When my son was three months old, my aunt and uncle sent him a generously-stuffed cow from Texas that was nearly his size (fitting, since you know, Texas). It looked like your typical cow with big misshapen spots randomly splotched throughout soft snowy fur. Its large, pale pink snout was skillfully embroidered with two nostrils and a playful smile. Two small pink horns were nestled between a pair of perky black ears. Velcro straps were sewn on its bright white underbelly, which let it lay flat like a pillow when undone.
That’s what we called him. See, Moo Cow wasn’t just thrown into the stuffed animal bin—he stuck around. He became THE stuffed animal, THE attachment item, THE lovey. And despite my best efforts to imprint the $45 emotional support fox I had bought for my son in utero or the keepsake teddy bear from his great-grandma, he chose Moo Cow.
He chose Moo Cow every day and continues to six years later.
Except Moo Cow looks entirely different now, unrecognizable almost. The once overstuffed cow is completely flat, minus a fist-sized clump of well-worn stuffing that likes to migrate from side to side. His soft snowy fur is now gray and matted, the individual whisps roughly clumped together in tufts. His pale pink snout has dulled to a dirty beige, and his embroidered smile is missing a stitch or two. Those once perky ears now fall flat against raggedy cheeks. The Velcro that held him together has worn down into knubs of pilled fabric, and his bright white underbelly looks permanently dirty, no matter how many times he’s been washed.
I hadn’t noticed how much Moo Cow had changed until I stumbled across a photo of him in his glory days all those years ago. I showed it to my son. “We can have Grandma add more stuffing to him,” I suggested. But he shook his head, “No, he wouldn’t be the same. He wouldn’t fit under my head and help me fall asleep the way he does. He’s perfect.”
While I was pregnant with my son, I spent countless hours romanticizing what motherhood would be like.
Of course, veteran moms informed me of the textbook hardships I’d experience: up-all-nighters, dirty diapers, teething, sleep regression—but I wasn’t worried about any of it. I was eager to slip on my bright and shiny new identity even if it did come with dark circles and under-eye bags.
When I wasn’t busy romanticizing, I was fervently checking off every box I could think of. From a year’s worth of baby clothes washed, folded, and neatly tucked into dresser drawers to dozens of diaper boxes carefully stacked by size on the closet floor. I was overstuffed with idealism, and it showed. If I could just cover all the bases before my son arrived, I’d measure up to the superior standard I had set the moment those two pink lines made their bold appearance.
But then he was born.
I was over the moon with gratitude and joy as I settled into my new role as mom.
Everything felt perfect for a while—until it didn’t.
One by one, the stitches that held together my idealistic view of motherhood began to unravel. Breastfeeding gave way to the exhausting task of exclusively pumping. A cocktail of postpartum anxiety, crashing hormones, and sleep deprivation obliterated my mental health. Transitioning from being a teacher responsible for growing 28 little minds to a stay-at-home mom liable for feeding and changing a single newborn left me feeling a lack of purpose. My new identity had me scrambling to save any semblance of the old me I could find, like running back into a house fire to rescue your most prized possession.
What those veteran moms failed to mention was that motherhood is not a one-size-fits-all thing.
It’s not something you just slip on and expect to fit like a comfy, oversized sweatshirt. No, motherhood strips you bare. It reveals all of your shortcomings and flaws, exposing each and every imperfection. It removes the fluff, wearing you down to your most vulnerable self.
And just like Moo Cow, you’re entirely different—unrecognizable almost.
You don’t notice how much you’ve changed until your mind stumbles across a memory from all those years ago. You remember who you wanted to be as a mother, stuffed with lovely plans and a nice long list of I’ll nevers. You reflect on who you are as a mother today, matted with mistakes and well-worn from loving so dang well—and you know in your heart that this is who you were meant to be.
This version of you, not the flawless one.
Because no other mother could fit your child the way you do—you’re perfect.