“The women who I love and admire for their strength and grace did not get that way because crap worked out. They got that way because crap went wrong, and they handled it in a thousand different ways on a thousand different days, but they handled it. Those women are my superheroes.” – Elizabeth Gilbert
YOU GUYS. Seriously. YES. Yes to this.
Every single time I go through a period of hardship, I know – even during the most difficult days – that this will shape me for the better. That I will grow. And that the new version of me, the version that comes after the struggle, will be someone I like even more than the person I was yesterday.
That’s the beauty of challenge: it shapes you.
This fall, in the weeks and month’s following Adeline’s arrival in the world, she shaped and changed me, as a mother, as a woman, as a friend, for the better.
She had colic. Bad. Her cries began as soon as she woke up, they extended throughout the day, and they ended only when she fell asleep, in exhaustion, at night.
She did not nap. She did not rest. She cried and screamed and begged for me to do something.
Maybe you can remember back to these first days with a baby, and maybe you can’t, but I’ll do my best to describe the feeling that comes to a mother of a young baby when her baby is crying. You see, it cuts you down to your bones. Her cries, while outside of you, feel as though they are coming, still, from your womb. They are more painful, and more cutting, than your own cries. They are razor sharp. They consume you. So that all that you know, all that you feel, are those endless cries that you are helpless to fix.
And no matter how strong you start each day, there is a helplessness in not being able to help the tiny little person that needs soothing SO bad.
And so you hold them in your arms, you hug them tight, you apologize a thousand times and you hope, in deepest part of your soul that, somehow, relief will come.
And when it does, when they finally fall asleep, there is this physical and emotional release that comes after clinging, so hard, to hope. There is defeat. And there is the exhaustion that comes from an empty well, depleted down past the rocks. A well so deep that you wonder if it will ever fill up again.
What is interesting about this state of being is that you get confused. As if a fog has descended on your brain, everything feels confusing, thought comes only with immense effort, as if you are pulling each thought through murky water.
For six weeks Adeline cried nearly every day, and nearly all day. I tried SO HARD to find a solution, to ease her burden, to soothe her helpless body that needed something so completely.
And then, on one random week night, my husband offered take over and hold her while she cried. I walked away, grateful for the break because I knew I needed to replenish myself. My well was empty and the very thought of coming back to her took my breath away.
So I locked myself in the bathroom, took a long, hot shower, and cleared my mind (which was easy because thoughts had long since escaped me). What could I do to help her? How could I ease this burden?
The answer came from some deep, motherly past knowledge that had been within me, perhaps all along, and it took some moments of silence, some peace, some deep asking to find it. Or, who knows, maybe it was God. Or intuition. Or inspiration. Or deep instinct. Because the answer came so suddenly, it felt like someone else, outside of me, answered the question.
It was her milk.
Five minutes later, Adeline drank her first bottle. A week later, she stopped crying. A month later, she was gaining a healthy amount of weight.
And today, as I write this, she smiles almost constantly. She is happy. She is healthy. And she’s an absolute joy each and every day.
The experience taught me so much about myself and my capabilities as a parent. I learned to listen to my kids, to read between the cries. To know that there is no fault in trying. To know that there is a way to work through it. And to take the time to get quiet with myself, to listen, and to trust the answer that comes.
The thing is, sometimes the answer is that we need to push back. Yes, Adeline needed formula fed in a special bottle. But I never would have figured that out if I didn’t give myself the relief I needed to feel whole again. I let go of shame, frustration, and the stress of it all, and I listened to my instincts.
My mom was the same way. She set boundaries with us. She knew when she had enough. And she was able to step back when she needed to. She did this because she had no one to fall back on. She had no one to coddle her when parenting got hard. And she knew that if she was depleted, lost, or broken, she was still the only one that could pick her back up.
I know this because I remember it. I know because she taught me that, time and again, when I needed to learn it as a child, and as a mom.
Today I sewed the binding on the first mini traveler’s notebook. The pages are thick because of the cardstock and watercolor paper, but the texture is perfect. And the feeling that comes from holding this in my hands is just truly SO GOOD.
For several years Ali Edwards has started her year with a word. No resolutions or promises to break, just one little word® to check back on for guidance or reflection. As she describes it, “You live with it. You invite it into your life. You let it speak to you. Follow where it leads. There are so many possibilities.” After a challenging 2016, my choice for 2017 is to become SECURE. Each month, I’m focused on a different aspect of securing who I am, where I am, and what we’re doing. I hope you’ll join me on this journey. For more of my one little word, follow my tag one little word.
MOPS, or Mothers of Preschoolers, is and international organization that encourages and equips mothers of young children to realize their potential as mothers and leaders. “We’ve all been placed in this time and place in history, as the tribe of women who are raising the world. And the beauty of it is that we don’t all have to agree with one another but everyone is in and we all need each other.” This 28-day challenge is coupled with reading, a daily truth or dare, and videos and resources that allow us to connect, discuss, and dive into this topic of woman-hood and mother-hood. Come back daily, or read along in this thread, to see my posts and stories for each day.