Motherhood

Why It’s Gotten Harder to Be A Good Wife

I’ve always (even before I had any business forming an educated opinion on such things) thought that, in the context of a family, a husband and wife must prioritize their marriage above all else.

A marriage is the foundation of a family. Even once children come into the picture and demand (and deserve) so much time, love, and energy, Mom and Dad can’t lose touch with one another in the busyness of everyday living. They must work well together as a team to ensure the happiest home for those children, and they must remain close even after their children leave the nest.

Actually being married and having babies has taught me that this really is the best path toward a happy, fulfilled family. It’s also taught me that, some days, it’s a lot harder than I expected it to be.

Changing Seasons

My husband and I have been together for a long time. Since we were high school sweethearts, many of those years were spent before marriage and kids came along. I won’t say those years were easy, but I will say that the blind optimism of young love did us a few favors. When you’re right for each other, young, and susceptible to fairy tales, it’s very possible to stubbornly forge through a struggle simply because you’re confident “happily ever after” is just over the horizon.

Our newlywed years were joyful. It was a long-awaited privilege to wake up together each morning and come home to each other at night. And it was easy to take on the world together.

When our first child was born and I felt the shock of taking on a new identity, my husband was my resting place. He gave me confidence and reassurance when I was unsure of myself. His fatherhood made my motherhood manageable. We had no problem tackling parenthood as a team, and so we had no problem nurturing our marriage just as diligently as we nurtured our beautiful daughter.

I’m not proud to say this, but when our second was born, that story was different for me.

Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual Effort

I’ve tried so hard to understand this struggle in order to resolve it, and it’s very difficult to pin down. But I’m going to try.

When my first was born, I had a period of confusion. I knew motherhood was in my bones—I knew it was what I was meant to do. But that didn’t mean it was automatic or easy to absorb that new part of my identity. My thoughts were suddenly dominated by a tiny person and how to order every one of my waking moments around her needs. For a time, I had trouble grasping what part of “me” was left after so much of my focus went into motherhood.

My husband helped me feel like the “me” that I recognized. Our marriage was an anchor to the “before kids” part of our life, and I needed that to stay grounded as I navigated our new normal. After a few months, we all settled in quite happily.

Still, as we prepared for our second to be born, I was thinking this same thing was going to happen: that I would have to learn all over again how to be a mom.

It turned out not to be quite so earth-shattering. My soul is happy and fulfilled as a mother, and I’ve settled into that identity well enough that adding a second child meant adjusting routines and habits, sure, but not another reinvention of myself. It was a happy surprise.

However, those new habits and routines did take a lot of physical energy, and the adjustment took plenty of emotional energy, too. It’s difficult to hear two children screaming for you when you can only lift and comfort one at a time. The sleep exhaustion that comes with a baby who dislikes falling asleep plus a toddler who’s not feeling well is profound. The list goes on.

So while I felt more at home becoming a mother of two than I did becoming a mom of one, I was physically and emotionally drained by caring for two kiddos. It is hard. I am generally happy, but I am tired.

As a result, when both kiddos were finally, (relatively) reliably asleep come 10:00 p.m. and I had my first chance of the day to do something without needing to cater to them first, all I wanted to do was cater to me. What energy I had left I wanted to hoard for myself. I didn’t want to use it up by asking my husband how his day was or helping him with a project.

Now, naturally, there’s going to be some period of survival after a baby is born. It’s a time to do what you can, set aside what you must, and learn to be okay with that. You make sacrifices. You must. But that doesn’t give me permission to be selfish with every spare minute. I am part of something bigger than myself, and I can’t function as an island—nor should I expect my husband to be satisfied with life on an altogether different island.

Give and Take

It may be unavoidable that our needs take a backseat to the demands of two small children, but it’s not unavoidable that one spouse neglects another completely. And sometimes, that’s what I did.

