Two of our best friends had a baby this week. As I humbly held their child, so new to this side of the world, I remembered holding my own daughter. So helpless, so beautiful, so life-altering. Seven pounds give or take a few ounces. But the weight of life so heavily magnetic—bringing together family, friends, acquaintances. Waves of people line the edges of the room, anxious to touch her hair, peek at her face, listen for her chirps. 

I look across the room at our dear friends. A new mother glowing with pride, a new father who hasn’t slept a wink in days. I want to hug both of them and warn them.

No one prepares you for this.

Not the how-to books. Not the hospital. Not the months of pregnancy. Not all of our parents. Not the lactation consultants or nurses. Not us, even though we’ve tried our best like everyone else.

No one prepares you for nights with little sleep. No one prepares you to second guess every move you make. No one tells you there is no clear beginning and middle or that there are days of unknown with days of wisdom soon to followas parents we are always learning.

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You won’t know what to do when she just won’t sleep, but you’ll learn. You won’t understand why one day she did this, and the next that, but you will try your hardest to decode. There will be a lot of advice and many storiessome will help, some won’tbut no one will prepare you to be the way you need to be for your child. No one can. God trusted you to be her parents, and He will give you all of the tools you need. He will not fail you. And you won’t fail her. I promise.

I work on cleaning up the kitchen while Grace naps. It’s taken a year and a half, but her sleep schedule is finally becoming more predictable. Maybe it’s because I stopped nursing last month. She’s sitting on the potty like a big girl now. “Elmo sticker?” She asks when she’s finished. She knows she’s earned it, and she won’t let me forget it. I can’t get over her lately. She’s tiny, everyone reminds us, but she’s got so many big things to say and do.

My shirt grazes the countertop as I walk by, and I see I’ve taken one of those Elmo stickers with me. She’s covered every inch of our house with stickers and blocks. I try to remember when our house was last tidy. Those days of broken sleep, clean floors, and sticker-less furniture seem so far behind us now.

I can’t remember a time she wasn’t talking to us. Telling us about the dogs and the bugs and asking for cheese and ice cream and to get in the pool or go for a walk.

My dear friends, no one prepares you for how you’ll feel the first time she tells you she loves you.

You won’t see it comingone day you put away her jumper or her Pack ‘N Play because she’s outgrown them. No one can prepare you for the insurmountable joy you’ll feel the first time she laughs, or the pride you’ll feel as you watch her take her first steps, stretching her arms wide open, and finding confidence in your encouragement. No one will prepare you for those moments you want to freeze and repeat and capture all at once. No one will prepare you for how big your heart will stretch or how strong your arms will become after hours of rocking and holding.

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Live fully in each hard, terrifying, beautiful, miracle of a moment. No one prepares you for how fast the days will go. No one prepares you for how each year passes before you’ve had enough time to finish the scrapbook or print all the photos.

No one prepares you for the gift of parenthood.

Mandy Thudium

Mandy Thudium is a first-time stay-at-home mama to her rainbow baby, Grace. Once traveling frequently for work, she is now happily a homebody—creatively writing and taking on projects around the house. She lives with her husband and toddler in what was once named "The Coolest Small Town," Lititz, Pennsylvania.