Portrait of one mother

She
is busy
picking up
pouring out
meeting
needs.

She
is careful
keeping
watch
time
memories
peace.

She
is thirsty—
motherhood
doesn’t deal out gold stars—
what about her
needs
likes
wants?

She is still
surveying
her home, life,
the small miracle they created,
she knows
to him, she is
rest
She smiles.

She needs 
                  peace.
      wants
                      rest.
She is
Love (d).

A mother’s worry

“Jack got in a fight at school today,” she reports, pushing an accident slip toward me.

I take the slip and crouch down to examine a fingernail-shaped scratch on my son’s head. “Poor buddy,” I say, pulling him into a hug. I look up and ask, “What happened?” “He and another boy wanted the same toy,” his teacher answers. I pepper her with more questions — does this happen often, is Jack getting along with the others, is the other boy hurt — while Jack wriggles in my arms, eager to escape.

Later, as I slip Jack’s red Velcro shoes on his little feet, our eyes meet. “Honey, I’m sorry about your fight. Are you OK?” “Uh-huh,” he nods his head and looks away. I am not convinced. “Fights are gonna happen,” I go on. “We need to play nice with our friends. We say ‘I’m sorry’ when we mess up. And we forgive others when they hurt us.” The words hang in the air and I realize this is only the beginning. In three years, Jack will start kindergarten. Then he’ll face schoolyard squabbles and bullies and even lockdown drills. This thought hits me squarely in the gut.

One of the most painful truths of motherhood is that the more my son grows, the less I can protect him from getting hurt. I blink back tears. I take my son’s hand in mine and we walk out to the car in silence.

Later, at bedtime, Jack rests his head in the crook of my arms as I rock him back and forth. At two years old, his lanky legs spill over the side of the rocking chair. Together, we sing the ABCs, the rainbow color song and happy birthday (his current favorite). Someday he’ll outgrow this ritual, I think.

Despite Jack’s protests, I lift him out of my arms and gently place him in his crib. I kiss his head and whisper, “I love you buddy.” Jack stops whining for a moment. “I love you too, Mommy,” he sighs.

The world is harsh, but it is also beautiful. Although I cannot keep my son from experiencing pain, I can carry him with my love. And though I’ll never escape my unspeakable worries, I can hold onto this moment and let it carry me through the night.

Two

StrybisTwo years ago, I gave birth to you, little one. You burst into our lives in the most dramatic fashion and left us breathless, in awe of your tenacity.

Two years of singing lullabies, tickling your belly, making you pancakes. Two years of pediatrician visits, sleep deprivation, gnawing worry. Two years of surrender. Two years of joy. 

These days you’re wearing bigger jeans and bigger feelings — on your sleeve.

Suddenly your legs look longer; your grasp of language is stronger.

You run-jump-tumble-flip in the span of a blink.

Wasn’t it just yesterday I had you snuggled in the crook of my arm, smelling sweet and fresh?

Yet here you are, my not-so-baby boy. You are SO alive.

Lately you’ve been taking my hand and pulling me into your imaginary kingdom where Elmo, Mickey and Snoopy play together. You’re singing your ABCs and “Jingle Bells” at random and you’re obsessed with playdough. You have strong opinions about fruit snacks (love them) and socks (you prefer mismatched). You love to read. You hate bedtime. You chatter constantly. You notice everything. You still need us to help you get ready, but daily you’re becoming more independent. And strong-willed. 

Sometimes, raising you pushes me past my limit. For all the times I’ve let you down–and those to come–please forgive me. Hands down: being your mama is the hardest job I’ve ever had.

It’s also the greatest privilege.

The ache, the bliss of watching you grow heightens the tenor of ordinary days, blessing my life with meaning.

Two years of loving you deeply. The toughest two years of my life. The most beautiful too. 

Happy birthday, son. May your year ahead be filled with delight and discovery.

Looks like surrender, feels like home

erin and jackI open the door and see him dead center in a sea of toddlers, tears streaming down his tiny, flushed face. “Mommy!” he sobs. “Oh poor buddy,” I say, rushing forward, folding him in my arms.