My husband, being the kind and attentive man that he is, saw that something was wrong. He saw that I was not reaching out, and he often thought that was a reflection on him: You are distant, which means you are unhappy, which means I’m doing something wrong. But it wasn’t about him; it was on me.

Over time, I learned how to do simple things—like ask for help (duh), set aside some me-time before the kids go to bed, and pursue new hobbies—that keep my energy bank full enough to share more with him. He’s been there at every turn to do whatever I ask of him; in fact, even as I was paying him very little personal attention, he was always thirsty for ways to make my life easier and more comfortable. That’s the kind of guy I married.

I’m still working on this and am nowhere near as good as I should be (even though the physical demands have lessened as the kids have gotten incrementally older and more independent, I’ve formed some bad habits that are difficult to break). But I’m getting there.

Thoughts on Unconditional Love

The biggest thing I’ve learned, I think, is that unconditional love may permeate a family, but it can’t be the backbone of a family. The backbone is made of effort and giving and trying. Backbones are hard, and they should be—they keep us upright. Love is soft, and it should be. It keeps us warm.

unconditional love quote

My children believe that my love is unconditional in a very real sense. They don’t question whether I will feed them, change their diapers, or be there to hug them when they wake up. A comfortable home and toys to play with are simply accepted parts of their environment. When they misbehave, they know that I will forgive them and, once any discipline is over, life will go on as if nothing is changed—because nothing has changed, really. They know that they can do whatever things their beautiful little minds invent, and I will be there to guide them through it. That is the innocence of a child. All the things into which I put so much work and prayer are taken for granted, and that’s okay.

My husband believes that my love is unconditional in a very different way. He doesn’t question whether I’ll be by his side because I’ve made vows with him, and I’ve proven my devotion in the way I’ve treated him. He counts our happy home among his greatest blessings—it’s something he knows is a gift made by us and by God. When we argue, we find room to forgive and amend our ways—and he is grateful for my doing so because he knows that I make a choice to do it, for his sake and for our family. He recognizes and appreciates my love for him at least partly because he knows that life would be so different without it. He feels it because I give it to him, not simply because it exists.

Children know the love of their parents because it is a fact of life. It is in the order of things, which they know deep down in their souls long before they could ever recognize that knowing. They know they are loved because there is simply nothing else to know.

Spouses know their love for each other because they have chosen each other: their marriage is an order of things that they have created and committed themselves to fully, without exception. They know they are loved because they receive that love as a gift.

As long as I can preserve that innocence for my children in these formative years (by giving them my best as frequently as humanly possible), they easily forgive the occasional loss of patience or the moments I need to rest instead of play. They are confident in my unconditional love because I am their mother, and that is all they need to know.

For my husband, though (and this is true for me, too), feeling loved isn’t that simple. He feels my love when I choose him: when I choose to ask him about his day or help him with a project or even just express my desire to be near him. He is confident in my unconditional love because I continuously prove that it is here for him, offering it again and again by living out my vows.

20 Songs on the Soundtrack of #MomLife

We have an Amazon Echo at home, and use it to play music during family downtime. (We listen to a little everything — from Alanna Boudreau to John Denver and Ed Sheeran to Jon Foreman — depending on who asks Alexa to play something first.) Our two-year-old asks for music almost daily now, and will happily dance around a little in between games and meals and tantrums. Even our nine-month-old will clap and bounce along when a good song comes on.

On the rare day when both kids are sleeping at once and I have a few minutes of downtime, I’m always struck by just how quiet the house seems. The hush that I once rushed to fill (looking at you, always-have-the-TV-on-even-just-as-background college years) is now equal parts peaceful and bizarre. It gets crazy and I’ve probably suffered some amount of hearing loss already, but I love the chatter of my kid-filled house these days.

So here’s a fun little post for a Monday. In no particular order, these are the sounds of my daily life. Too bad most of them aren’t particularly good for dancing (except maybe #13, depending on your settings).

1. Screaming.

So much screaming.

