On those endless nights when you hear her small, mewing cry for the second, third, or fourth time, you can’t fathom the heartbreaking agony that comes when one day you realize she won’t need you at all. On those nights, in the beginning throes of motherhood, it all seems endless. All you can do is stagger to the crib, your eyes red and gritty with fatigue, and hope you can figure out why she’s crying and get her back to sleep as fast as humanly possible.

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You’re exhausted—physically, mentally, and emotionally—and wondering when these nights will end. How did you end up with the baby who doesn’t sleep? Who has those unicorn babies who sleep through the night? Nobody warned you how all-consuming motherhood would be in the beginning and that you would lose yourself temporarily to the fatigue.

Then, out of seemingly nowhere, the days pass. The weeks pass. The months pass. The years pass.

One day out for a walk, her face catches in the sunlight, you see her and stare at her as if she were a complete stranger. Who is this girl with long, gangly limbs and an angular face you can see will be so beautiful one day it makes you breathless? You stare at her so long she has to stop and ask if you are all right. How is this girl the same baby you rocked for hours? For all those days and nights? Where did the minutes go? Where did the weeks go? Where did your baby go?

You remember being down in the trenches—the nights spent crying because you were so tired, the tantrums over food, socks, and anything in between, the potty training, the embarrassing questions she would ask complete strangers at the grocery store, but none of it seems to matter in that moment. In that single instance, nothing is more painful than staring at this breathtaking girl knowing one day so soon she won’t need you at all.

The sudden realization hits you: Your time is limited.

The gun has gone off, and you’re in the middle of a race with time. School, friends, and activities have carved out a huge chunk of importance in her life. She no longer asks you to play Barbies on the floor with her. She wants to know instead if it’s OK to head down the street to see friends or use your phone to FaceTime. She wants to know what time her playdate is this weekend and when she can have her cousins over for a sleepover. You are no longer the sun in her world. Instead, you are the moon, left orbiting around her, sneaking only glimpses and pieces into her world.

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During those endless nights, you so desperately wanted some of the freedom of your old life back. You wanted a glimpse of the person you were before motherhood and fatigue set in, a glimpse that you couldn’t find when you were knee-deep in diaper changes and midnight feedings.

Now that you’re on the cusp of watching your baby become a young woman, you would go back to those endless nights in a single heartbeat. You would go back and be that new mom, rocking her newborn baby girl so blissfully unaware of the agony coming when that baby becomes a beautiful girl and doesn’t need your rocking arms anymore.

Jamie Galvin

Jamie Galvin lives in Massachusetts with her husband and her two very active kids. She loves to write any chance she can to escape the chaos.