8 Pregnancy Lessons from My First Baby

Today marks 34 weeks in my second pregnancy. My first pregnancy was rather breezy—we had no complications (except elevated blood pressure at the end, which required an induction that went very well). There was some discomfort here and there and, of course, the uncertainty of it all was scary at times—but I had very little to worry about from beginning to end.

But you know what I did? I worried. A lot.

Turns out it’s hard to be a new parent even before the baby starts demanding clean diapers and food and all that.

This time, I’m feeling much more relaxed about the whole thing. Knowing what I know now, it’s easy to let this pregnancy progress without a second thought most days. Give the belly a pat, smile happily at a big baby wiggle, and hope I don’t have to wake up more than twice to pee tonight—that’s life this time around. I wish it was more like this the first time. So here’s what I learned looking back, in case it helps another new mom take an extra breath today (although, let’s be honest—it probably won’t, because new moms are always going to fret!)

1. Everything seems like a big deal. Very few things actually are.

Can I eat lunch meat? Shouldn’t I feel nauseous? 280,591,056 of these questions hit me every day during my first pregnancy. The fact is, in a typical pregnancy, the answer is often “It’s no big deal, don’t worry!” Always ask your doctor. But know that eating well, being active, and staying hydrated are the best things you can do for your baby. Simple as that!

2. Follow your gut.

Medically, red flags during pregnancy tend to be pretty clear. But no matter what’s going on, never hesitate to call your doctor. Even if whatever is worrying you turns out to be nothing, there’s no peace of mind like the kind you get once everything checks out okay! You’re made to be a mom. Your body can do this. But your instincts will help.

3. Don’t give a bother what other people say or think.

The only opinions that matter are your doctor’s, your spouse’s, and your own. Take good advice where you get it, listen to people who have genuinely well-meant suggestions to offer, and ignore all the noise.

4. Give yourself a break—and don’t feel guilty for it.

You are pregnant and shouldn’t feel bad for needing some extra help (or sympathy) now and then. Stay confident, and buck up for the inevitable tough stuff. Every day it will get a tiny bit more exhausting, painful, or inconvenient. But you’ll get through it. So just give yourself some extra rest and a lot of wiggle room—physically and emotionally—when you need it, and you’ll be better able to handle it the rest of the time.

5. Attachment is different for everyone.

Some women “know” their babies instantly. Others do when they give birth. Or a week after baby arrives. Your instincts will help you care for and protect your baby throughout this journey, even if it takes your emotions a little while to catch up. That’s totally normal and okay. Hormones are weird!

6. Expect a new normal.

When I had my daughter, I spent the first weeks waiting for things to “go back to normal” after she arrived. News flash: they didn’t. Things change. But you will find a new normal and you will love it. Just enjoy the time it takes to get to know your new family dynamics, and experiment with what works and what doesn’t.

7. Go see so many movies.

Seriously. This is the one thing that my husband and I can’t really do anymore with a toddler in tow. You can bring your kids out to dinner, out on errands, and basically everywhere else—but movie-watching will never be the same with an adorable, wiggly babbler in your lap. So, while you can, and even if you go by yourself (especially then), go and enjoy it.

8. Knowledge is power (usually).

So much that’s scary about pregnancy, labor, and delivery is scary because it’s unknown. Read books and articles, and ask the doctor questions. Talk to other moms. But do not turn to Google when you’re worried about something. If you have bothersome symptoms, tough questions, or any concerns at all, talk to your doctor FIRST. That’s the kind of knowledge you need.

BONUS: A Lesson from My Second Baby

Already in this pregnancy, I’ve learned some valuable lessons from our new baby. The biggest is that nothing ever stays the same, and that’s okay.

I felt very different early on in this pregnancy compared to my first, physically and emotionally. My symptoms had changed. My body reacted in new ways. And I looked a lot different (and still do). I was sort of expecting that, because my doctor and everyone else had told me “Every baby is different” long before he even came along.

However, what I wasn’t expecting was how much different I felt. If you’d have asked me how often I thought about the baby while I was pregnant with my first, I would’ve replied, “I don’t think I’m ever not thinking about her.” And in many ways, that’s still true this time. But I’m not worried or anxious or dying of anticipation this time. Things feel more second nature. I have a toddler to worry about, and she keeps my mind very busy—so this pregnancy tends to fly under the radar more often than not.

