I’ve been asked numerous times what has been the most difficult or challenging thing about being a new mother and my answer is always the same: Nothing in my life has ever required so much selflessness.
I feel as though I am continually being refined, having the selfish, lazy parts of me brought to the surface so they can finally be dealt with and put to death. This sanctification process is so wonderful, but it does not occur without pain. Worse than labor and birth pains, it’s a cold slap to the face day after day as you realize you are nothing, have nothing, and can do nothing — NOTHING — without the grace of God.
And I’m only five months in.
Although I am helplessly wrapped around this little baby’s finger, I still find that I get wrapped up in my own life and resort back to my old ways. I try to figure out how to fit Tessa into the mold of what my life once was and I fight the process of necessary growth and change.
Being a mother is challenging because it all comes down to letting go of control. In order to be the mother that God designed me to be, I have to surrender. I have to give up and give in. Let him take over. Let grace carry me through the day.
She’s not the one who needs to change; I am.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she wakes up from her nap as I attempt to lay her down in her crib. I am the one who is in a hurry, wanting to “put her away” so I can keep my routine and resume my life. I forget to give her time to soak in her mama, basking in warm arms.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s waking up every other hour throughout the night because she’s a hungry, growing girl or has a little gas to let out. I am. I am the one who needs to remember that this season of constant night feedings won’t last forever. There will come a day when she will sleep soundly in her crib by herself instead of share a warm space with me in bed, and I will yearn for co-sleeping again.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s crying the whole ride home because I knew she was hungry but told myself she could wait ten minutes. I am. I am expecting her to be rational and understand that milk will fill her belly soon if she would only wait.
She’s not the one who needs to change when she’s squirming at the breast and not enjoying her feeding because of gas or teething. I am. I am the one who is embarrassed in public by her fussiness, wanting to make breastfeeding look like a beautiful, peaceful moment instead of the tricky game it sometimes is.
Looking back, I realize that my best days with Tessa have been the days when I let go of my agenda and just embraced each moment as it came. On those days, I was willing to hold her longer, able to comfort her better, and found myself loving motherhood even more.
But days like that do not come easily, especially when you have a lot going on besides the baby and you’re still battling that “me, me, me” mentality from the days before you were called mama. It’s even harder when you’re in the early days of motherhood and you WISH you could have more going on besides the baby, but she’s practically dominating every minute of every hour.
So if you’re like me and are struggling to remember that it is YOU who needs to seek a better way and change rather than expect your little one to do the changing, here are some things that have helped and are still helping me to this day. Through A LOT of trial and error, I’ve found some new ways to do things that make both of our lives a little better and keep that mother-baby connection strong.
Ask the Lord each day to increase your love for your baby and show you something new through your baby each day.
Every morning as I nurse and rock Tessa back to sleep for her morning nap, I take some time to pray over my day. I used to put her down first and THEN go downstairs to pray, but sometimes she’d wake up sooner than expected and my prayer time would be interrupted. This led to a lot of frustration, but this is yet another example of how it is up to ME to do the changing, not her. So now I don’t wait until I can get away to pray; I make it part of our time together.
One of the first things I pray for is an increased love for my daughter. A mother’s love is naturally strong, but even a strong bond like that can be made stronger. I remember telling my husband when she was about a month old that I’m not sure if I would be willing to die for her. I liked to think I would, but I just wasn’t sure if I was there yet because being a mom was so new and so were my feelings for her. In fact, about a month later there was a day when I thought our house was being broken into and instead of grabbing the baby to bring her upstairs with me, I headed to the stairs without her and had to turn back around to get her!
Not every mother has a delay in these sort of instincts, but I certainly did and probably still do in some regard, so when I pray, I ask God to increase the measure of love I have for her in my heart. I think about 1 Corinthians 13 and say, “Lord, I want to be more patient and kind towards my baby. I don’t want to be self-seeking or easily angered. Give me the kind of love that always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” I also ask God to show me something new through her each day, whether that means I discover a new exciting ability she has, something about my attitude towards her that needs a correction, or something about the Lord himself and his great love for us. Even though most days are not smooth sailing as a result of these prayers, I have felt a difference in my heart over time. Praying these prayers aligns my heart with God’s and helps me be open to any challenges or growth I may face as I care for Tessa that day.
