Family Life

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.

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.

 

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.

mommy image

Let’s Talk About Mommy Image

We women are hard on ourselves. We are hard on each other. And moms are often the hardest.

I recently read an article about women who regret becoming mothers. If given the chance, they would go back and choose never to have their children in the first place. Aside from being bone-crushingly sad and sharply heartbreaking, I find this so, so frustrating. Can you imagine what it must be like to wish your own child out of existence? To long for their permanent absence? To wish you’d never met them?

I can’t begin to unpack all of the baggage in those thoughts. To me, there is the obvious conclusion that many of these women could be suffering from untreated depression. How else can you account for such a disconnect with one’s own identity (because motherhood surely does change our identities as women, as well it should)?

There’s also the clear problem of selfishness in modern culture. Although we can’t really know it until we’re in it, we all know that having kids will mean a serious life change—one that puts some of our own pursuits, by necessity, on the backburner. It means we can’t just up and do what we want anymore. There are more important things to worry about. There should be a natural bond in motherhood that makes those selfish impulses less important than the wellbeing of your child. If that’s missing, that’s a tragic problem that deserves attention. But I think, in some of these cases, people are just so caught up in a culture of “Do what YOU want because YOU want to and forget the rest!” that they forget that life can’t be lived that way in the context of a family.

Many of the women who contributed to that article cite societal pressure—to work, to not work, to breastfeed, to sacrifice—to “do right” by their children. They feel “trapped” and “coerced” into a life they didn’t expect. They feel forced to accept a singular identity as mothers. And they feel resentful that their children’s fathers aren’t held to the same standards.

Very little about being a mom is easy. I would venture to say that many new moms cry at least as many tears as their newborns during the first several months of life—and probably at several other stages of life, too. And there is a lot of self-doubt. That’s natural, and in many ways, it’s unavoidable. But it isn’t the doubt or the tears that should be life-changing. It’s the ultimate beauty of it all.

That said, it is incredibly difficult to live a life that basks in beauty when you can’t see the beauty within yourself. And that is where “mommy image” comes in.

Mommy image is the mental lens through which we view ourselves as mothers. Like body image, it is often a skewed perspective that casts a certain shade over the truth—one that is defined by unreasonable comparisons and unrealistic expectations. Whether that shade is warm or cold is up to us, but it is very difficult to see objectively, and it’s even harder to change.

In fact, body image is a major component of mommy image—and I think it’s an important and underemphasized one. There is so much pressure for moms to look a certain way. Tabloids are full of photographs featuring celebrities who’ve trimmed down immediately post-baby, and look like they did before pregnancy—or celebrities who haven’t, and are shamed for it.

During pregnancy, we are sold products to prevent stretch marks. After pregnancy, we are sold products to get rid of them. We are told to apply wraps or wear body shapers that will “shrink postpartum bellies.” In short, we are expected by others—and ourselves—to take time away from getting to know our babies and settling into our new roles to implement intense workout routines and carefully crafted diets (which may or may not be breastfeeding-friendly) so that our appearance might “go back to normal.”

But if there’s anything I’ve learned since becoming a mom, it’s that you don’t “go back to normal.” You need to find a new normal. Your life has changed—and so has your body. And that isn’t a bad thing.

Of course, we must do what we can to stay healthy. It isn’t a positive thing to ignore good nutrition and cease being active out of laziness or even distraction. But the focus should be a well-functioning body—not a good-looking one.

The fact is that the female body is not made to be looked at. It isn’t made to fit a Photoshop mold. And it certainly isn’t made to stay the same as life happens.

Though it’s an unpopular notion, the female body is meant to be given. We give ourselves to our husbands in the marital embrace. We give ourselves to ourselves when we maintain a healthy lifestyle and appreciate our appearance. We give ourselves to our neighbors when we spend our time and energy serving them. And, in such a profound and unmatchable way, we give ourselves to our children as we grow, nourish, and protect them from conception and throughout their lives.

When we focus on what we can give—and what we have given—instead of what we look like, it is a lot easier to see the beauty in our postpartum bodies. Those stretch marks and the loose skin exist because your body grew beyond the bounds of itself to accommodate a growing child, and to shelter her, in a warm, safe place, from a world she wasn’t ready for just yet. The extra padding on your thighs is there as a cushion for your child—one that will help nourish her as she grows in the womb, but also give her a soft place to land and hold onto as she learns to navigate life. The breasts that can’t seem to decide on a consistent shape, color, consistency, or size are working hard to feed your little one—and it is okay if this effort permanently alters their look, because it has significantly altered their purpose.

Motherhood has taught me many invaluable lessons, but one of them is to see the imperfections of my body and appreciate the miracle that left them on me. I can’t wish them away without wishing away the real privilege that gave them to me, and I would never want that.