At first, I felt bad about that. I asked my husband, “Should I be worried that I’m so much less worried about this baby than I was the first time?” His response was something I’ll always remember.

“No, not at all. You love this baby just as much as the one we already have. This is just an easier love. It’s less stressful, but it’s no less strong.”

He, of course, was right. I do love this little boy as much as I always loved our little girl. But, so far, this guy doesn’t freak me out like she did. I don’t feel uncertain about my ability to carry him safely. I love them both equally because my first taught me that I can do this, and my second teaches me that I can trust myself to do it.

I can’t wait to see what else I get to learn from these (and any future) littles in my life.

What My High School Sweetheart Taught Me About Love

My husband and I are high school sweethearts. We are thankful every day for the fact that we got to be each other’s first everything. We love that we grew up together and share more than a decade of memories already. And we have said more than once that God put us in each other’s lives early for plenty of good reasons—not least that we would both be terrible at dating.

In fact, sometimes we were terrible at dating—while we were dating each other. We weren’t always smart or responsible. We didn’t always treat each other well. Things were harder than they should’ve been for a while. We were selfish, silly, and ignorant on more than one occasion. But even though some of those memories are painful now, I’m thankful for them, too. Because they taught me all of this.

No one, at any point in life, is perfect. People aren’t unicorns.

Thanks to years of hard work and happy love, my marriage is strong. The soundness of my relationship with my husband is a permanent, comforting fixture in my life. We rarely fight (although we certainly bicker). We understand each other. We know each other so well that there is simply no doubt. Already, we’ve had half our lives to fall in love over and over.

But neither of us is perfect, and we are still very different from one another.

When he eats, it sounds (to me) like a water buffalo chewing mud. When I insist we each get our own meals when we eat out instead of agreeing to share one (even though we’ll never finish both entrees), it makes no sense to him. I can’t stand how he wants to listen to talk radio all the time. He is somewhat disturbed by my affinity for psychologically dramatic TV, movies, and books.

His opinions on the environment sometimes ruffle my feathers. My methods for quiet advocacy of my faith and morals sometimes aggravate him. Our minds work in vastly different ways.

In many ways, we don’t—and never did—hit many of the checkboxes on one another’s “list of desirable qualities in a spouse.” Before we started dating, I pictured myself with an artsy/alternative guy who would never condone hunting and would buy me flowers every day. He probably pictured himself with an athletic academic who loved physics and would talk politics for fun.

But you know what? Lists change. My old list sucked. My new list starts with “His name is Erik” and ends with “He makes me love myself almost as much as he loves me.”

You absolutely must fight fair.

Our first few years together were not easy. We swung on a pendulum between blissfully spending all our time together and fighting like cats and dogs at the slightest missteps. As we learned to handle our own maturing minds, bodies, and personalities, we also had to handle each other’s—and to be forgiving and intentional throughout that period of growth. It was hard. We failed a lot.

Looking back, we know that we wouldn’t tolerate each other’s behavior from back then if we were faced with it right now. We needed to be together as teenagers because only teenagers are stubborn and strong-willed enough to cling to what we wanted as tightly as we did then.

What helped was establishing some ground rules for fighting. Here are a few:

  • Do not yell at each other.
  • Never curse at or insult each other.
  • Always say “I love you” when you say goodbye or goodnight, no matter how you’re feeling.
  • If one person needs time to cool off, they should ask for it respectfully and the other needs to respect it.
  • When you say you’re sorry, mean it—and do something to fix whatever you did wrong.
  • Do not bring up past mistakes or hold grudges.
  • Don’t generalize; it’s not fair or honest.

It’s a long list (and that’s not everything). We don’t always follow them perfectly, but once we started making a real effort, our arguments became fairer, more productive, and less frequent. It kept us together.

The person you love should push you forward (and help you get there).

“Good enough” shouldn’t exist in a healthy relationship. That’s how you get stagnant and stop growing. For me, the goal of marriage is to be comfortable, but never bored—to be at ease with your spouse, so much so that encouraging one another to keep improving and growing is a natural and positive process instead of a stressful one.

My husband pushed me to work harder in school, and my work ethic now is so much better for it. I pushed him to be more forgiving, and he’s a gentler man for that. We push each other to be better parents, better spouses, and better people. We have high standards for ourselves and each other. While we are compassionate in the face of failure, we always expect each other to keep moving. And we are always there to walk the path forward, together.

