I want to let you in on a secret of motherhood—motherhood is hardly ever one thing at once. It is both gratitude and frustration. It is both joy and heartbreak. It is bright and it is dark. It is breaking and becoming.
Before we become mothers, we make registries. We research bottles and dither between glass or plastic. We ask veteran moms which swaddles are best and if we really need the car seat mirror. I remember doing those things and thinking I was prepared. What I didn’t know was how unprepared I was for the breaking and remaking of myself. Or that this was the most beautiful and most difficult thing I would ever do.
Motherhood is watching your stomach grow with excited anticipation and worriedly slathering your belly in cocoa butter to prevent stretch marks.
Motherhood is preparing your hospital bag and walking out of the hospital entirely unprepared for what is to come.
It is the tears of joy that slide down your face at the first successful latch and the curses under your breath as scabs, swollen ducts, and scratched skin spread across your chest.
It is the empowering moment you realize fed is best, even as you mourn the loss of the breastfeeding journey you imagined for yourself.
It is the transcendent willingness to get up over and over despite your exhaustion, and the near-torture levels of sleep deprivation.
Motherhood is a constant give and take of joy and sadness. It is a continuous dance of success and failure. And in the middle of it, is the new person you have become and are still becoming.
Motherhood un-does you. You will never be the same person again, and this is both beautiful and hard. You see the growth in yourself while also mourning the woman you once were before. Here are the days you’ll remember with a smile in your golden years, but they are also the days that last forever and wear your patience down to the bone.
Here are the special first times—the first lost tooth, the first dance recital, the first baseball game. And here, too, are a different type of firsts—the first tummy bug, the first broken bone, the first bully.
There are the things you couldn’t wait for and the things you didn’t yet know to dread.
Motherhood is your children running to you after school but also your child feeling lonely and shy in their class.
It is looking at the father your husband has become, feeling your heart swell, and mourning the spontaneity and unrushed date nights of youth.
It is wanting to get new shoes in time for summer but setting aside the money for tiny sandals they need instead.
It is the joy of being your child’s confidant but the sorrow of hearing the hard things they are experiencing.
When we talk about becoming mothers, we talk about diapers and sleepless nights. This is helpful, but we should also talk about the invisible things that are to come. We somehow teeter right next to what is most important without ever saying it. Perhaps it is because we wonder if this mama won’t have the tears, moments of panic, or the desire to drop everything and run for five minutes of quiet that you did. Perhaps it is because we don’t want to spoil the joy by sharing the hard parts yet. We somehow don’t get to the both/and parts.
We, mothers, can change how we talk about motherhood. We can boldly talk about the beautiful and the hard in one breath. We can unabashedly rejoice in the first smile while not hiding the truth about postpartum mental health. We can talk about how your world flips on its axis. How you go from doing what you are good at to floundering at something you don’t understand, yet. We can talk about the joy of seeing your nose on your child’s face while you hide your changed stomach behind high-waisted jeans. We can talk about what new motherhood feels like, the duality of joy and discomfort, renewal and mourning, creation, and letting go.
The breaking and becoming, the beautiful and hard, is one of the secrets of motherhood.
It is contained in the knowing smiles of your mothers and grandmothers when they hear the news of your own impending motherhood. It is in the experienced hands of your sister as she takes the baby who won’t stop crying and somehow soothes him. It is the reason your friend races to your house when you confess the struggles you are having. It is the reason why seasoned mothers surround new mothers with meals, time to nap, offers to do all that laundry, and lots of fresh coffee.
It is the reason why we need our mothers, mothers-in-law, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and friends. The ones who have experienced motherhood like the sun—warm with the promise of new days, and sometimes searing, leaving us tender and aching.
So, mama, as you read this, perhaps you already understand what I am talking about. Maybe you have your own list of beautiful and hard. But if you didn’t know this secret yet, I hope it frees you—to smile and cry on the same day, to laugh and mourn in the same hour, to hold tightly to your baby but also keep checking the clock for bedtime. Motherhood is multitudes contained in our hands, our words, and our hearts.
Motherhood is both/and. Yes/no. Joy/sorrow. Breaking/becoming. It is everything, all at once.