When my husband and I decided we were ready to start a family, the thought of tiny feet pitter-pattering through the house excited me. 

While it was true that I knew nothing about raising children, I read ALL the books upon becoming pregnant with my first child. And in turn, I knew just what to expect in the delivery room. Or at least I thought I did.

I had a plan—an actual birth plan. I would deliver my baby naturally, completely unmedicated. With the help of my husband and doula, essential oils and soothing music, I would power through contractions and push a baby out of my body while barely breaking a sweat.

My darling baby would be born into a peaceful, lavender-scented room and I would bask in the newness of life while resting with a sleeping newborn against my chest. We would gently ease into nursing while gazing into each other’s eyes.

But all good fantasies must come to an end. And my fantasy bubble burst right there in the delivery room—on more than one occasion.

The birth of my first child entailed 20-some grueling hours of hard labor, and after the first 15, I requested an epidural as I screamed in response to the crushing pain of another contraction. I could hear people in the hallway laughing and mocking me for attempting an unmedicated birth. But I couldn’t be distracted by their comments while I was in the middle of important and hard work.

After my daughter was born, time stood still as I gazed into her dewy eyes, almost mystified by her beauty. A short time later, after awkwardly and unsuccessfully attempting to breastfeed her, I beckoned a nurse to teach me the art of nursing a baby. The experience was helpful, but no less awkward as she cupped my breast and pinched my nipple. And just hours later, I beckoned her again—this time to take my precious, but screaming baby to the nursery. I was desperate for sleep, and after realizing that I would be going home the next day to face motherhood on my own, I figured I better take the help while it was available.

I had learned a few things during my first childbirth experience, and I would carry those things with me to the births of my future children. I wouldn’t bother with a birth plan or lavender oil and I would be better prepared for the pain and long nights.

But it turned out that nothing could have prepared me for my next delivery room experience. I ended up in labor just halfway through my next pregnancy. My second baby was born without breath, and there would be no awkward breastfeeding sessions or nights spent with a crying baby.

With a broken heart that I hoped another baby would heal, I went into yet another pregnancy—this time with zero expectation. I didn’t know what would happen in that delivery room; I just hoped my baby would be alive.

And alive he was, kicking and screaming. He was a rather unhappy baby right from the start and cried for months on end. But having a new baby to hold brought so much light back into my life, despite his less-than-sunny disposition.

Not one of my delivery room experiences was like another, but collectively they taught me pretty much everything I needed to know about motherhood.

I learned to embrace compromise—because when the days are long and sleep is in short supply, sometimes standards are swapped for survival.

I learned I couldn’t plan for everything, nor could I control it. Childbirth is unpredictable. Children are unpredictable. And it’s impossible to plan for circumstances you aren’t privy to.

I learned to ask for help—because with little experience and paralyzing exhaustion, it’s impossible to do this motherhood thing all alone.

I learned there is no such thing as ideal or perfect. Each moment of motherhood will throw you for a loop and you simply do the best you can with what you have.

I learned that motherhood can be awkward and at times humiliating. It’s a vulnerable place to be and someone is always going to have an opinion about the choices you make. Sometimes you have to ignore the negativity around you and keep pushing through.

I learned that motherhood can be heartwarming and heartbreaking. With each snuggle, each smile, each grip of a little hand, your heart bursts with overwhelming love. But sooner or later, children leave in one way or another—and you can never fully prepare for the moment they do.

And most importantly, I learned that even the worst days of motherhood are not beyond restoration. There will be painful days, and confusing days, and dark days that leave you begging for different circumstances. But a new, brighter day is always waiting on the other side.

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Jenny Albers

Jenny Albers is a midwestern girl at heart who is raising two kiddos on earth while remembering the two who are in heaven. After experiencing pregnancy loss, Jenny has found healing through writing. She is a contributor at Pregnancy After Loss Support and you can find her writing about life, loss, family and faith on her blog A Beautifully Burdened Life. In her free time, Jenny enjoys reading, sewing, and wandering the aisles of her favorite thrift stores. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.