Aside from just the physical, mommy image can haunt our minds with constant questions. Am I doing this right? Should I have tried harder? What will the neighbor think? Why can’t I keep my patience? How many times will I screw this up before I finally just get it right?

It is so, so hard to get past these thoughts. The first step is tuning everyone else’s judgmental questions out—because, like an annoying song, they can easily get stuck in our heads, to be repeated in our thoughts thousands of times until we just can’t shake them. I have had to learn to take advice gratefully, analyze it personally, and set aside what doesn’t work—no complications involved. This exercise both helps ease my doubts (hey, I tried, right?) and tune out the outside influences that make me question myself.

In innumerable ways, many of us feel pressured, judged, and shamed as mothers at one point or another. This is a fault of modern culture—and we need to get better about withholding judgment against one another. However, we also need to know that motherhood is about toughening up and finding your own sense of confidence and natural ability. Do not let others’ judgments affect how you feel about your family and your inner and outer self.

So what does your mommy image look like? Is your view of yourself as a mother tickled pink, mottled brown, or queasy green? We can all work on ourselves, and we can all work on how we view ourselves. You are deserving of your own respect. If you’ve lost it, how can you get it back?

When you find a way—by meditating, praying, repeating uplifting mantras, seeking support from others, or whatever works for you—please own it. Own that self-respect and know that your mommy image is one that you truly deserve. Because you are among the world’s superheroes.

How Motherhood Changed Me as a Wife

Every day I wonder at the tiniest things I manage to achieve during my infant daughter’s naps. Restocked on groceries? Vacuumed? Cycled a load of laundry? Did the dishes? Tidied up a room? Made dinner? Showered? Accomplishing two of those tasks before bedtime is a modest success. Pick any three and my day is made. Four or more done in one day counts as a miracle.

Before our daughter was born, I was the wife who was capable of accomplishing all of those things around a 9-hour work day and 3-hour commute (when I felt like it), any day of the week. My husband would help if I asked him, but such chores were manageable on my own—he had his own responsibilities, after all.

Things started to change almost as soon as I got pregnant. Homemade dinners went out the window with my appetite in the first trimester; vacuuming became just plain exhausting in the third. And doing the dishes felt rather unimportant on days I felt like crying for no apparent reason.

“I’m sorry,” I told my husband countless times. “Pregnancy makes me the worst wife ever.”

He, of course, always insisted that wasn’t true. And he was right—motherhood has made me much worse at these everyday tasks. (You should see my house on any given Thursday when we’re not expecting company. Yikes.)

On the flipside, pregnancy made him an even better husband than ever. He fed me ridiculous meals when I only had an appetite for one specific thing; he helped me up the stairs when my hips locked up; he woke up every time I got out of bed in the middle of the night to make sure I was okay; he picked up the slack I dropped on housework, on top of working overtime on his own household duties (like home improvements and repairs that would make us more comfortable when our daughter arrived).

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He went to every doctor appointment with me, attended every class, and listened to the intricacies of childbirth. When I cried because our baby was breech at our 34-week appointment and I was scared of scheduling a c-section, he comforted me. When I cried four weeks later because my doctor said we had to be induced and it all just felt so sudden, he reassured me everything would be okay. And when I cried because the pain just wore me out, he made me feel stronger.

So, every day for the last 11 months I’ve asked myself the same question: how would I do this without him? How could I become a mom with a happy, healthy baby who loves her, if I wasn’t already a wife with a wonderful husband who is always, always helping?

I know there are many mothers and fathers out there who manage to parent their children all on their own, and they have my immense respect. It is an impossibly difficult role to fill on your own.

Experiencing this miraculous transition into motherhood has made it so obvious to me why parenthood was meant to follow marriage. There is something divine to being a parent; something that goes beyond our simple capacities for patience and strength and emotion as humans. And that something becomes so obvious when I see my husband cuddling our daughter for a nap, or making her laugh, or comforting her when she’s crying. It becomes obvious when I’ve reached the end of my rope and he comes home from a long day at work, ready and willing to take over for me. It becomes obvious when we’re both overcome with joy to see her smile or coo or learn something new.

So now, while we’re busy baby-talking and wiping up poo, the floors go unvacuumed, the dishes go undone, and the stove goes unwiped. The laundry might get done, but only out of sheer necessity, and only to sit in a basket (possibly unfolded) on our bedroom floor for a week.

But I think I’m finally convincing myself that all this undone housework doesn’t make me a bad wife. Instead, it makes me a good mom. A mom who’s ready to drop what I’m doing to cuddle my daughter when she’s running a slight fever after her first shots. A mom who keeps herself sane and happy by reading or blogging or relaxing with Netflix during some of those daytime naps, instead of fretting over petty chores that can wait another day. A mom who sees perfection in her daughter’s happy face instead of a spotless house, and spends an extra 20 minutes talking to the beautiful girl with that happy face instead of setting her down so I can finish cleaning the kitchen. And being a good mom makes me a better wife.

