“I thought I’d become a mother the day my baby was born. It isn’t so. Mothers join the ranks slowly, gradually, one caress, one diaper, one feeding at a time. And then one day we look down, and there they are: the hands of a mother, gently and with enormous strength doing the most important work on earth.” –Laura (The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding)
I found out I was pregnant with our daughter at the end of June 2018. It was a day of celebration for us. After an early miscarriage followed by sixteen more months of waiting, God was finally blessing us with our precious baby. Though I had been nervous about the pregnancy, it progressed smoothly (aside from high blood pressure off and on), and I made it through the 37 weeks pretty easily. On February 20, 2019, we met our beautiful daughter! Katelyn Valentine. I loved our sweet and tiny bundle from the moment I saw her perfect little face.
I thought I was as prepared as I possibly could be for this new role I was entering. After all: I have babysat all ages of kids, I’ve worked in the nursery, at age ten I helped care for my newborn brother, I’m a teacher, and I love babies. As a young girl through my teen years, I was always the first to hold the newest baby at church. After college when all my friends started having kids, I would readily offer to hold their babies. I would snuggle them close and bounce them. Everyone always said I had “the touch.” Babies were calm when I held them, and they nearly always fell asleep in my arms.
But I was not prepared for motherhood. For I had not dealt with sleepless nights. I had not breastfed a baby before. I had not had to make so many decisions in a sleep deprived state. I had not had to interpret every cry to figure out what she needed. For the first six months of her life, Katelyn would cry inconsolably. No matter how we tried to comfort her, it didn’t work. She hated being rocked. Putting her to sleep at night would sometimes take hours and was ridden with screaming. She was sensitive, colicky, and suffered from silent reflux. Bringing her out in public was embarrassing, so I felt stuck at home alone with her a lot. I was quickly worn down, and the theme of my motherhood became: I have no idea what I am doing. For years I had soothed everyone else’s babies, but I could not comfort my own. I felt humbled, lost, discouraged, and helpless.
Things did start to improve as Katelyn got a little older. At five months old, we discovered her silent reflux and got her on a medication that made a huge difference. By six months old, she could roll over and was starting to sit up on her own. At seven months, she was learning to be silly and would giggle and laugh at “jokes.” Her colic was disappearing, and she outgrew the reflux by nine months. But I was still not the mom I wanted to be. My patience would run thin when I had to nurse Katelyn 3-4 times at bedtime before she would stay asleep for the night. My selfishness would butt heads with compassion after days of teething, night wakings, and interrupted naps. My attitude was one of complaining, and I would melt down with frustration and anger that I didn’t know was there. Motherhood requires humble sacrifice that doesn’t come naturally, and negativity was taking over my life.
…Until I began a journey of gratitude: a daily search for “Thankful MOMents,” as I decided to call them. Instead of dwelling on the difficult, stressful moments that are nearly always there, I began to slow down and delight in small, special things:
- Katelyn will reach for me and say, “Mamam” – what a precious name she has given me!
- I noticed that she points to stars anywhere and everywhere she can find them – on the pages of books and in shape toys.
- She likes to toss things over her shoulder, and I found a yogurt melt stuck to the back of her sleeper after breakfast one morning. Made me giggle.
- She has an adorable little bounce she does as she enjoys a snack.
- I started to recognize that she was getting tired for a nap when she stops her play, crawls over to me, and reaches up to give me a big hug.
- One night at almost eleven months old, Katelyn didn’t want to nurse for bed. She kept turning her head away. Then she sat up and pointed at her crib. So I put her in there, and she fell asleep on her own! She is learning to communicate.
- She absolutely loves cuties (clementines). She literally bangs her tray and points and grunts as I’m cutting it up for her and devours it by the time I’m ready with the next batch.
- I know all the places where her skin gets the driest and lotion her up to keep her skin nice.
- I notice how Steve carefully helps her turn around and go down the stairs backwards and watch with a smile as he interacts with her, teaches her new things, snuggles with her, and sings to her.
- It was the most precious memory of the Christmas season getting to see Katelyn come up with the other kids on Christmas Eve and play a jingle bell during the song. She smiled and shook that jingle bell with her entire arm the whole time. Made my night watching her from the stage.
- I smile as I watch how excited Katelyn gets in seeing her stuffed puppy, squealing and hugging it close.
- Standing in her room the night before Valentine’s Day, I told Katelyn I had a special Valentine sleeper for her to wear. She whipped her head around and started pointing to her middle name, Valentine, on her bedroom wall. Steve has shown her that special name sign in her room and has read it for her. She recognized her middle name and remembered that the sign says Valentine!
Documenting my “Thankful MOMents” began to transform my mindset. I found myself enjoying my time nursing Katelyn for bed. I found myself singing to her more, praying with her, reciting verses to her. I found myself giving up my own time if I sensed that she really needed me. I found myself smiling and laughing more. I found joy and delight in the daily gifts of life. I found myself enjoying Katelyn’s new stages and development. I found myself fully present in the day. I found myself enjoying motherhood. Of course there are still frustrations, bad attitudes, and bad days. There’s still anger, discouragement, and mistakes. But counting the special moments is like counting shimmering stars against a the backdrop of a dark sky.
Katelyn will be one year old this week. Everyone always says that the year went so fast. For me, it didn’t. It was a hard year with many growing pains. But looking back on the year, I can see so much change – in Katelyn and in myself. Difficult change, but beautiful change. I can see where I started – helpless, just like Katelyn as a newborn baby. And I can see where I am now – growing into this role God has given me. Becoming “Mamam.”