Two people in a serious relationship should never be hesitant to call out a mistake, voice a concern, or talk about the future. These can be some of the most fruitful conversations you’ll ever have with your significant other or spouse. They should not be shielded by fear or shame, and you should never feel like you need to walk on eggshells around the person you love.

Happiness is made when respect is shared and the self is given.

Bringing all of this together are two core concepts: respect and generosity. For a relationship to be long-lasting, healthy, and positive, both people must give one another an abundance of respect and an abundance of themselves. You need to take on an “us” mindset instead of an “I” mindset. This is important while dating, but it’s essential in marriage.

Because we were teenagers, it was very tricky for my husband and I to focus on giving respect instead of demanding it early in our relationship. We were easily hurt, but we hurt easily, too. When you lose track of how you’re treating someone because you’re waiting for them to make some change or move to “prove” that they deserve your respect, you lose yourself—and you lose them, too. Love needs respect.

In marriage, we are privileged to offer a full gift of self to our spouse. We set aside our selfish ways in favor of living as a couple, ‘til death do us part. Of course, we’re not stainless—I often fail to give my time as selflessly as I could, or to keep my patience, or to accept a change in plans because my husband’s needs have changed. But I try. And letting go of the self is a crucial first step toward a strong and cooperative marriage. Spouses are inspired by one another’s gifts and eager to return that love. It’s a happy cycle.

There are fine lines everywhere.

Finally, I think it’s important for everyone in a relationship to know that love is grey—it isn’t black or white. Each of us requires something special to feel fulfilled in a relationship. Each of us tolerates differences in our own way. And each of us deserves respect and generosity as a matter of course. So, as you’re dating and deciding on whether the person beside you is worth your whole life, it’s important to be honest and demanding about your needs, with yourself and your partner.

Ultimately, fidelity to your beloved, authenticity with yourself, and humility before God will all lead to a happy life and a happy relationship. It can be tricky to balance all three, but that’s okay. That’s the adventure. If we simply live it and are kind along the way (to ourselves and the people at our side), we’ll come out just fine.

A Letter to Mary, Queen of Heaven

Dear Mary,

I have so many questions. I must admit that, for as long as I can remember, I’ve seen you as an amazing but also baffling woman. In many ways, your story is like a fairytale—and your unrelenting faith is like a superpower. How could I ever begin to understand you, let alone emulate you, in my own life?

As a young girl on the cusp of a new marriage—challenges all their own—you faced one of the most profound trials ever presented to mankind: you were asked to carry, bear, and raise the Son of God. You, Mary, were visited by an angel and told that this heaviest of burdens—and greatest of privileges—would be placed squarely on your shoulders. And you said yes. You pronounced your fiat and said “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

Then the angel departed from you abruptly; what went through your mind? Did you wonder if it had all been a dream until your body started changing and there was no denying the Truth? Did you fret over what your new husband would think? Did you quake in anticipation of the judgment you might receive from others? Did you struggle to picture yourself, a first-time mother, as the caretaker of the most important child ever to enter this world?

Now that I am a mother myself, and have felt the joy and anxiety of very conventional pregnancies, I can only wonder at what you must’ve felt in your position—to be so truly gifted with this immense role in Salvation History, and yet struck by what an unthinkable responsibility it must be.

When you visited your relative, Elizabeth, and she sang your praises and greeted you with joy as the child in her womb leaped at the closeness of the child in yours, did it feel real? You were perhaps too early in your pregnancy to feel your child moving within you. So, when Elizabeth reacted so vividly to your new identity as the Mother of God, how did it strike you? What knowledge did it place in your heart about the fruit of your womb?

With both of my babies, things didn’t seem real to me that early on. Even after I could feel their kicks and rolls, I couldn’t help but wonder at the individuality and separateness of those babies who lived and grew in my body. How on earth could such a miracle be real?

Is that how you felt, too?

As your husband contemplated quietly sending you away upon discovering your pregnancy, were you anxious? Did you wonder, even for a moment, what would become of you and your child? Did you doubt the path that you had accepted? And when Joseph had his own encounter with an angel and trusted in God’s instructions to start a life with you as planned, what did your smile look like? Did you know that this gentle and selfless man would be on your side all along?

My husband is my greatest partner, friend, confidant, and supporter in life. The briefest thought of losing him makes me shiver. I hope that you felt warmed by God’s reassurances all along during what must have been a very stressful time.

