A Letter to My Former Self On the Day I Became a Mother

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On the eve of my firstborn’s fourth birthday…

Dear Former Self,

You think today is memorable because you’re recovering from the Great Gatsby-themed college graduation party you threw last night and looking forward to a trip to see Radiohead. But that’s not why you’ll remember this day in May for the rest of your life. The funny thing is, the reason today is memorable won’t even occur to you for weeks to come.

A few days from now, you and Daniel will be celebrating your second anniversary, dreaming and planning for the future. “I’m just too selfish to be a mother right now. Let’s try to get pregnant in about…five years,” you said. What you won’t realize yet is that an entirely different plan has been forming inside you, starting today. It’s a plan that won’t just transform your body, but will turn your soul upside down. You weren’t wrong when you said you were too selfish. To be honest, you’re kind of shallow and vain, as well. You’ve never really learned to love something more than yourself. But everything is about to get shaken up.

In about 6 weeks, you will be sitting, trembling, waiting, for the results of the pregnancy test to appear. Your obliviousness to your body is going to be pretty embarrassing, actually. It took a few inexplicable meltdowns, second breakfasts, and unreasonable naps for your close friends to finally drive you to the drug store and insist you take one. And now that the moment has come, and much to your surprise, you realize that you want the test to be positive more than you’ve ever wanted anything in the world.

When you get a moment outside by yourself and a breath of fresh air, you will lift your face up to the sky and thank God for having a different plan than you did. You will say, “Thank you for giving me what I didn’t even know to ask for, what I didn’t even know I wanted. I know I don’t deserve this, but oh! I’m so glad!” Then you will consider whether they make armor or chainmail maternity wear, something indestructible to keep this tiny person safe. Because all of the sudden you will love something more than yourself, more than you’ve ever loved anything. And that love will be fierce and strong and every fiber of your being will want to protect the tiny life being formed inside you.

Sometimes it’s hard to even recognize the spineless girl you are as the mother you’ll become. Not because I’m not selfish anymore, but because this love will change you so utterly. But I don’t want you to worry about losing your identity in all this motherhood stuff, you’re about to discover who you really are, or at least, who you were born to be. Who you are in the process of becoming. Not everyone has to become a mother to learn to really love, but God knew this was the path for you. It’s only looking back that I can see how perfectly planned this path of motherhood is for you, for me. To experience this transformative love. The sort of love that will give you the strength to give of yourself until you think there’s nothing left.

Nothing I say can prepare you for the path ahead. You will think at the end of nine months that you couldn’t possibly be more exhausted. You will be wrong. When your beautiful, colicky baby arrives and you don’t get a full sleep cycle for months, and it physically hurts to be awake, you look back on pregnancy as a nine month vacation. Nothing can prepare you for the sight of that stretching, crying, smiling, dreaming, little one that makes you feel that you are looking at your very heart outside of your body. At every moment for the rest of your life, no matter where you are, or what you are doing, part of you will be thinking about your child. Is he safe? Happy? Thriving? The fears of motherhood, the trials of motherhood, will make you think every challenge you experienced before was a piece of cake.

You will finally get that hour for a cup of coffee and a book all by yourself only to realize that you miss your baby. You will think that the contented sigh of your child is the most perfect sound in the world and hearing his asthmatic cough will cause you physical pain. When he gets stung by a wasp you will wish you had been the one stung instead. In The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor describes a father’s bewildered response to the love he has for his child, “powerful enough to throw him to the ground in an act of idiot praise.” You will come to understand this love. You will cross yourself and kneel on your kitchen floor at the sound of your child’s laughter because the only response to the overwhelming love is a prayer of thanks to God.

It all comes down to the grace of God’s love, flowing through blessing of this child into your soul and out again, transforming all your relationships, everything you know. You will love your husband more than you ever imagined you could. You will begin to love other people without selfish motives because you’ve experienced an inkling of the love God has for you: a father for his child, and he sees everyone as essential, precious, and beloved.

That’s why today, this beginning you still are unaware of, is memorable and epic. You are finally free, liberated from the tyranny of yourself in this tiny world in which you were the most important. You are free to love and give and sacrifice. And that holy grace will make you something altogether different. You will be shaken, humbled, stretched and broken.

And it will make you a mother. 

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  1. Emilie says

    I’ve never commented here before, but I sure do appreciate your sentiments. Especially after having read an article today about how many women are opting out of having children these days and how they see them as an inconvenience and a distraction from living life. It made me so sad. I’m a new mom just recently and my story sounds a little like yours. I didn’t realize how selfish I was and bringing my daughter into the world has been a shock to the system, but I adore her and cherish her and feel like I’ve come into my own in the most wonderful way.

  2. says

    Love, love, love this post! What a wonderful reflection.
    I have now been bitten by the baby bug at least eight times this week…
    Happy birthday, Benjamin!

  3. says

    Absolutely beautiful! Once again, you made me blubber into my morning coffee, and the kids are worried that something is terribly wrong. 🙂 I love everything about this post. Motherhood is the best thing God will ever do for our souls!