2. Embarrassingly loud, public baby farts.

Loud enough to make you and your husband look at each other and whisper, “Was that just a fart?”

3. Giggling.

Melts your heart every time.

4. The slamming of little feet all over your house.

Whoever called it a “pitter-patter” had poor language skills. (It’s still cute, though.)

5. Breakable items falling from their careful perches.

Another one bites the dust.

6. Tearing paper.

Why do they rip all the paper?

7. Pudgy little limbs running into furniture, walls, and so on.

Followed by “You really should watch where you’re going, honey.”

8. “Pleeeeaaaaaaaaaaaase?”

Sometimes it’s cute. Sometimes it drives you crazy. Context is everything.

9. The scrape of furniture and/or toys along your new hardwood floors.

I don’t even care anymore.

10. Coffee percolating.

Why does it take so long?!

11. The oven/microwave/Crock-Pot timer chiming the sound of a nutritionally complete meal — which no one will want to eat.

It’s okay. You tried.

12. The long, tense pause between when a child falls and when (if?) they start screaming.

Sometimes partly filled by desperate pleas like “Good fall! Everything’s fine! What a brave baby!”

13. Your alarm clock sounding a full hour after you’ve actually woken up.

Maybe tomorrow you’ll remember to turn it off before insult adds to injury yet again. (Probably not, though, because sleep deprivation makes you forgetful.)

14. Yet another unsung hero ringing your doorbell.

What moms did before pizza delivery and next-day shipping on diapers is beyond me.

15. Incoherent babbling.

This covers cooing babies, toddlers with poor pronunciation, and parents who are very, very tired.

16. “Cha-ching.”

Kids are expensive, and I’m bad at budgeting.

17. The phone ringing at the worst possible time.

It’s uncanny. It never rings unless I don’t want it to.

18. “I love you.”

Whether it’s from my kids or my husband—this one is soothing to the soul.

19. Everything you say, repeated.

“Gosh, do I really sound like that?”

20. “MOMMY!”

What’s my name again?

 

What “tunes” did I miss? Which are your favorites (and least favorites)? Let’s chat about it on Facebook or Twitter! Use #momlifemusic to join the conversation.

5 Secrets to Good Momming

Being a mom is hard. There’s no role more rewarding, but boy, is it difficult sometimes. Every mom I’ve ever spoken to can identify with that truth.

Sometimes we forget this. Sometimes we find ourselves drowning in everyone else’s happy social media feeds and think, “Am I the only one who’s struggling today?” or “She looks perfect and tidy and her kids are always smiling. Am I just bad at this?”

I follow a lot of mommy bloggers and am not proud to admit that I’ve often thought to myself, “How does she look like that?” or “How can she possibly achieve so much every day?” or “I’ll never be able to keep up with that kind of awesomeness.”

But comparison is the enemy of confidence, and confidence is a key to happiness. My success is no less than anyone else’s; it’s just different. Your achievements are no smaller than your peers’; they are uniquely yours.

So, for me, the very first step to good momming is to set aside the urge to compare yourself and your family to others. God has made each person on this Earth different than the last, even over thousands of years of human history. That means every family has never been known before, and will never be repeated.

Comparing one family to another isn’t apples to oranges—it’s apples to ostriches.

Comparing one family to another isn’t apples to oranges—it’s apples to ostriches.

As for comparing one mom to another, how do you compare a rose to a hydrangea? A cherry tree to willow?

This is something I try to remind myself of regularly. It’s a mindset change, so it’s hard to catch myself before the thoughts come tumbling in. But it’s important.

So, when I can remember to embrace that mindset, I’m a better mom. And there are a few things, behaviorally, that help me get there.

1. A supportive, like-minded tribe.

That old saying about how it takes a village to raise a child still rings true. But today’s village looks a heck of a lot different, and it took me a relatively long time to find mine.

