As hard as you try, you’re child will still find a foreign object under the couch and put it in her mouth when you’re not looking. This doesn’t make you a bad mom; this makes you human. Give yourself grace.

On the days you feel you’ve failed, ask yourself this: Did I try my best? If the answer is yes, great! Keep going! Please keep in mind “doing your best” looks different every day. Last week, Jacqueline had croup, and I managed to get sick as well. One night her supper consisted of whole grain puffs, yogurt melts and veggie straws (basically all junk food made to sound healthy by Gerber marketing strategists). But you know what? She ate it. And that’s what counts. She pursed her lips and shook her head for everything else I offered. I eventually got her to eat something, and that’s a mom win in my book.

Back to the question, Did I try my best? If the answer is no, take some time to figure out why. Are you exhausted? Do you need sleep? Do you need a break? Mommy burn out happens. You need time for YOU, too. As moms we give so much of ourselves to others. Please remember you cannot pour from an empty cup. Give yourself grace for neglecting your own needs–I get it, mama, it happens–but promise me you’ll make every effort to take care of you going forward. Your health and well-being are equally as important as your child’s.

There you have it–just a few words of wisdom I’d share with pre-mama me if I had the chance. I need to remind myself on the daily that I am strong, my feelings are real, it’s ok to ask for help, and to give myself grace. Maybe you need to be reminded too.

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