His teacher tried to reach me earlier, but I missed her calls. That Tuesday, while I sat in meetings, my son developed a fever — slight at first, but escalating to over 100. She reports she comforted him all afternoon, but he’s still in a lot of pain. My heart lurches. She, not me, held him. I feel like a horrible mama.

At home I treat his fever with fire engine red Tylenol, saving Motrin for bedtime. Even with painkiller, however, Jack is up every three hours that night, crying out in pain. I hold him; I rock him; I lie on my side next to his crib, rubbing his back, willing him to sleep while he writhes in discomfort.

Curled up on the cold hardwood floor, I feel angry. Angry because my son gets sick all the time, because my husband is away on business, because I know I’ll have to take yet another sick day tomorrow, because I’m selfish — all I want is to retreat to my warm, cozy bed. I will myself to stay.

I’m tired. I’m tired of juggling parenting and providing, feeling like I don’t do either well at all. At 32, I’m envious of 25-year-old me, who can go to bed early or stay out late — her choice; who can sleep in or get up early for a run — her choice; who doesn’t worry about interruptions — leaving work early or getting up in the middle of the night for her son. I used to be single — and free. My thoughts are interrupted by light breathing. Jack’s finally asleep.

The next morning, mercifully, Jack’s fever breaks. He still can’t go to daycare, though, so I call in sick, and we snuggle up in my bed — he watching Team Umizoomie on my laptop, me dozing in and out. I dream about my son’s first year of life, 3 a.m. nursing sessions, pumping, babywearing, washing bottles, complete and utter dependence, complete and utter exhaustion. I wake up grateful.

Eventually Jack’s hungry. “Waffle?” he asks. “Sure sweetheart,” I reply, peeling myself out from under the covers to shuffle toward the kitchen. I place an Eggo waffle in the toaster. I gaze toward my bedroom door. I know this in my heart: Motherhood is a place that looks like total surrender, with independence tugging at its corners. It’s also a place that feels like home.

To have and to hold

erin and jay strybis
credit: Chris Ocken

And you have a person in your life whose hand
  you like to hold?
  “Yes, I do.”
It must surely, then, be very happy down there
  in your heart
  “Yes,” I said. “It is.” 
—Mary Oliver  

My husband Jay and I celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary on October 13. If you count dating, which I certainly do, we’ve been together over a dozen years. At first, after we married, it didn’t seem much different than dating. For six years we’d been serious about our love, on our wedding day we said vows to prove it. Marriage didn’t change much for us, at least not in that first year.

Our life circumstances have shifted significantly since 2012, the year we became husband and wife. After years of city living with minimal responsibility, we have a car loan, a dog, a mortgage and a baby (procured in that order). We officially crossed into the realm of “adulting,” and have oodles of paperwork to prove it. In recent years, we’ve taken to commiserating with one another, stating the obvious, “Being an adult is HARD!”  The hard stuff feels a little easier when you name it.

To that point: Hands down the past year has been the hardest year yet of our marriage. I thought this on our fifth wedding anniversary, the year our son was born, not knowing the challenges we’d encounter leading up to this anniversary. As new parents, we fought over diaper changes, the dishwasher and even dog food. We battled sleep deprivation and took turns caring for our son Jack when he got sick. There were many joyful moments too, like witnessing Jack’s first smile and his first shaky steps. Also figuring out how to date each other again (pro tip: finding a trustworthy babysitter helps). We were shocked by how hard parenting was, but at least we were doing it together.

This past year, however, showed me the meaning behind our vows, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health . . .” We faced the greatest obstacle of our life together when my husband got sick. This summer we lived in sickness, for worse and for poorer. We didn’t always live gracefully–in fact, I definitely didn’t live gracefully. Most of the time, I felt terrified and tired. I became intimate friends with anger, anxiety, fear and heartache. A lot of the time, I was parenting alone.

In the middle of the summer, I went on a five-day work trip to Houston, a brief escape from hardship. The trip couldn’t have happened at a more horrible time. Not only was Jay having a difficult health week, but our son managed to catch the dreaded hand, foot and mouth virus two nights before my flight out. Luckily, I’d arranged for my in-laws to visit and care for Jack. Low on sleep, I kissed my family goodbye and headed to the airport, feeling a mix of deep relief and nagging guilt. Ultimately the work trip was fun, and sleeping in my own bed for days, with no snoring or cries or worries to wake me, was heaven.