There is, of course, a fine line between justifiable prioritization and neglect. I can’t just sit on the couch all day, every day—and I still take pride in a happy home, which means ensuring that home is comfortable and reasonably clean. Likewise, keeping a happy marriage requires attention and special devotion. Only so much grown-up interaction can happen around a nursing infant who cries if you’re not rocking her a certain way. That means that I have to be able to lean on my husband for his help without dumping everything on him as soon as I lose my patience, and it means spending time with just the two of us on a regular basis.

Knowing all this, it’s easy to see how becoming a mom has changed how I fill my role as a wife. Motherhood makes me a better wife with a messier house, a weepier disposition, and an even more wonderful husband. So, overall, life is pretty good.

Why the Worst Well-meant Advice Is Worth Every New Mom’s Time

PSA for Pregnant Ladies: Every piece of advice your friends and family give you before your first child is born will be kindly offered and given in your best interest. In short, they mean well. Remember that.

(The same may not be true for complete strangers. That random person in the checkout line at Farm & Fleet who tells you “You must be due any day, get some sleep and get ready!” when you’re only 29 weeks along clearly doesn’t know your life.)

As soon as you announce your pregnancy, everyone’s got something to offer. It’s as if, once the world knows about that little baby in your belly, a fire hose of happy, helpful insight is turned on and never turns off again. Everyone has a sure-fire way to help you survive your first sleepy, noisy, poopy weeks with a newborn.

Not all of it is what you want to hear. Some of it you just won’t like. Plenty of it you won’t want to try.

Worse, a few things you will try and your heart will break when they don’t work. You’ll resent that they don’t work. Your faith will shake and your doubts will blossom and you’ll wonder what you’re supposed to do next.

If there’s anything I’ve learned by becoming a mom and interacting with others, it’s that kids don’t come with manuals for one good reason: babies aren’t machines. Each is uniquely made, requires their own specific kind of care, and reserves the right to change his or her mind about what works and what doesn’t any day of the week. It isn’t always fun to figure out what works, but it’s how you bond. It’s how you learn to be a mom.

Naturally, with that work behind her, every mom wants to share her best tips with all her mommy friends. Her enthusiasm may come off as over-confidence, but that’s because that feeling she got when she found something that worked was confidence. Extreme confidence. Fight-with-an-angry-bear confidence. Because she did it. She made that baby feel good again. She made him as happy as he makes her in their best and brightest moments together.

Of course, you’ll decide how to raise your child. There is a moral and social compass by which you will learn to parent. But the little things that help keep you sane day-in and day-out are about small moments of peace. And you never know which ones are going to work.

So even when you’re 8 months pregnant and struggling to carry your own weight, let alone the weight of the big bucket you’re using to catch the flood of advice coming from every angle, don’t stop listening. Absorb what you can, because all of the mommies around you really do mean well. They want to share their experience with you so the newness of it all is a little less daunting for you.

Then, if you’re as new to babies as I was and aren’t sure where to begin once you have a newborn screaming in your arms, start by giving your loved ones’ advice a try—even if it sounds crazy. Even if you planned to follow the eat-play-sleep rule, try play-eat-sleep. Try a different swing or a lullaby or a white noise machine. Try the methods espoused by all the conflicting parenting books (and parents) in your life. It might be just what you and your little one need.

A personal example. For me, the biggest thing that didn’t work was one of the most common pieces of advice I heard: “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”

Sounds like common sense, right? Limited, interrupted sleep at night + long naps for baby during the day = long naps for Mom, too.

But that didn’t work at all for us.

I’m a terrible daytime napper, and after about a week of being tethered to the couch by physical recovery and frequent nursing, I was going crazy. I needed to get something done around the house—even the littlest things. I needed to feel productive and like myself and not live every second fixating on a mental timer counting down to the next feeding.

As a result, no, I couldn’t sleep when the baby slept. And now, 11 weeks in, I still stay up with my husband for an hour or two after our daughter falls asleep, even if last night was rough and the day wasn’t much better. Because that time with another grownup—more importantly, the time to just be together and enjoy our marriage like we always have—is actually better than sleep. Who knew?

As for what worked? Here’s one: sshhhing a screaming baby. Someone told me that, when she’s crying and I need to calm her down for a feeding or just help soothe her, I should shhhhh right into my baby’s ear, as loudly as she’s crying. It sounded silly to me, but I tried it in a moment of typical new mom desperation/confusion, and what do you know? She stopped. Why such a little thing should help so much is beyond me, but there it is.

So here’s to the moments that click—those precious seconds when the baby stops crying or you wake up feeling actually rested in the morning because that tiny piece of advice came through. Keep trying every tip until you find those seconds. They’re worth all the “bad” advice you tried along the way.