During your ninth month, large with child and fleeing to safety with your husband through an ancient landscape, were you frustrated when you were told all of the inns were full? Did you feel the gradual rise and fall of labor pains even then, as you trekked with Joseph from place to place and found nowhere to rest your weary, swollen body? Did the pain frighten you? And when you found shelter in the company of livestock and hay and a lowly manger, did you wonder at the irony of your position?

What joy and relief did you experience when that miraculous child made His way into the world, and you were finally able to hold Him in your arms? The two of you were the perfect pair—spotless and selfless. I have long thought that, if I could go back in time to any one moment, it would be to the Nativity. I imagine the mere sight of the delight on the face of each member of your Holy Family must’ve been enough to erase many years of pain and suffering.

In the following years, watching your son grow from a helpless newborn to an energetic child and, finally, to a serene and hardworking young adult, how often did you wonder at His godliness?

Was the Trinity any easier for you to comprehend than it is for me? In some ways, I imagine your proximity made it harder, for how could a child who refused your meals and laughed at your jokes and wept in your arms with the pain of a bump on the head be both human and God? And yet you knew of His two natures, and you trusted in that transcendent reality and the path God had laid out for your family.

Jesus as a boy sat in your lap—a true Throne of Wisdom—and learned from you. In those days, a mother took responsibility for the care of her young children—she was their teacher, leader, friend, and caretaker as they grew and learned to live in this world. Though He was always God, Jesus was also always human, and needed His mother just like any of us would—needed her guidance, her soothing voice, her discipline, her compassion.

At some point during Jesus’s childhood, you lost your husband. How painful it must have been to mourn him while a child—this child—depended on you constantly. How scary it must have been to be alone in the raising of your son for the rest of His life.

Despite all of this, you and Jesus emerged from His youth just as the Father intended: perfect, without stain, unfailingly loyal to the ultimate destiny of this most precious Lamb of God.

Both guests at the wedding at Cana, you and Jesus must’ve made an inspiring duo. You, the greatest mother, proudly encouraged your grown son, who, in His humility, hesitated to perform the miracle you knew He could enact. And He, the greatest man, complied—though not without a bit of protest (was it playful?)—and made someone else’s wedding day quite memorable, to say the least.

What does perfect motherly pride feel like? To know that your child is quite literally wonderful in every way, to be happy for your part in that wonder, and yet to retain the wisdom that these facts can only be a gift from God?

And then there’s the question I’m most afraid to ask: what did it feel like to see this precious child, grown into a man, rejected, humiliated, and crucified by people He could only ever love? Selfishly, as a mother myself, I hesitate to know the answer. I can only hope the glory of His resurrection overshadowed immediately that pain for you. And, of course, I can thank you for your part in His sacrifice—the role of a mother who must let her only child die for the sake of so many children she doesn’t even know.

I can’t wait to ask you all of this when, hopefully, someday, I am blessed to meet you. In the meantime, I pray that your example makes me a stronger woman, a more patient and selfless mother, a more loyal daughter, and a more faithful child of God. Truly, thank you.

With love,

Your daughter

The Healthiest Habit of the Happiest People

There are some very chipper people in the world who just radiate joy. You know them when you meet them: they’re smiling, kind, and content. They’re sure of the goodness in their lives, and the goodness in you—even if you’re still a stranger. And they just don’t seem to see the gloom that simply must be around them.

Sometimes we see these people and envy them. How can anyone be so positive all the time? How can life feel so easy to them? Why can’t I feel like that?

We’ve all heard (and maybe told) the anti-sunshine-and-rainbows jokes. Because the fact is that, much of the time, life isn’t pretty. And that might make us think that viewing the world “with rose-colored glasses” is rarely the best idea.

But this tendency is, in fact, a very positive quality. Studies find that people who foster a positive outlook on life (in a realistic way, of course) are happier, more successful, and even healthier.

Gratitude as a Virtue

Anecdotally, every one of those joyful people I’ve met in life have one thing in common: thankfulness. Simple gratitude goes a long way, it seems, in building a happier, healthier mindset; a more meaningful spiritual life; and a more positive outlook with which to enjoy the good things in our world.

For me, gratitude is a habit. It’s the best habit, because it works on your heart in so many ways. Gratitude forces us to recognize the wonderful things around us. It encourages us to hold onto our respect for others, and to speak positively to them. It fosters a consistent, positive prayer life. It humbles us. And it inspires us to be better people.

