This is the picture.

The one I have to believe some of my fellow moms have, too.

It had been a little under a month since I delivered my second baby. Now a mom of a healthy boy and toddler girl, a wife to a supportive husband, a part of a “would-do-anything-for-me” circle of friends and family, and the owner of a thriving business . . . everyone was reminding me how lucky I was. How happy I must be. How perfect my life seemed to be.

So, I took the picture—the one where you’re smiling and being everything people tell you that you are—and posted it to social media.

But if that camera could have captured my heart, spirit and mind in that moment, it would tell a completely different story. 

I was scared. Uncomfortable. Exhausted. Unsettled. Confused. Alone.

My life was feeling incredibly imperfect . . . and like everything was falling apart.

Because when this picture was taken, my mom was about to reluctantly make the two-hour drive home after spending 48 hours helping me get adjusted to my husband heading back to work. I didn’t want her to go. I was afraid of doing it on my own during the day. I was nervous about the feelings I had inside of me. I was exhausted and still unsure about how I would handle this role as a mom who had to spread her love, her time and her energy between two kids.

There’s a lot of guilt that comes along with those feelings after you have a baby, when you know there are other families who aren’t as lucky to have children, or who have babies who have to stay in the hospital or whose children have passed away. And while I KNEW I was blessed and felt that gratitude for these gifts I had been given . . . it didn’t take away the fact that these haunting feelings were real.

But I suppressed them in fear of being pegged as ungrateful for the gift of motherhood and not fitting in to what society tells us a mother should do, feel and be. So I played the role.

This picture was the beginning of a two-year tug-of-war between my true life and my “public-facing” one. 

Internally, I felt inadequate; externally, I tried to make it look like I had it all together. Internally, I was sad; externally, I said all of the happy things and posted all the happy pictures. Internally, I felt like a stranger in my own body; externally, I showed a woman strong in her role as the perfect juggler of motherhood, work, and marriage.

And while I don’t know the exact moment it happened, one day I realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. 

I wanted to be REAL. I wanted to have less-than-perfect conversations with my friends. I wanted the mothers around me who were feeling the same way to feel safe to talk to me. I wanted to post the imperfect moments so another mom just like me who was feeling the pressure of perfection would see it and realize she wasn’t alone.

Because we’re not alone, and we should never have to FEEL alone in this journey of modern-day motherhood.

A journey that can be challenging. A journey on which it is impossible to reach perfection and sometimes hard to recognize the difference between our authentic motherly instincts and our influence from all of the information we take in from around us. 

But you know what else it is?

It’s beautiful. It’s rewarding. It’s a blessing. It’s one of the greatest things I will ever get to do with my life.

And I don’t want to miss those things because I’m so exhausted from trying to keep up with unattainable perfection. I want to embrace who I am as a woman and a mother, and know that it’s OK to not have it all together all of the time. I want to authentically connect with the mothers around me, and stop isolating myself in fear of being “figured out” for the struggles I’m having under the surface.

I just want to be the imperfect me . . . and let the mothers around me know it’s OK to be the imperfect her, too. 

Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, speaker and photographer who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. Through her work, she aims to empower people to overcome their fears and insecurities and live their truth. She and her husband raise their three children in Pittsburgh, PA.