  4. says

    Love this. What a perfect post from mama to eldest child. And what a perfect way to describe the beauty in the humility and sacrifices of motherhood.

    Happy Birthday Benjamin! Your humorous antics always keep us smiling, and we don’t even know you in real life. =) Happy 4 years of being a mama, Haley!

  5. says

    Oh, Haley. This is so beautiful. I’m not there yet – not yet a mother, still living in that small world, and your words speak to my soul. What a tremendous gift you have for verbalizing the human spirit.

  6. says

    And this is WHY I follow Carrots. You are so encouraging for those of us who have no entered the years of motherhood, but are being bombarded with negative and frightening images. So many of us (myself included) are frightened of the idea of dying to self, so that we may devote our time to a small, warm body. Your words, however, are encouraging, and hearten and excite me for the future.
    Thank you!
    Also, I LOVE L.M.Montgomery with a passion, as well as Flannery O’Connor. 🙂

  7. Alexis says

    I finished reading this with tears streaming down my face! You have put into words what I have been struggling to do for the last four years! I, being another selfish person, had a life planned that focused on a career and not kids. I’m so grateful everyday that God had a different plan for me. And now that I have quit my career to stay home with my girls I couldn’t imagine my life being any other way!! Amazingly written…thank you!

  8. says

    I love it, too. I relate to all that you speak of. I remember when I had Louisa, it took me a long time to refer to her as my “daughter” – because to me that sounded like such a grown up thing to say. It was hard for me to say it out loud. For many months, I just thought of her and spoke of her as “my baby.” After a while, after I was broken in more and less afraid of what other people said (she was our honeymoon baby, and we were the first of all our friends to get married) I finally could say “this is my daughter, Louisa ann” I don’t know why that was such a huge leap for me! But a mother’s mind is a complex entity 🙂

    God Bless you for your ability to convey such beautiful thoughts that many of us mama’s share.

    (I’ve been enjoying your blog for about a month now. I have been meaning to comment on some of my favorite posts like the NFP one but have just been a bit busy with my three wee ones! 😉 {Kayleen}

  9. says

    Beautiful words, Haley! I can relate to your story. I told my husband early in our marriage that I didn’t want any children, but that maybe one day we’d adopt, and I didn’t really feel strongly about that even. Really, I wanted a career. I must have been 7 weeks pregnant or so when my symptoms prompted family to suggest a pregnancy test. Jonny and I had been married a little over a year. I cried over that positive pregnancy test, and they weren’t happy tears, but terrified ones. A little over thirteen years later, here I am in the Catholic Church with six kids. God’s plan is perfectly perfect. God bless you! (p.s. I should introduce myself–Hi! I discovered you recently via others recommending your blog!)

  10. Michelle says

    I loved this post. Didn’t we all feel like this? Who is really ready?

    When Mary says to Gabriel “How can this be?” I think we all know she was freaking out a little bit. For us when we ask this and take 5 more tests we atleast know HOW this can be. Your posts reminds me that Mary went through many of the same things we did to become a mother: fear, doubt, pain, and in the end loss. What mother couldn’t find a kindred spirit in Mary?
    I don’t know how I made it to 30 with out Our Holy Mother to reach out to. I’m thankful she watched over me even before I knew she was there. I’m thankful my daughters will know her and draw on her strenght when they become mothers.
    Your reflections on how in love you instantly were with your baby paints a picture of Mary holding our Lord. His cries, midnight feedings, colic(?), all of it. She knows what we go through. We can look at paintings of Mary and Our Saviour and be drawn closer to them both, through the relationship they had (have) and the ones we have with our children. The Lord chose to come as a child and this is possibly one reason why.
    I love being a Catholic! It’s a new “ah-ha” moment every day! <3

    • Haley says

      I don’t know how I missed this comment before but it’s so beautiful! Knowing Our Lady is definitely one of the greatest blessings of becoming Catholic. Thanks for sharing these lovely thoughts.

  11. says

    I found this post through BlogHer Voices of the Year and it is beautiful! Definitely had me tearing up. Thank you for putting those exact feelings I had too into a post. 🙂

  12. abcdaysofbeingamom says

    I could not help laughing when i started reading this. You captured most of my thoughts. I said I would wait for a year, i never thought i could be a mother, i needed to be sacrificial, i did not ever think of being a mom so soon and it felt like having a baby so early or taking in months after i just married was a mess but then when i took in without knowing and a friend nudged me to check, i had mixed feelings but wished it was true. Oh i so love being a mom now, i love my yummy baby so much. She is so amazing, she makes me laugh. She is a handful and yes i never sleep well, it seems my world was shaken up too but i cannot tread this feeling for any other thing. I love motherhood. Thanks for sharing such an awesome post 🙂

  13. Kate says

    Beautiful. Thanks for linking to this on facebook; I wasn’t reading your blog yet when you wrote this, and I’m glad I didn’t miss it.


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