When we’re no longer living side-by-side with extended family, the way we seek help in caring for our own families changes. My family—both my husband’s side and mine—are wonderfully helpful when we ask for them to babysit, give advice, or provide emotional support. It’s a blessing that makes the challenges of life so much less intimidating. Those frequent visits, daily text messages, and regular family gatherings shed a lot of light on my tired soul. But the tribe doesn’t have to end there.

I found a lot of support and joy in an online tribe of like-minded, Catholic moms who are trying their best to get their families to Heaven. It’s a fundamental goal we all share. And the sheer size of that network of hundreds, spread around the country and around the world, is so comforting. I can be present there somewhat anonymously, but still be my authentic self and feel connected to moms in roles just like mine.

Whether it’s among your family, in your parish, or on Facebook, find the tribe that makes you feel like the proud, self-assured mama bear you are.

2. Taking time for yourself.

Call it self-care, alone time, a break, or a quiet hour—but whatever you do, find some peaceful moments with just yourself for company. Do it daily if you can, weekly if you must, monthly at the very least. Do it for you, but do it for them, too.

Sometimes, after I first became a mom, I felt like I didn’t recognize myself. In a day packed with nursing, diaper changes, naptime battles, reciting the same adorable but very simple books over and over, and spending every waking moment ensuring that tiny person in my arms had every single need met—well, it’s easy to lose track of yourself. It’s easy to forget that you have a life and a role and an identity outside of (and complementary to!) “Mom.”

It’s easy to forget that you have a life and a role and an identity outside of (and complementary to!) “Mom.”

I find myself again in simple things like a dance party in the shower (preferably to music that, out of everyone else in the house, only I like), a trip to the town square for shopping and coffee, a long visit to the bookstore, or a quiet read in the little lounging nook in my bedroom. Taking this break doesn’t have to be a huge hurdle; it can be easy and very restorative.

3. Finding a creative (or intellectual) outlet.

Having hobbies is important. I forgot just how important it was until recently, when pursuing a little arts and crafts has started to help me remind myself of my creative side. It’s refreshing to put my mind to work in a way that’s just for me. It’s nice to really focus on something other than my job, or innovative ways to trick a picky toddler into eating her vegetables.

I also find a lot of reward in reading non-fiction these days. I always enjoy fiction (and it’s often part of my go-to activities for secret #2), but exploring some theology or biography or sociology when I have the time and energy to spare is a lot more refreshing than I realized.

So whether you’re kinetic, academic, or both—keep doing and keep learning. It helps.

4. Allowing yourself to indulge.

This one seems obvious but gets so much flack. Sometimes you need to go easy on yourself. Sometimes you need to ignore the pressure to perfect your body and habits to meet everyone else’s standards, and instead enjoy them just for yourself.

Eat a cookie. Have a glass of wine. Get some ice cream. Drink an extra cup of coffee. Make your favorite dinner instead of everyone else’s.

The definition of motherhood is giving. Everyone else gets everything in you. Sometimes, it’s okay to give something to yourself, too.

If your diet is limited, treat yourself to a little something that will brighten your day without busting your budget. Even if it’s just a bouquet of flowers or a colorful pen.

The definition of motherhood is giving. Everyone else gets everything in you. Sometimes, it’s okay to give something to yourself, too.

5. Embracing prayer in the tense moments.

Now for the hard one.

I can talk about “me time” and quiet moments and Facebooking and treats all I want. Those things are simple (even if some of them take temperance and planning).

In my experience, the one that takes real discipline is prayer. Because prayer during those quiet moments can help, but for me, it isn’t where prayer can make the most impact.

The prayers that change the course of a day are the ones I manage to pause and utter in the toughest moments. Even if they’re just tiny mantras, those brief and humble appeals to God are the ones that can ground me. It can be hard to break a cyclone of negative thinking, set aside mounting tension, or let go of anger and force myself to practice a little patience. But when you can muscle it, it can make all the difference.

 

What’s your secret to being the rockstar mommy you are? Let’s chat about it in the comments or on Twitter.