The last morning of my trip, I looked at myself in the mirror and struggled to hold back tears: I envied my former single self and all my single friends. I wanted to turn back time or fly home to a different life. I wanted to be free. I touched my face, then noticed my ring. My heart ached for my family too.

When I came home, I could barely contain my joy when I hugged and kissed my son and husband for the first time. Later on, snuggling my husband and our dog while they snored along in our cozy bed, I struggled to imagine my life without Jay. I’d spent much of the summer going over what-if scenarios regarding Jay’s health, pushing myself to be a caretaker, primary parent and provider even though it felt like I was barely holding on myself.

Holding my sweet husband that evening, I realized I didn’t have to. I could choose to thank God for each day we have together, rather than worry about the future. This outlook sustained me through the rest of the summer–and continues to be a guiding force in my life today.

to have and to hold
credit: Mona Luan

Six years ago, on a rainy October day, Jay donned a slate gray tux and I wore cream-colored lace dress as we stood in our alma mater’s chapel and recited our wedding vows. We were–and are–surrounded by a crowd of witnesses who support our union.

That moment in the chapel is where marriage diverges from dating. As one year leads to the next, and life circumstances shift, living vows is not for the faint of heart. Here’s what I know: My husband and I faced great adversity in this past year of marriage and we are stronger for it. And now, as we enter into our next year of marriage, we’ll continue facing lows and highs.

I’m just glad we still get to do it together.

Husband of mine, I’m grateful for everything you do and are. I’m deeply grateful for your presence. Happy Anniversary, my love.

How I coped with weaning my son

Erin and Jack

About a month ago in August, after a three-day work trip to Boston, I stopped breastfeeding my son. He was 17 months old, and my husband and I thought this trip was a good opportunity to wean him.  Prior to the trip, he comfort nursed twice a day, in the mornings and evenings. I dropped to these two sessions when Jack turned one–I’d planned to stop when he simply lost interest.

Jack loved nursing, and I did too. Yet over time, it became clear those two feedings were affecting Jack’s sleep. Bedtime wasn’t so bad, but I knew Jack needed me to fall asleep. Mornings, on the other hand, were a challenge. Jack rose every morning at 5 a.m. crying out for me to feed him, a call I loved and hated. I loved starting the day with him. I hated the 5 a.m. part.

On one particularly exhausting morning last spring, I took Jack to back to our bed, positioned him the crook of my arm and elevated his his head, then fed him, blissfully, until we both fell asleep. This became our new routine, and it was something I savored. Early mornings became much easier, until Jack’s wake-up time started creeping from 5 to 4:45 to 4:30 to 4 a.m. By summer it was clear something had to change to remedy the situation.

For months I was so afraid of what was on the other side of weaning. Weaning marked the end of Jack’s babyhood, even though he’d dived into his toddler phase in February, when he took his first steps. Once Jack was weaned our relationship would inevitably shift. In August, it was time for that shift.

A difficult transition

Weaning, like breastfeeding, was surprisingly painful. Unlike breastfeeding, where the pain is raw and physical, the effects of weaning hit me squarely in my heart.

The night after I returned from Boston, I led Jack through his usual bedtime routine, skipping his feeding. He’d already experienced three nights like this; I hoped it would seem normal. Standing at the foot of the crib, I cradled Jack and sang him a lullaby, the final step in his routine. He wrestled and craned his neck toward my breasts. “Milk? Milk?” he asked sweetly. My heart dropped.

“Mommy doesn’t have any milk now,” I answered gently.

“Milk? Milk?” Jack asked again, and I shook my head no. He screamed violently. I tried to stay calm, but I could feel the panic rising inside my chest. I put Jack down in his crib; he went ballistic. I picked him up again, he tried to nurse, then cried, so I put him down again. He cried harder. I hated that I couldn’t soothe him with nursing. I worried: Did I wean him too soon? Soon I was crying too–big, heavy tears.