Though not listed among the Cardinal or theological virtues by Catholicism, the concept of thankfulness has been top-of-mind for many of our saints, and it is all over Scripture. Christ Himself gave thanks to God many times, often during some of the most pre-eminent miracles and moments of the Gospels.

Gratitude is part and parcel of many of our cardinal virtues. It is woven into justice, in that it acknowledges and rewards the rightness and generosity of others; it is a part of prudence, in that it requires mindfulness, care, and wisdom in practice; it is supportive of temperance, in that it shows us how to be selfless; and it is rewarded by fortitude, in that a thankful person is often a courageous and strong person.

And what better way can we supplement our practice of the theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity—but by expressing gratefulness to God for those gifts, and to our neighbors for practicing them along with us?

The Wisdom of Giving Thanks

What makes thankfulness so important to us, as humans? We are responsible for so much in life, and yet so little. We are gifted with so much in life, and yet deserve so little of it. The least we must do is acknowledge this generosity and show our thanks for it. We must take nothing for granted, lest we learn the hard way how fragile our lives truly are.

Here are some bits of wisdom I love:

“No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” – St. Ambrose

 “Remember the past with gratitude. Live the present with enthusiasm. Look forward to the future with confidence.” – Pope St. John Paul II

“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for what He is sending us every day in His goodness.” – St. Gianna Beretta Molla

“Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve You as You deserve.” – St. Ignatius of Loyola 

How to Be More Thankful

I have met so many beautiful people whose positivity is unwavering. Their secret, I think, is that they always find something to be thankful for. They always choose to acknowledge and lift up the good that surrounds them, rather than focusing on their struggles. They know that, in the end, we can control very little—but we can be grateful for very much.

In learning from them and from my own experience, here are five ways I try to make thankfulness a habit in my life:

  1. Always acknowledge the little things. When you come across your favorite number by happenstance, give a little thanks for the small smile it brings. When someone holds the door for you, always thank them out loud and with a smile. Upon learning to recognize the tiny moments of every day for which we can say “Thank you,” we become much more grateful for the bigger moments, too.
  2. Pray with proper order. There are several key elements to prayer, and thankfulness is one of them. It should come before we make requests to God. Remember ACTS when you pray: Adoration, Contrition, Thankfulness, and Supplication. My humility and penchant for gratitude improves greatly when I keep prayer in perspective this way.
  3. Share your gratitude with people you love. Regularly telling your family and friends about what you’re grateful for in life can help you and them be more thankful day to day—but do it humbly, and not to brag. For example, try going around the dinner table to have everyone share one thing they’re grateful for more frequently than just once a year at Thanksgiving.
  4. Hold yourself accountable to say thanks. I recently heard a lovely suggestion that’s specific to marriage: each night before bed, thank your spouse for at least one thing they did for you that day—something that made you feel more loved. It might also help to keep a gratitude journal, or to fill up a jar throughout the year with notes on what you’re thankful for each day, week, or month. The important thing is to set a goal and be consistent. It’s excellent for your mental health!
  5. Resist gossip. I find that gossip and judgmental thinking tend to become habitual—and that’s really too bad. The way we think and speak of others is influenced by paradigms. If my automatic reaction is to say, “Boy, that barista was sloooow today,” I might not even notice that the person behind me paid for a stranger’s drink while I was waiting just as a random act of kindness. I’d be too busy dwelling on my coffee’s delay.

There’s Always Something

Although certainly there are some trials in life that, when we emerge from them, remind us in no uncertain terms that we have a lot to be thankful for. Perhaps you’ve survived a horrific car crash. Perhaps your loved one beat cancer. Perhaps you got the job that makes providing for your family straightforward instead of stressful.

But if gratitude is truly a habit, then it’s the in-between times that call us to be most thankful—the times when no apparent miracle has occurred, but the simple pleasure of a 70-degree day in March left you feeling just a little warmer (inside and out). That’s something to be thankful for.

Walking Humbly in Mom Jeans

“He has shown you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?”

Micah 6:8

I first heard this verse a long time ago, but reading it again, I think it’s a perfect mission statement for motherhood. Of course, it comes from a chapter of Micah entitled “What the Lord Requires,” so it can be assumed it applies to most vocations—but I love the nuances of its application to being a parent.

Motherhood requires us to be a voice of reason, rules, and respect in our homes. It requires us to treat our families with immense love and compassion, and to recognize when they do the same for one another. And there are few things more humbling than being responsible for cleaning up someone else’s messes 24 hours a day.