Tender and Mild: A Mommy’s Mantra

Back in December, I came across a trend that interested me: choosing a “word of the year” and using it as a guidepost for personal development over a 12-month period.

As someone who has—in 28 years of life—yet to write down a new year’s resolution, keep track of that record, and think about that goal throughout the following year (let alone actually execute on it), this concept caught my eye. It seemed like the perfect alternative to goal-setting for someone who has a knack for procrastinating, tends to be disorganized, and may (if we’re being honest) be a tiny bit lazy here and there.

Turns out, though, that it wasn’t as simple an approach as it seemed.

Words are Hard

There are a lot of words, guys. Like, a quarter of a million of them (in English). Even if you cut that down dramatically and assume just 1 percent are potentially useful, positive, and relevant in this context, that’s still thousands of words to ponder. (How many thousands of words do I even know?)

Thankfully, I’m a lover of words by nature, so mulling them over doesn’t require a ton of mental focus. It can happen in the back of my mind as I go about my day. So I tried to let it happen without too much effort on my part. I didn’t want to overthink this theme for the year; I wanted it to emerge from the shadows of my subconscious and help me learn something about myself.

Ha. Turns out “the shadows of my subconscious” can be pretty sticky. Thus, the difficulty.

After a week or two of this mulling, I kind of gave up. I am impatient. Nothing was shedding any light in those little corners of my mind. Perusing lists of virtues and random word generators wasn’t stirring up any passion for me. I’ve been reading a few chapters of the Bible each day via an email series, and nothing jumped out at me there, either. I figured I’d just go back to my old way of vaguely thinking of things I should do for the year, then go on to achieve my reading challenge and little else.

Advent-ageous

Of course, the moment we stop dwelling on our issues is often the moment that their solutions make themselves known. (Someday, maybe St. Anthony will tell me why we find the little things we’ve lost as soon as we stop looking for them.)

As we settled into the Advent season and I saw the star of the Nativity on the proverbial horizon, I found myself in the very narrow window of time when I actually enjoy listening to Christmas music. For 50ish weeks of the year, I’m simply not in the mood for it. I get so irritated when radio stations are usurped by premature holiday tunes as soon as Halloween is over. But between about December 20 and the Epiphany, I’m as ignited as any Christian by a peaceful rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful.’

‘Silent Night’ is a long-time favorite of mine, and this past season, one of my favorite lines stood out dramatically as I listened: “Holy Infant, so tender and mild.”

Tender and mild. That’s what I need to be.

Being A More Child-like Daughter and Mother

We are called to be Christ-like. And we can be like Him in many ways, if we cling to faith and we try to be our very best. He was as human as we are, after all. But if you’re anything like me, you might be a little intimidated by His divinity in this effort to emulate Him. I have often asked myself a simple but looming question: “How can I, a sinner, try to express in my thoughts, words, or actions the holiness of God?”

The saints have long taught us that this is possible. But the saints can be intimidating sometimes, too, can’t they?

Christ gave us an antidote for this intimidation when He instructed us to have faith like a little child. I did some reading on this last year, and it opened my eyes to the concept. This is a beautiful subject for another day, but for now, let’s put it this way: doesn’t God deserve to be looked upon with the awed eyes, reached for with the soft hands, and loved unconditionally with the blind trust of His children?

I realized that setting “tender and mild” as my theme for 2018 could help me develop this innocent and deep faith in God. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that embracing a child’s unrestricted sense of love and joy would make me a better mom, too.

So, this year, when I find myself dwelling on the grown-up, made-up stresses of daily life; when I lose my patience for whining children who won’t eat their dinner; when I am tempted to put my own exhaustion above my husband’s well-earned need for my attention—in these times and many others, I have a new mantra to repeat in my mind and under my breath:

Tender and mild. Tender and mild. Tender and mild.

So far it seems like a peaceful way to be.

Do you have a word of the year for 2018? How are you embracing it, now that we’re two months into the year? Share it in the comments or on my new Facebook page!