The noise woke my husband, who was asleep in the other room. “Erin, Erin, are you OK?” he called out sleepily. Jack cried. I cried. Jack cried some more.

“No,” I finally blurched. “Help me.” I was so overwhelmed, I wasn’t sure I could last any longer. I wanted to run far away from this baby, this choice, this heartache. I tried to hold Jack and rock him, but he continued to wrestle. On the verge of collapse, I felt my husband’s loving arms encircle my waist. He stood behind me and rocked me–and our son–in his arms. “Shhh” he whispered, urging both of us to relax.

Jack finally fell asleep that night, but I couldn’t. I tossed and turned, plagued with anxiety. I couldn’t stop turning over this choice in my head. Had I made a mistake?

I loved everything about breastfeeding my son: the soothing effect it had on him, the bond it created between us, the feel-good chemicals it created in my body, and heck, the calorie burn was a nice treat. Most of all, I loved that it was a way for Jack and me to start the day together, and to reconnect after a long day, usually spent apart at work and daycare. Now our special time together had ended, and I was full of sorrow and doubt.

Morning came. Some time between 4 and 5 a.m., Jack called “Mommy! Mommy!” I felt so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. I roused Jay and asked him to take over. I couldn’t do this, it felt too damn painful. Jay helped my son with his morning routine that day. For Jack, that morning and the one that followed weren’t as painful. Morning nursing sessions were easily replaced with breakfast. He had some moments of frustration about the change, but they paled in comparison to what we saw at bedtime.

Bedtime, which was once so easy, became a war. Jack didn’t want to be rocked to sleep. He didn’t want to be patted to sleep. He didn’t understand why we were skipping his favorite part of bedtime, when he reconnected with his Mommy. He was frustrated–he longed for his old routine. I did too, but I knew it was too late to go back.

Some nights I cried, but other nights I got angry. Once I got so angry at Jack for refusing to lay down in his crib I stalked out of his room and slammed the door loudly. “I can’t go back in there,” I fumed. My husband roused himself from bed and finishing putting Jack down.

My whole body, especially my breasts, ached for Jack. My hormones were out of control. I was irritable and grouchy, and also weepy and sentimental. I mourned the change in my relationship with Jack. Would we ever be close again? I kept googling “weaning and depression” and only came up with a few helpful results. I read all of them. I texted my mom friends for advice. I called my mom. I wrote in my journal. I went to yoga.  I allowed myself to feel sad.

A week passed and one day, Jack slept until 6 a.m. When I looked at my phone I could barely believe it. Finally the early rising we’d grappled with for 17 months was righting itself. We had made the right decision after all, I thought, and my heart felt a little lighter.

A silver lining: Reclaiming my time

Jack’s sleep continued to improve, and so did our moods. We were getting along better, learning to connect in new ways. The breastfeeding hormones were leaving my body, and after about two weeks of sadness, anxiety and frustration, I began feeling like myself again. The only thing that hadn’t changed? My body kept rousing itself around 5 a.m. each morning.

I’ve always been a morning person, but after giving birth to my son that shifted due to his schedule and my sleep deprivation. Honestly my whole world shifted when Jack arrived and I never thought I’d be able to reclaim my mornings–until now. I used to get up early to workout, but I had a pretty established evening workout habit these days. What to do with this time?

One of my dear friends is a full-time working mama and prolific, accomplished writer. I’ve always admired how she prioritizes her writing amid her many responsibilities as a manager at work and mother at home. She told me her secret: getting up early a few times a week to fit in writing. When she shared this with me, Jack wasn’t yet one, and I knew it would be a long time until I could try this for myself. At August’s end, I had an epiphany: the time was now.

Thus I began reclaiming my mornings and rising early to write. Replacing something I loved so much–nursing Jack in the morning–with something I love that’s just for me–writing–has been amazing. It helped me let go of the final dregs of sadness about nursing Jack, and it’s helped me move forward in my writing goals. It’s been about a month since I started, and I’ve worked on a handful of writing projects–some to pitch to publications, some to share in this space and on Instagram, others just for me.