Humility is, for me, a core component of success in life. It keeps me sane and grounded and resilient. But sometimes I also kind of hate it.

Played Hot and Cold

There are some moments when being humble is easy. I am humbled every moment I look at my daughter’s smile and remember how much of a gift she is. It is impossible to look at her sparkly blue eyes and adoring gaze and not think, “God, I don’t deserve her, but I thank you every minute of every day for sending her to me.” These are the times when humility is a warm little gust that just fills me up—it floods my whole soul with a pleasant tingling, and reminds me that life is good despite my faults. It proves that the positive outweighs the negative, without doubt.

But there are other times when it is incredibly hard to set down the security blanket of pride and admit defeat—or when it seems much more preferable to puff up and deny my mistakes, instead of acknowledging them.

Frankly, I don’t like to be vulnerable in front of others when it comes to the way I care for my family. I think a lot of us struggle to ask for help when we need it because it’s hard to admit that you’ve hit a wall and need someone else’s guidance. It’s hard to own up to the fact that you simply don’t know everything, and that maybe a stranger or peer can help your family better than you can in that moment.

Last week, my daughter was sick with her worst head cold yet—after a few days a low-grade fever and obvious sinus pressure and pain, it required antibiotics. The antibiotics didn’t agree with her for the first few days, and so she was left with her worst diaper rash yet, too. Nothing we tried even helped soothe it, let alone treat it. We winced with her cries of pain during every diaper change for at least three days, by the end of it. It was excruciating for all of us.

To make a long story short, when it became clear that we’d need to call the doctor’s office for advice on how to treat it, I was irritated with the doctor. We’d seen her a few days before, and I mentioned the rash possibly progressing, but she seemed to brush it off. It wasn’t our usual pediatrician; I had missed our scheduled 16-month check-up by accident, and our usual doctor was booked for weeks, so we saw another pediatrician in the practice instead.

When it was way worse a few days later and we spoke to her again, her recommendation had changed (and we followed it), but I was already so frustrated and convinced that she wasn’t looking closely enough at the situation that I had very little faith the new suggestion would work.

Of course, it did. And my toddler’s system calmed down as we neared the end of the course for the antibiotics, which also helped the rash heal. But I was still angry. And it’s because I was refusing to acknowledge my own previous mistake: I had missed our scheduled appointment, which led to us working with another perfectly competent doctor. It was my pride that said, “This isn’t our usual doctor, and I’m not sure I trust her.” And it was my mistrust that caused my stress, not the doctor’s advice—I was just too puffed up to rest assured in her expertise and ignore the temptation to assign blame for the situation.

Knowing all of this, the evening I went crying to my husband (after hearing our daughter screech yet again during her bedtime diaper change) about how it was all my fault was irrational, but it was also a moment of cold humility. Sometimes it’s chilling to really see where I’ve gone wrong and own up to it. But it’s also an important moment to reset, mentally and emotionally, and move on.

Mental Exercise

I’ve learned that, for me, embracing humility takes constant mental exercise. I need to acknowledge my mistakes as they happen, lest they pile up, ignored, and plague me while I’m trying to sleep at night. I need to not resist the ick factor of parenthood—because yes, I’m required to get pooped, puked, and peed on for the next several years, and that’s perfectly okay even if it is, absolutely, kind of icky. I need to admit that I can’t do it all myself, because it’s not good for me and it’s not good for my family if I try to take everything onto myself. And above all, I need to know how much I have to be thankful for—there are so many gifts in life I didn’t earn, and didn’t even think to ask for.

 

Womanhood as Vocation

As humans, we are simultaneously single-minded and easily distracted. Each of us has a past littered with unfulfilled dreams, incomplete goals, and missed opportunities. Every day, we screw up, and it’s often because we’re focused on everything but the right thing. But if our past is untidy with little—or big—mistakes, our futures are loaded with chances to make it right.

There is, really, only one way to fulfill our life’s purpose, whatever that vocation may be—and that’s to do it with our whole hearts.

Loving Womanhood

For me, vocation is a multifaceted thing. But, as I’ve grown up and matured into adulthood, I find that it comes down to one simple thing: I am proud to be a woman. Although I, like many other women of today, struggle at times with body image, I also feel honored to have the feminine genius gifted to me. It is a beautiful thing to be female; there is so much about womanhood that is precious and exclusive. I find that, despite the fact that I’m far from the most ladylike or traditionally effeminate of women, this inherent part of my identity is at the core of my vocations; it is what makes me called and qualified for the greater purposes that I see in life.

