Today's post is based on a guest post I had written for The Cradle Coach Blog about a month ago and I thought it would be fitting to share here if you weren't able to read it a few weeks back. At the time I was asked to write it, Olivia was just days away from turning one and it was a perfect way for me to reflect on my first year of Motherhood.
I believe Motherhood is all about choice and grace. As a mother, you are given the opportunity to make choices every day, big and small, that will affect this new life you’ve been blessed with. You are also given the opportunity to choose the perspective – the attitude – with which you will approach those choices. Whether it is your first baby or your tenth, whether you have read countless books and done endless research, or you’re entering this wild and new part of life completely blindly, the only thing that can be certain is your need to make choices day by day. You may find yourself questioning the choices you are making and wonder how you will survive the first days, weeks and months of motherhood, all the while feeling like you have no idea what you’re doing. The good news? None of us do, really. We are all clueless, uncertain, and questioning our every move. Or at least, I was.
(But chances are, most moms you meet, will say the same).
I come from a rather researched background, if you had to put me in one of the two categories. I grew up as an only child but have always been independent, with a desire to be a mom since I was a little girl. After meeting and marrying my now-husband, that dream came true when we welcomed our first daughter, Olivia Beatrice, into the world on May 23, 2013.
I completed college classes as a junior and senior in highschool (through PSEO) and went on to a local private Christian university to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree in the Science of Nursing, graduating in May of 2012 at age 22. I had completed my senior internship in women’s care, labor & delivery and newborn care and my externship was completed in pediatric school nursing. You would think the sum of all of these experiences together would lead to a very confident attitude in motherhood, but like many others, I was both terrified and clueless after Olivia was born. I had no idea how I would make it from one hour to the next, or how I would make it from one day to the next, especially after leaving the hospital and taking our tiny sweetheart home.
Throughout those first weeks, I struggled with breastfeeding and sleeplessness, as well as Olivia’s newborn jaundice (from said breastfeeding). Side note: Whoever said breastfeeding is easy and “natural” because you’re a woman clearly has never had children, because it is not an automatic skill you are born with, and there is a huge learning curve! And even as an RN, I didn’t pick up on the early signs of jaundice – I was that sleep deprived. After a brief stint in the NICU to resolve Olivia’s jaundice, we were back home and things were finally beginning to improve, but I still had to make the choice to take life day by day, and to have a good attitude while living it.
As you approach motherhood and especially in the weeks after birth, you also must be aware of the importance of grace – grace toward your baby, toward others, and especially – toward yourself. Early on, I felt silly for not recognizing the early signs of jaundice in Olivia; I felt like a failure for not being perfect at breastfeeding right away; and I felt hopeless as I was up all night, every night while Olivia cluster fed and I found myself quickly withering away from lack of sleep and time to eat. I remember telling my husband that I felt so alone because I was the only one who could fully care for Olivia, the only one who could breastfeed her, and the only one who could be up all night with her since he had a demanding work schedule with early mornings. But placing pressure and blame on myself and wallowing in negative feelings didn’t get me anywhere; it left me feeling more stressed out and more hopeless. I ached for those nights to end but felt they never would.
Why am I telling you all this? Well, no matter where you are in your journey of motherhood – whether you are expecting and terrified, whether you just welcomed a brand new baby into this world, or whether you are further into it like I am, you are not alone and you are doing an amazing job! And once you learn to give yourself a little grace and to let go a little, life will get even better!
Motherhood has taught me so many things about life, about love, about the power of laughter and physical touch and especially, about grace. Every choice you make requires grace. You may make some excellent choices. You may make some mediocre ones, some rotten ones even. No matter what, give yourself grace through it all. Unlike any other experience in life, motherhood requires the ability to do something you have never done before yet you are simultaneously thrown into it immediately after your baby is born. Even without any previous training, you are expected to succeed at something you have never done and have had no time to prepare for. At the same time, you will spend your entire life trying to learn what motherhood is about, what it requires, what it means, where your strengths are, and where you need to give yourself grace. See what I mean? Unlike any other experience in life. Have you ever looked at it that way?
Motherhood is the most challenging, rewarding, exhausting, painful, joyful experience in the entire world. I am equally challenged and rewarded at the same time; the growth it has produced in me over the past 12 months is unlike anything else in my life. My character has been shaped and changed before my eyes without my even realizing it. I barely even remember who I was before Olivia. It’s still hard to believe I now have a little girl who walks and talks and calls me Mama.
Looking back, those first 6 weeks were some of the toughest of my entire life. I cried -- a lot of tears and often. I honestly didn’t know how I would make it to the next day, especially after terribly long nights. But when I finally stepped back out of the tiny little (stressful) world I had been living in, and tried to let go of it all (instead of overthinking it all) and instead embrace whatever happened, life got so much better. It wasn’t that Olivia’s breastfeeding habits all of a sudden changed, or that I started getting 10 hours of sleep a night, or that I suddenly knew what I was doing…it all had to do with my attitude: an attitude of grace and choice.
I finally realized that I could choose to give myself grace with the choices I was making. I could choose to give grace to Olivia when I was frustrated. I could choose a positive attitude, and choose to cherish the long, long nights holding and feeding her, because I knew one day they would be gone.
And they are gone, now. All of the chaos and stress of those first few months is gone and only a distant memory. I now have a 1-year-old who is equally independent and adventurous, curious and content and hilarious all at the same time. My advice to other new Mamas out there -- Practice cherishing those long, sleepless nights and those endless hours of rocking or cuddling. It is amazing what physical touch – a simple snuggle from your new baby – can do for the soul. Some nights, Olivia will still fall asleep on me with her arms wrapped around mine, and her simple touch rejuvenates my entire being.
Overall, I try to live my life with the attitude of finding contentment in every day no matter the stage of life that Olivia is in, or no matter the state of my own life. There will be positives and negatives to every stage, depending on how you look at it. The first weeks and months of motherhood will be challenging, but rewarding, and most definitely a whirlwind of “I don’t have a clue what I am doing,” but you can rest knowing time will pass, as it always does, and soon those first weeks and months will be long gone.
Your attitude is the key to finding peace and rest as you journey into the unknown of motherhood. I witnessed first-hand the power I held when I shifted my attitude, when I learned to give myself grace, and when I learned to choose positivity over negativity. When I finally learned to embrace this new adventure and welcome this wild journey, I discovered that through it all, there was more beauty than I had ever seen before.
And really, what is more beautiful than being called Mama?