I worried I’d lose steam but I haven’t. It feels amazing setting aside this time for myself to do something I love most mornings during the workweek. It’s only an hour or so, but writing in the mornings before Jack’s awake, making time for myself first thing, sets the tone for my entire day. As many mothers know, feeding a child takes a lot of your time an energy, especially when your child is young and you’re on call about every two hours. Now that I’m finally on the other side of breastfeeding,  I’m so grateful Jack and I were able to share that special time together and I’m also delighted to finally reclaim my time for myself. This is a new beginning for me; these writing sessions are my silver lining.

Children grow so quickly–from exclusive breastfeeding to fruit and veggie purees to table foods to weaning, from crawling to toddling to walking to full-out running, from cooing to babbling to words to phrases–and each time Jack grows I continue to be amazed and surprised. Sometimes, like with weaning, the change is especially hard. Other times, like when Jack started talking, I was thrilled.

What I’ve learned from this is that it’s OK to mourn change even while you celebrate a new beginning. Looking back, I can barely believe I breastfed Jack for 17 months. I’m grateful was able to and I’m grateful we had that time together. Although weaning Jack was painful, he is sleeping better, is more independent and we’ve grown to connect in other ways.

Here’s to difficult goodbyes and new beginnings. May you find your silver lining.

Are you an early riser? Have you had a similar experience with reclaiming your time after a major life transition? I’d love to hear from you–message me or comment below.

Loved, not abandoned

When the ones you love the hardest are suffering and you’re unable to stop it, it’s isolating and terrifying. The pain is sharp and heavy, almost unbearable. I felt like that yesterday.

But God showed up for me in a gifted bag of donuts from a new Cambodian friend; in holy conversation with an old friend in which I felt seen, heard and loved; and in this simple note stashed in my bag by a stranger: You are loved. The message arrived just when I needed it. It gave me hope.

What I’m beginning to realize is this: God does not abandon us in dark moments. God provides people and places and signs of love every day, we just have to notice them. God loves *you* dearly. And God’s love changes everything.

The boy who lived

For so many—myself included—Mother’s Day is complicated. The day I became a mother was … complicated.

After hours of labor and an emergency C-section, I almost lost my son.

He wasn’t breathing when the doctor delivered him. I kept waiting to hear his cries, but all I heard was silence. Then nurses calling for backup. Then the medical team, trying to revive him.

I sobbed heavy tears, afraid I’d never meet my son.

Then he joined in, softly at first but gradually stronger. Relief, joy, awe — the sweet, sweet sound of my baby crying.

10 hours later – Cradling my son in my arms for the first time in the NICU took my breath away. Looking at his wrinkly, pink face and tiny hands, I nearly forgot I was sitting in a wheelchair, body aching from labor and surgery. Heart aching from the trauma, I held him close and thanked God for him.

This is motherhood: a forgetting of self, an outpouring of love, tremendous sacrifice punctuated by bursts of happiness. It is magical and terrifying. It is bittersweet.

Today I’m grateful for my mother and mother-in-law, for mom friends and family, for others who mother. I’m thinking of friends who grieve and suffer on this day. And I’m giving thanks for the boy who lived and made me a mother.

The wonder of one

180128

Jack, today is your first birthday. One year ago your daddy and I were on our way to Lutheran General Hospital so I could give birth to you. (You were in my tummy, but you decided it was time to come out!) At 8:05 p.m., when you finally took your first breath, we cried tears of relief and joy.

I thank God every day I get to be your mama. Watching you grow, learn and explore the world has been awesome. As I reflect on our year together, I think the biggest lesson you’ve taught me is that there is wonder in every moment of this life, great and small.

170202

In this picture, you’re only a few days old. You had just left the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and were receiving heat lamp treatment for bilirubin. Your daddy and I were eager to bring you home so we could all be more comfortable. (Although, as brand new parents, we were also a little scared!) We asked God for strength and wisdom to keep you healthy and safe as we learned how to be your parents.

I wonder what you were thinking and feeling this day. There was so much to see and process in your new environment! It was exhausting, and you took a lot of naps. I hope you felt safe, protected and loved when we swaddled you and held you close.