When I read Pope Saint John Paul II’s Letter to Women—originally distributed in the summer of 1995, when I was just a girl—my heart swells with pride. It’s the good kind of pride, though—the one that makes me so thankful for who I am, and so honored to be counted among the many beautiful and amazing women who grace my life and the world every single day.

I know it’s a bit late to be celebrating International Women’s Day, but I want each of those women to hear these words from a humble man, a pope and a saint, who dearly loved us all:

Thank you, women who are mothers! You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God’s own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child’s first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.

Thank you, women who are wives! You irrevocably join your future to that of your husbands, in a relationship of mutual giving, at the service of love and life.

Thank you, women who are daughters and women who are sisters! Into the heart of the family, and then of all society, you bring the richness of your sensitivity, your intuitiveness, your generosity and fidelity.

Thank you, women who work! You are present and active in every area of life—social, economic, cultural, artistic, and political. In this way you make an indispensable contribution to the growth of a culture which unites reason and feeling, to a model of life ever open to the sense of “mystery,” to the establishment of economic and political structures ever more worthy of humanity.

Thank you, consecrated women! Following the example of the greatest of women, the Mother of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, you open yourselves with obedience and fidelity to the gift of God’s love. You help the Church and all mankind to experience a “spousal” relationship to God, one which magnificently expresses the fellowship which God wishes to establish with his creatures.

Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relations more honest and authentic.

The Journey Here

I’d be lying if I said that discovering this appreciation for my gender was easy or quick. The daily cultural pressures imposed on every woman in today’s world are heavy, unjust, and sometimes just plain repulsive. We are made to feel like lesser people if we don’t look like Barbie. We are expected to give of our physical selves before our partners are expected to truly appreciate it. We are told, even by fellow women, that we should live under a cloud of shame, and even that sacrificing our children can enrich our lives. We are given prescriptions to disrupt our bodies’ natural and beautiful functions like children are given candy, to conform our bodies and behaviors to the needs of others—and in the process we sacrifice our own comfort, health, and fertility.

All of this is enough to spark in me the frequent and fervent wish that things could be so much different than they are. And we haven’t even touched on how physically taxing it is to be a woman who bleeds and cramps every month, tolerates the many effects of natural (or unnatural) hormone cycles, carries and births children, and, often, takes on the everyday care of her home and family even as she juggles a full-time job and all those cultural pressures.

I’m tired just thinking about all of it.

But, like many other challenges in life, the hardships I have faced in my efforts to be a good woman of God—to be true to who God made me to be, to be kind to myself, and to be everything my family needs from me—have been so sanctifying. And when I come out of them feeling more confident, I also come out more humbled. Because none of this can be done alone, and I need a lot of help along the way.

That brings me to the little something that is sprinkled all over my true calling in life: the reminder to stay humble. I know that I am called to be a daughter, a wife, and a mother. I know I am called to be a writer. I know I am called to be Catholic. But I can do none of that well without that most elusive virtue, humility.

Next week (because I’m trying to write once a week for Lent!), I’ll talk more about that side of things and how it touches on my every nerve—and my every joy.

6 Rules This Mom Must Follow

When I pictured myself as a mother, I tried to imagine what my voice might sound like when I catch my toddler drawing on the walls. I wondered whether my husband or I would end up as the disciplinarian. I smiled while picturing myself saying “Go ask your father” to a 7-year-old begging for a new toy.

It turns out—at least while it’s still fresh and you’ve got an infant or even a toddler at home—parenting is much more about setting and enforcing rules for yourself than for your baby. Suddenly you’re accountable to a pudgy little person who screeches in your ear at even the slightest mistakes.

So here’s the list of rules I’ve built for myself over the last year and a half. It’s made my mom life much smoother.

1. Don’t be selfish.

This one is absolutely first and most important. It’s also most difficult sometimes.

In this season of life, my family needs my time, energy, and devotion a lot more than I do. I chose these responsibilities. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I love fulfilling them. So when I’m tempted to feel bad for myself because I don’t get to do whatever I want for a whole weekend, or because we can’t just pick up and go out at the drop of a hat, or I can’t have a glass of wine with dinner, I try very hard to catch myself. What is more important: Seeing a movie on opening weekend, or breathing in some already rare cuddles with my growing-too-fast little girl?

