Around a baby’s first birthday, I see so many moms reminisce fondly about pregnancy and proudly look back on their wonderful birth stories and mourn the fact that their sweet baby is becoming a toddler. If that’s you, it’s totally fine, really - no shame. However, it isn’t me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not totally ready for this milestone because it’s come so quickly and I still get teary thinking about how fast babyhood goes, and there are absolutely things I'll miss about having a baby - but childbearing and breastfeeding and mothering infants has been such a physically burdensome job for me, and the passing time is a relief in many ways. I’m not complaining - it hasn’t been hard to get pregnant and I’ve always had plenty of milk to feed my babies and I am eternally grateful for the health we have. Many women can’t say the same and I don’t take that for granted. I have been so lucky.
Where I have struggled a lot is with migraines - I’ve always had them, but for the first 6-12 months postpartum, and also especially during this last pregnancy, they have been incredibly frequent, limiting, burdensome, and emotionally challenging. The hormonal changes, lack of sleep, stress, and fatigue that pregnancy and young children bring is harder on my body than I care to admit. I don’t like feeling fragile, but in a way I am. Since my pregnancy with Parker, I have struggled with them more often than not. It's tiring.
And though my births have gone miraculously well in many ways, this last time around was so overwhelmingly intense and painful in a way I never thought my body could survive, that I still get very anxious and a bit tearful thinking back on it. It wasn’t beautiful except in the end; I didn’t feel powerful; I felt helpless and somewhat traumatized by the most excruciating thing I’ve ever been through (this was not my experience with the first two). I don’t like admitting that because I want to be strong, not weak, and a birth that results in a healthy mother and baby can hardly be classified as actual trauma. But it was hard for me, and for some reason it still is.
I think back on months and months of trying to care for three children, run a business, and make it through some challenging things in our lives, and I remember lots of love, but also so many migraines, so much discouragement at times, and sadness that this stage of having young children hasn’t looked how I thought it would. And I see a lot of vulnerability - a youngish woman trying really hard to measure up and do/look/be good enough, and I see someone who has gotten a little lost in all of it but is finding her way out.
Now that all that’s out there, I hope I can still clarify that I’m not trying to complain. I am blessed abundantly; truly I believe that with my whole heart. If we’re comparing struggles, mine barely register on the scale at all. We’re not even touching on miscarriage and other loss, infertility, major health issues, etc. But I think that sometimes we fill in the blanks that others leave with something better than what is real, if that makes sense. It's easy to assume that things went well for someone because they didn't say otherwise, when that actually wasn't the case. I've experienced this very clearly from both ends (the one who fills in the blanks wrong and the one whose blanks are filled in wrong), so I just felt the need to say it all. Just because - to paint a fuller picture.
And I'm also saying this all because I really want you to know that it’s okay if your good things aren’t very pretty. If your birth wasn’t a beautiful story. If you don’t have cute baby bump photos because cameras were an emotional challenge you didn’t want to tackle at that time. If mothering is a struggle for you. If your children growing older is sad but also maybe a relief. If your memories of a certain stage of life are a mix of happy and really hard. If you don't really believe the older people who tell you that you'll miss this, because it's been full of demands you couldn't keep up with if they continue much longer.
None of that makes you or your experience less meaningful or valuable or GOOD. After all, the hardest times are when we grow the most, and having children has never been about toting around a cute baby, but about raising the next generation to be humans of quality and character. It’s okay if you can't find ultimate joy in the present (though striving for joy and contentment in present circumstances is certainly a healthy practice), because we're also in it for the big picture, and sometimes the best you can make of the present is to remind yourself that it isn't forever.
So as my baby quickly approaches the mark of a whole year of life on the outside, I do look back with some wistfulness, and some sadness at all that's behind us already, and I already miss the rolls he's shedding and the way I was his whole world. But I also think about how having babies has been hard for me. Really hard. And I want to make peace with that, because it has still been GOOD, and feeling tired or overwhelmed or even struggling a lot doesn't mean that I love my children less or am not doing my very best as their mother.
I’m not sure most of the time how to walk the line of true authenticity without veering into whiny TMI or artificial squeaky clean happy, but this is my attempt for today. Just know that whether your story is pretty or not so much, if you're content where you are or if you're hoping every day that something changes soon, you are valuable, your story is GOOD (as in it is enough, it matters), and your experiences (even the hard ones) hold life and growth inside of them. Much love to all you mamas (and everyone else) out there.