170411

Fast forward a couple months. We’re in your nursery doing tummy time. You don’t like it but Dr. Graham says we have to keep doing it so you can strengthen your neck! I have two weeks left for maternity leave and I’m savoring these slow, sweet days we spend together. After I took this photo, you lifted your head off of the knitted blanket and observed the gray walls of your room. You might have even watched our pug, Gus, playing on the colorful carpet. All the wonderful things around you were coming more into focus. A couple weeks ago you’d learned to smile at me and were trying it out a lot. This made your tired mama so happy and proud.

 

170710

At six months old, you’re working on pulling yourself up. When you discover daddy at the top of the couch, you burst into a smile. Your one-of-a-kind smile, with its dimples and cleft chin, lights up my heart. (Your unique cry, on the other hand, is terrifying–did you learn that at daycare?!) In this picture, your mama was delighted by your good mood and feeling worn down by the juggling act of working and motherhood. We had just started teaching you to sleep by yourself but it wasn’t going great. You eventually get the hang of it, some months later. I’m sorry that was so hard.

170930

You love your daddy so much, Jack. Many people say that you are a miniature version of him. While I agree, I also think you look a little bit like me. Nearing eight months, you are still especially attached to me but as you grow older, you and daddy deepen your bond. In this picture you are napping on his shoulder after your first visit to Valparaiso University, where mama and daddy met and fell in love. Watching you two spend time together makes my heart sing.

171222

Jack, I love seeing the world through your eyes. On this day, we were celebrating my birthday. We ate brunch at Ann Sather’s in East Lakeview, and you had the best time munching on eggs, fruit and potatoes. You also loved looking out the restaurant window. What did you see? Lots of dogs, I think, and neighbors waking to and fro. Daddy and mama were so excited to show you our old neighborhood that day. We lived there for more than five years before you entered our lives.

180107

Here you are peeking out the mail slot of our home. At 11 months and two weeks old your curiosity is insatiable. You’re getting into everything–the kitchen cabinets, the toilet paper roll in the bathroom, the dog’s crate. You especially love finding small corners and spaces sized just for you and snuggling up against them. Your little world is expanding and it’s such a blessing to watch you explore it.

171224

Now you are one year old and becoming more and more independent. I see how much you’re learning at daycare and feel grateful for the friends you’ve made and the experiences you’ve had there. This makes the time we’re apart feel a little bit easier.

Jack, I admire your adventurous, loving spirit. You’re constantly on the go, climbing, crawling and exploring. You show others how much you care by giving them hugs or pats on the back. I especially like your silly dance moves and your infectious laugh. You wave to friends and strangers, clap your hands to music, and make some funny noises with your mouth. You’re babbling “Ma-ma” and “Da” and “Na-na” (for banana) and you’ve even said “Hi!” and “Uh-oh.”

With you in my life, everything is new again. And so much sweeter. Happy first birthday, Jack buddy! We love you so much.

Snuggles, spit ups and what’s surprised me most about motherhood

I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks. This probably sums up parenthood or at least life with a newborn pretty accurately. You have good intentions: you make plans, get excited about said plans, and then? Baby has other plans. Your plans go out the window.

Fixin’ to eat dinner at 6? Think again. Dinner’s at 9 and it’s cold stir-fry eaten standing up in the kitchen, staring off into space with a side of cheez-its because you forgot to eat lunch today (again) and you’re still hungry.

Want to go for a family walk with your dog and try out your new stroller? Once you’ve set everyone and everything up, baby will have an epic spit up and you’ll be back in house cleaning baby and the stroller and before you know it, it’s dark out and the opportunity to walk has passed.

Other parents I knew warned me through sly smiles that I, the perpetual planner, was about to get a reality check once baby showed up. In fact, I’m about to get interrupted by my crying little buddy so hold that thought.

::: Feeds, changes and snuggles baby :::

OK, I’m back.

Life lately is a pattern of feed, change, play and snuggle baby to sleep on repeat, then squeezing in chores and emails and texts and showers and eating (and mindlessly checking Instagram—note to self: cut back on that) while Jack naps, which can be anywhere from 20 minutes to three hours long. All the while, time passes. Hours melt into days and days into weeks and suddenly it’s been a month and my baby boy has grown and changed before my eyes.

