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Dear New Mama: You Are An Exceptional Mother

It isn't easy, since nothing worth doing ever is, but these first days and weeks and months will unfold and so will your love.
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Dear New Mama,

Here you are, sitting in the dark, waiting for your husband to get home and relieve you, wondering if you can really do this, because it's only been three days and you're so worn out you can barely think straight, and just today you found yourself wishing you could go back to the way it was before -- when you didn't have a baby who woke up screaming in the middle of the night, when you didn't have to worry about counting those wet and dirty diapers, when your body belonged to you and not someone else.

Yours is a great, big, scary world right now, because those nurses released this tiny little piece of you back to you, to take home and keep, and they did not ask if you were qualified at all, just put him in your arms and waved you on down the hall.

It isn't easy, since nothing worth doing ever is, but these first days and weeks and months will unfold and so will your love.

You've thought a lot, these last few days, about the mess your body has become, and I know you want to change it right now, this minute. But it takes time. Don't rush this weight-losing, this getting a body back, this fitting into old, pre-pregnancy clothes. It's not a race, so stop worrying about what all those other mamas will think of your post-baby body. So what if your ankles are still swollen from the hospital fluids and your eyes are still puffy from the trauma of pushing for three hours and none of your clothes come close to fitting anymore, at least not yet, or maybe not ever?

You are beautiful anyway. You are. You have done magnificent and profound work, and you are beautiful beyond compare.

No one ever tells you that there will be days when your husband comes home from work and the house is pitch dark and the baby has finally, finally, finally fallen asleep in his swing after screaming in your arms for the last two hours; when you accidentally say out loud those words beating your brain: "Can we just give him back?"; when you'll wonder how in the world you can be a good mother now, after thinking that way. So let me be the one to tell you: these days will come. But you are still a good mother, because they come for every mother. A baby is hard work all the years of his life, and you will not enjoy every single minute of every single day, so don't expect to. You will not outrun the guilt that comes with those expectations, so just let them go. Let them go.

There are moments that make mothering worth it, but they are not all moments.

When you choose to go back to work instead of staying home, this is not your love-lack as a mother. "They" can sometimes make you feel like it is, but I know the way your heart burns for your baby when you are away from him and how it burns for your writing when you are away from work. Walking with a divided heart is not easy, but you will do it, year after year after year, because you love and you care and you dream.

In just a few days, you will rush your baby to the hospital for dehydration, because your milk never let down, and I want to tell you it is not your fault. You will carry it like it is, pumping every hour and feeding in between, because those lactation consultants said it could be done, and you will feel it every time those people lined up behind you at the store shake their heads at your choosing formula over breast milk. Those people who shame you, they don't understand the pain of it. Don't worry so much what they think. They don't know you like they think they do. They don't know your children like they think they do.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Stop trying to be the perfect mother. It's OK to lose it every once in a while. It's OK to make mistakes and admit those mistakes, like how you yelled and how you dishonored and how you pushed him out the door in the rush to leave and made him cry. It's OK to think those thoughts sometimes, how you hate raising a strong-willed child, how you sometimes just want to do the easier work of breaking instead of the hard work of molding, how you never asked for twins so why did you get them. All of us, in our weak moments, think like this, and we should stop covering our shame, because we can never walk free bent in hiding.

Remember to celebrate yourself, the person you are becoming because of them. One day you'll look back and say, certainly, that the person you are today, because of their grinding and cutting and chafing, is so much better than the person you used to be.

Don't worry so much about the future. Enjoy each season for its colors and beauty and challenge. Seize the moments.

Remember that "love is the whole and more than all" (W.H. Auden). It's what matters at the end of the day, not how few times you yelled or how often you had to escape behind a closed bathroom door or how many moments you regretted. Those moments when you hugged him so tight he couldn't even move, and those moments you helped him build a ball track with 200 wooden planks, and those moments you read an extra story to him because he asked and you had time, they're the moments he will remember most.

You are an exceptional mother, even if you don't feel like it. Ignore the world and be exactly who you are, because it is exactly who your baby needs you to be.

And remember you are never alone.

In love,
Your sister and fellow mama


This post first appeared on Rachel Toalson's website. Follow Rachel on Twitter.