When something just isn’t working for you or your baby, be creative in finding a solution and get excited when you do find one.
Motherhood requires an immense amount of creativity. I realize that now as I have faced many dilemmas that I have needed to think and talk through. One of my new favorite things to do when I am feeling overwhelmed and am beginning to lash out at either my child or husband is make a list of stressors or problems I have faced in the past week and then come up with a few solutions to them, no matter how crazy those solutions may seem. Sometimes the solutions I come up with are not really things I WANT to do, but I realize would help me A TON if I would just be willing to compromise and try it out. And other times some of my solutions end up being some of my best decisions! A perfect example of this is my decision to bed-share with Tessa.
Right after Tessa came home from the hospital, we hardly slept (no surprise there). After a late night feeding, I would attempt to put her down in the bassinet, but she would instantly wake up. This was fine for the first two weeks, but the sleepless nights eventually wore on me to the point of screaming — yes, SCREAMING — at my sweet, innocent newborn. It didn’t help that my husband had to go back to work on the night shift. I was seriously losing my mind. Finally I threw up my hands, said “screw the AAP standards!”, pulled that baby into the bed with me, and nursed her to sleep as we laid side by side. For the first time, we slept through the night (with quick, quiet feedings every few hours), and we have slept soundly ever since. Being willing to change my position on bed sharing was a game changer for me, and I still believe to this day that it saved my relationship with my baby.
It is up to us to be willing to admit when something just isn’t working for you or the baby. I have had to make plenty of changes I haven’t wanted to make, such as delegating ALL of the cooking to my husband (five months in and I can still only count on one hand how many times I have made dinner), but in the end, it’s always turned out alright. We have to save our sanity and protect our relationship with our little one, even if the things we choose don’t make sense to others or it involves a compromise on our end.
Recreate a sacred moment for you and your baby.
When I feel as though I’ve been losing touch with my baby or getting annoyed at the fact that being a mom isn’t a 9-to-5 job, I find that what helps restore my joy in motherhood is recreating a sacred moment between her and I.
Usually this means I dim the lights, sit in the rocking chair or climb into bed with her, put the phone away, and offer to nurse. Even if she isn’t all that hungry, she usually accepts the milk for a time, allowing me to enjoy this special moment that only her and I get to share. I play with her hands and stroke her hair as I watch her nurse. Sometimes we even lock eyes and she’ll give me the sweetest smile if I talk to her during her meal. I like to tell her about how much I enjoy being her mom and getting to provide her with the comfort and milk she needs. I’m telling you, there is a renewal that takes place as I do this. Even if I feel like I failed as a mother that day because I was on Instagram too much or made her wait for a feeding until she cried or selfishly set her in front of the TV because I just wanted to be left alone, I feel my guilt being replaced with peace as I cherish the sweet gift of motherhood once again.
Being selfless and able to change really comes down to one simple thing — slow down every once in a while. The season you’re in will soon be over, for better or for worse. Nursing won’t always be painful or inconvenient and you’ll get a full night of sleep once again. Teething doesn’t last forever and there will come a day when you will change that baby’s diaper for the very last time. So slow down. The dishes can wait, half of your to-do list can be tossed to the side, and there’s nothing interesting on Facebook anyway. If you need an attitude change or change of heart, stop fighting it and let it come. Slow down long enough and it’ll catch up to you. That is the beauty of grace. Sitting at Jesus’ feet to receive all he has to offer.
Becoming a selfless, die-to-self mother does not happen overnight. It is a process that looks like battle, hurts like hell, but is rewarded with the most honorable medal at the end. Knowing this, I suppose I’d have to say that the most difficult part of being a mother is also one of the best ones, too. It’s bittersweet and so worth it. The Lord entrusted this baby girl to me and I know that “he who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). So be it. Amen.