 

It’s Not You, It’s Me: A Message to My Children

If there is anything indisputably true about the human condition, it’s that no relationship is flawless. We can’t always treat each other well. We can’t always meet each other’s needs and expectations.

The relationship between a mother and her children should be the closest one to purity. We are joined like nothing else can be. You are mine as much as I am yours. A mother and her Son were the only two people to live in this world without stain. But even their bond was not without pain.

In fact, there is much pain between us. The day we meet is, by its very nature, both exuberant and excruciating. The weeks and months after are not much easier. You need me so, and I can’t give you everything your tiny heart desires without also giving away pieces of myself. Eventually those pieces add up, and I feel lost. I find myself angry, or annoyed, or simply quite tired. Sometimes those weak moments come out of nowhere—when I wish I could sit down and eat a meal in peace. Sometimes they come in the middle of what I consider a battle between us—when you just won’t sleep, and I just can’t breathe. Really, though, there should be no battles.

My precious babies, I must tell you a difficult truth: I am woefully inadequate to be your mother. My patience is too thin and my head is too big. Please know that this frustration is my shortcoming and never, never yours. You are delightful and innocent and all things good. I am weak, and it isn’t your fault.

Please know that it’s not you—it’s me.

The times I come to your room, frustrated and less than gentle, and ask you “Why can’t you just sleep?!”—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

The times I cry as you cry, begging “Please, please, just stop”—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

The times I sigh an exasperated sigh at another stinky diaper or uneaten meal—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

The times I seem to prefer my phone or a little solitude over your need for cuddles and warmth—those times aren’t your fault. They’re mine.

Sometimes I need a little space. Sometimes, though I always love you, I find it hard to be physically attached to you. Sometimes my feelings—and yours—are so intense that they scare me. But that’s not your fault. It’s mine.

I hope that you know, despite these moments, that I love you with my whole soul. I hope that you know that you are the utmost blessing and the best thing I’ve ever done with my life. I hope that you know that my love, second only to God’s, is the one you can count on for as long as the clock ticks.

What I need to remember, each and every day, is that your smile is a miracle. The way you—even when I’m at the end of my rope and wish I could just sit down for five uninterrupted minutes—look upon my face with relief and comfort is a gift from you to me. I’m deeply sorry that I don’t always acknowledge that gift. I’m sorry that my goodness doesn’t match yours. Years of selfishness and independence have spoiled me into thinking that my time is my own, but it never was. Time belongs to none of us. But the love that you offer me each day, without thinking, does settle into my heart in the quiet moments. Please know that I adore you in return, though I’m not very good at expressing it sometimes.

When you show me your little grin during yet another nighttime feeding, I am rejuvenated. When you roll for the first time because you were looking for me, I am humbled. When you reach for me because you hurt, I am soothed. When you cling to me because you are hungry or frightened or confused, I am strengthened. And when you stare in wonder at my exhausted face, I feel beautiful. These are the moments that return all those little pieces of me tenfold—the moments when you give me more than I could ever give you. Every part of you reminds me of my purpose. Though I fail, each and every day, to embrace it, you are my greatest vocation.

Your Daddy and I helped make you with love and wonder. We awaited you with the liveliest awe. We care for you with the elation of two people whose joy has literally joined in the creative spirit of God. So while I may lack the devotion and selflessness to remember in each moment that you are the most precious part of my life, even as you live your whole life knowing that I am your favorite, please know that it’s not you—it’s me.

It’s me who forgets. It’s you who reminds me, day in and day out, what a delight our family truly is.

Please forget my weakness and remember my adoration. The love of our family is the most profound truth I know.

You can always come to me. I will always be on your side. And while you may hear words of untruth, of unkindness, of unwelcome from the marred world around us, please always remember these words from the mother who conceived, carried, birthed, cared for, and loved you always: You are precious. You are a gift. And you are always, always loved.

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.

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