Tiny Jack who used to fit into newborn onesies and sleep all.the.time is now wearing three month onesies (at one month old?!) and is awake and lucid for much longer stretches. I can’t wait until he gives us his first social smile, until he crawls for the first time, until says his first words and yet I want time to sloooow down because sooner or later I’ll have to go back to work. Honestly, I’m dreading it.

Maternity leave has been such a gift, and I’m savoring every moment I can, grateful to bond with my son mornings and afternoons when I’d typically be at the office. There is nothing quite like holding Jack tight and breathing in his baby smell while rocking him to sleep in his room. It feels like a tiny bit of heaven on earth.

To my parent friends: You were right, of course. My best laid plans are often undone by my son’s “plans.” I did get my reality check but I’m surprisingly OK with it. Motherhood has helped soften my rigid desire for order and allowed me to embrace chaos. The chaos didn’t surprise me—because you warned me about it—but there were plenty of other things that did surprise me about parenting a newborn, perhaps the biggest being the incredible range of emotions I’ve felt since giving birth to Jack.

A pastor friend of mine once told me that once you have children all your highs are higher and your lows are lower. Hey Pastor Hardy—you were right. I get it now. Not only am I more emotional due to hormones, but the fierce, mama bear love I have for my son is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Also I get frustrated a lot more than I once did, sometimes for no particular reason, just EVERYTHING because being a parent is so damn hard.

I get sad too, really sad. Sometimes I cry for no particular reason, or when I remember Jack’s birthday, which was terrifying and traumatic and nothing short of an act of God.

The first night Jack slept at home, actually the first few nights, I “slept” next to his crib, on the floor, waking up every few minutes to check if he was still breathing. I think I finally wore myself out enough to fall asleep only to be woken up by his hunger cries. I was so exhausted but so relieved he was alive I ran on adrenaline those first few days. My heart was so full of gratitude that my baby boy was safe at home with us.

Jen Hatmaker has a lovely blog about parenting, “I wish someone would have warned me about these BIG FEELINGS,” that I read hungrily and eagerly at the start of motherhood journey thanks to a tip from a fellow mama.

In it Jen writes, “I wish I would have known how new babies make all feelings MORE (and this from a girl who was already fairly high on melodrama): more thrill, more love, more anguish, more adoration, more fear, more gratitude, more doubt, more crazy. … A newborn takes your heart and mind, squishes them into pulp in her fat little baby hands, and turns you into a woman face down in despair over a Subaru commercial.”

Me too, sister. Me too. Those BIG FEELINGS? Yes, that’s exactly what surprised me the most about becoming a mother.

There have been, of course, other parenting surprises, both delightful and distressing, along the way.

Distressing:

  • Baby cues are super hard to read, it turns out
  • Learning to breastfeed correctly nearly drove me insane
  • Trying to get anything done—laundry, eating food, showering—is near impossible with a newborn, and even when you get said task done you’re too exhausted to really appreciate it
  • I often wonder how anyone even takes care of a baby and works at the same time and it gives me major anxiety
  • I wonder if I’ll ever lose the baby weight and this new little pooch around my waist and if I’ll ever be able to do crow pose or attempt a handstand again and it gives me major anxiety
  • I wonder if my child will grow up safely and think of all the possible ways he could die and desperately wish I could stop worrying because that’s what my mom used to do (Mom, I get it now!) and that also gives me major anxiety.

Delightful:

  • Parenting baby is fun! I GET to sing and read books every day (two of my favorite hobbies)
  • Baby coos, baby expressions, baby snuggles = the best
  • Baby is the most adorable creature in the world and I could look at him all day
  • Also, other people(!) want(!) to visit baby and see pictures of baby on the Internet
  • My adorable dog gets along with my adorable baby, thank God
  • My son is a good sleeper… for now
  • I’m falling in love with my husband over and over again as I watch him parent our son.

But *the most* delightful surprise about motherhood, for sure, is how much love is in my heart, in my home, right now. Being a mother is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and it’s also the most rewarding. I’m incredibly grateful for the privilege.

Fellow parents/caretakers out there: What surprised you most about parenthood when you first brought baby home? I’d love to hear about your experiences!