Motherhood is: Managing to keep on going even when it feels like you can’t

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The last thing I expected to gain from becoming a mother was confidence. Heightened anxiety? Sure. A few extra pounds? Definitely. Confidence? Unlikely.

I remember being in the hospital, a stay that lasted a week, and dreading diaper changes to a level that seemed unjustified. It was a combination of having no idea what I was doing and not knowing what my baby was going to do—which could involve fluids being squirted anywhere from my head to my toes and everywhere in between.

But the diaper changes became quicker. First, they went down from 20 to 15 minutes per change, then 10, and so on. I can now change a diaper in about 30 seconds if I’m in a hurry and the mess is not extraordinary.

I remember having the nurses in the NICU teach my husband and me how to bathe our new, tiny baby and thinking I could never do it on my own. When we went in for our test run, I made my husband do it. The nurses wandered around while peeking over to make sure we were bathing him correctly, and there was no chance I could handle the pressure of their peering eyes.

Now, I bathe my baby by myself just fine. In fact, I bathe him while playing music and singing to him, trying to convince him that taking a bath is not meant to torture him and that one day he will actually enjoy it. I laugh. I smile. I talk to him. It’s just something we do now.

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I remember the first time I put my little boy in his newborn car seat. I can try to blame the hormones (they surely played a part), but mostly I think I was unfamiliar with the awkward mush that newborns turn into when they aren’t held just right. It was when we were preparing to leave the hospital to take our son home for the first time. We buckled him in, after having watched videos on YouTube teaching us how to properly place our baby in the seat, and I sobbed as I saw his slouchy little body look as uncomfortable as his scream told me he was.

Now, I plop the little guy in there with ease. He still doesn’t like it. Who would like to be shoved into one of those things anyway? But I now recognize that comfort isn’t the highest priority in a car seat. It’s okay if he doesn’t love being buckled in because those buckles are what keeps my boy safe. Plus, I also know now that he will be asleep within five minutes on the road, as long as I play him some good music.

I remember waking up for middle of the night feedings and changes, positive that operating on such little sleep meant I was not in any condition to care for someone so small and fragile. Surely, I was hazardous to my baby and would break him if I continued to try to manage these middle of the night rituals with a constant dose of sleep deprivation.

I’m still tired during the night when I wake up to take care of my baby. I still don’t feel completely steady on my feet, but I’m on auto-pilot now. I get up. I change him. I feed him. I put him back in bed. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I remember, just the other night, trying to get my baby to sleep. He had given me the cues it was time for bed; rubbing his glazed over eyes while yawning profusely. I took him up to bed, wrapped him snuggly in his swaddle and began our bedtime routine.

I walked with him while bouncing him in my arms. Forty-five minutes in, I was sure my arm was going to give out and my baby was going to end up on the floor. One hour in and that same arm was still bouncing away.

My arm didn’t give out. My baby didn’t end up on the floor. His eyes eventually became heavy, and he was drowsy enough to put down and fall asleep. We made it through; my arm intact and him peacefully asleep.

Each step of the way, I have doubted myself.

Becoming a new mother is incredibly overwhelming, from exactly how you are supposed to do things, to when they are supposed to happen. There are pieces to the puzzle that are new and unfamiliar and seemed to me to be completely out of reach.

While I’m still a new mom and will be able to claim that title for a while, I’ve persevered through every turn. Whenever I thought I couldn’t go on any longer, I went on. Whenever I thought that I wasn’t capable of something, I did it anyway. Whenever my baby has needed me, I’ve been there for him.

These little worries and doubts along the way have turned into accomplishments. There has never been a time in my life when I was forced to try even when I was convinced I couldn’t until I became a mother.

There isn’t an opt-out option in motherhood. I don’t get to decide that something is too hard or that my body isn’t capable. The only option is to do it anyway, despite the self-doubt; and in turn, for me, has come self-confidence. What a beautiful, and unexpected gift, that my son doesn’t even know he has given me. I hope one day I can gift him some confidence of his own.

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