Of course, it is critically important to set aside some time for myself each day and each week. But I do those things for family almost as much as myself. Being true to who I am and maintaining my own pastimes makes me a better, more centered wife and mother, after all.

2. Keep things tidy (and that includes yourself).

There are very few things I hate in life quite as much as laundry day. But I know—and I’ve taught myself this lesson many times—that simply ignoring a task doesn’t make it go away. My husband has his tasks, and I have mine—and it’s my responsibility to follow through on them.

Of course, it’s not just cleaning. Everything from keeping an eye on credit card spending to keeping the cars properly maintained requires consistent attention. Same goes for personal care. It’s relatively easy to maintain my health one day at a time; it’s a lot harder to circle back after a week of eating all the wrong things.

The better I am at keeping these simple duties under control, the less stressful they are—and the more time I can devote to more important things.

3. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Especially for new moms and those who stay or work at home, it can be incredibly difficult to let go and watch someone else step in and care for your child. Sixteen months later, this sharing of duties is still difficult for me some days.

For example, my husband took over the bedtime routine not too long ago. He is an amazing father; he’s the best man I could’ve asked for, for my children and myself. But I still itch to tell him exactly how to do things from time to time, despite knowing he’s quite capable of doing them his own way.

I know this is detrimental not just to my husband and other caregivers, but to me and to the baby. When I get this way, I find myself irrationally resentful of all that responsibility—even though I’ve placed it on myself. So when I step back and chastise myself for that self-centered need to see everything done my own way, and admit that I’m fortunate to share the load with some truly wonderful people, I’m a better mom (and probably a much more tolerable wife!).

4. Tell the truth.

Motherhood is overwhelming. Even when I’m not nitpicking every little thing, the sheer number of tasks and the weight of responsibility can be daunting. Add to that the hormonal implications of being shortly postpartum with a newborn (or, later, pregnant with a toddler in tow), the mood swings that come with a lack of sleep, and the frustration of just “trying things out” every time your little one hits a new stage, and there have been many times when I felt I was drowning since my daughter was born.

It’s one thing to follow Rule #3 and admit to yourself that you’ve taken on too much. But it’s quite another to admit it to someone else. That’s what I mean by “telling the truth,” and it’s something I’ve really had to practice. It’s okay to tell my husband I need extra help when he gets home. It’s okay to seek support from a mommy group. And it’s okay to pray for a little more peace when I’ve started running low.

5. Don’t raise your voice.

This isn’t a rule about discipline; it’s one about patience.

Patience is my biggest struggle as a mom. When my daughter was a newborn, the seemingly endless nursing sessions and unpredictable nighttime non-patterns would wear me thin. When she was a little older, the inexplicable crying fits or angry nap strikes would wear me down. And now that she’s a toddler, her repeated tendency to reject every dinner I make for her (and furthermore, throw it all on the floor) wears me out.

For me, being a mom is a constant effort to catch myself before I wreck myself. I have learned to smile when I want to cry. I have learned to redirect when I want to dwell. And I have learned to shut my mouth when I just want to yell. These new habits make for a much happier home life for all of us.

6. Laugh!

Though most of these rules are meant to hold me up when I’m starting to fall down, this last one is for recognizing every beautiful moment that comes with motherhood. It’s not often easy to be a mom, but it’s always an immense blessing—there is no greater joy, when you get right down to it.

So when my daughter does something funny, I laugh. When she reacts with giggles of delight to me doing some terribly embarrassing thing, I do that stupid thing again and again and I laugh right along with her. When I’m tired and want to get frustrated at something irrational she’s done, I laugh instead. And I think every one of those laughs breathes a little more life into us both, and helps solidify these perfect moments into memories.

 

As we all learn, adulthood replaces the simple accountabilities of following your parents’ rules with the complicated necessities of living in the real world.

Pay your bills. Get—and keep—a good job. Feed yourself nutritiously and stay active. Take sole responsibility for your behavior. Be practical. Be frugal. Be self-sufficient. Don’t screw up.

The stakes are high enough when it’s just you; they’re much higher in marriage, and they skyrocket once you become a parent.

For me, this evolution in life has brought about two very important lessons: I literally can’t do this on my own, but I have to hold myself accountable for doing my very best. And that’s what these rules are for.