This morning I got caught up looking at pictures of my kids when they were babies. I was looking for a picture of the chaos that was my day-to-day with a three-year-old and triplet newborns to use in another article I’m working on. What should have been a few moments on the computer turned into hours as I stared at the younger versions of myself and my husband and at the chubby baby and toddler faces of my children. Sweet memories of times past swirled around me and I lost myself in the moment.

When I clicked off the screen and walked away from the computer I felt a heavy fog of nostalgia rise up within me and it’s been with me all afternoon. Like those dreams you have that feel so real-the kind that stay with you all day.

I missed those baby faces and chubby baby bodies so much I felt it physically. And the realization that I would never again snuggle my now tall and lanky children in their toddler bodies was almost more than I could bear.  

I knew I shouldn’t do it, but I hopped back on the computer to look at the photos again. I felt like Harry Potter standing in front of that mirror that showed him what he wanted most, but could never have. He became addicted to sitting in that mirror and seeing himself with his deceased parents. I became addicted to staring at photos of my babies, wishing I could go back in time to those days. My heart filled with frustration, anger even. Will I ever be able to look at pictures of times past without feeling miserable? What’s the point of even taking pictures if they are going to make me feel awful?

Then I came across this picture. This is a picture of my dear, sweet, daughter—baby A of a set of triplet sisters, born eight weeks too soon. This was taken the day after she was born; she was breathing on her own, but had a feeding tube going down her throat. Her sisters had their feeding tubes in their noses which looked a lot more comfortable, but hers was down her throat. I can’t remember why.

It hurts me to look at this picture. I feel a physical response when I see it. She looks so uncomfortable; it makes me gag thinking of that tube in her tiny throat. To see my baby like this, so small, just over three pounds, so skinny, so helpless-it makes me want to throw open her heated isolette, tuck her in close to me, and apologize for not being able to keep her warm and safe longer.

I hated this picture. After seeing this photo, I took very few pictures of my girls during their first few weeks of life in the NICU. I thought I wouldn’t want to remember them like that.

I was wrong.

I wish I had more photos like this. I wish I had taken more photos of the hard.

I was sucked into a black hole of false nostalgia when I was looking at pictures because I was only looking at the happy ones. This picture reminds me of the reality of the past.

Now I know the whole story. I know that this baby (and all my babies) did well in the NICU and came home to me after four weeks. I know that she figured out how to eat and became my fattest baby! I know that she grew up to be a healthy eight-year-old who blesses our days with her kindness and generosity. But back then, I was terrified. I had no idea what their futures would be like, if they would be healthy, if they would survive, even. I didn’t know how we would manage taking care of a three-year-old and infant newborns, if we could even afford diapers for them. Looking at pictures of the hard stuff forces me to remember the whole story, good and bad.

Take pictures of the hard.

Because then you have reminders of what life was actually like. A combination of joy and sorrow, of colic and the witching hour and struggling and feeling defeated, but also of elation and celebrating milestones and snuggling and the smell of a newborn’s sweet head.

Seeing this picture immediately cleared the dark feeling I was having and cured me of wanting to live in the past. I remembered the whole story and honestly, I wouldn’t go back and do it again. Not in a million years. I’ve loved the ride so far, but I’m going to put my head back in the present, enjoy where I am in this journey, and look forward to where motherhood is taking me.

Anne Metz

Anne Metz is a mother of four, an 11 year old boy and 7 year old triplet girls. She blogs at onceuponamom.net where she writes funny and sometimes poignant posts in the hopes of lifting up other moms as they travel the chaotic, beautiful road of mothering.