Sitting in the parking lot of the grocery store, my four-month-old son slept soundly in his car seat as I watched the rain cascading down, making little rivers on the windshield. “It isn’t supposed to be this hard this time,” I thought. I had been here before, crying tears I couldn’t quite understand and feeling as though I was failing, yet I had made it through those early years of new motherhood. My oldest son was resilient in spite of my rough edges, and they had smoothed with time as I had found my footing. He was now a happy three-year-old, immersed in finger-paints and nursery rhymes at preschool. This was my second go at motherhood; it shouldn’t have been so difficult.
But it was demanding, perhaps even more trying than it had been with just one baby. And that day as I waited out a storm in the parking lot of the store, I was certain that I had hit my breaking point. I didn’t even feel that I could muster the strength to rouse my baby from his seat and strap him into the carrier to shop for the groceries we needed. I believed I would sit frozen in that parking lot long after I was due to pick up my big boy from preschool, isolated in my exhaustion and mounting despair, until suddenly, something willed me to keep going. It felt like something bigger than my own decision, something stronger than the helplessness I later identified as postpartum anxiety.
Something told me to just take a deep breath, wipe the tears away, and get my baby and myself into that store.
We wandered the aisles, aimlessly, until I found myself paralyzed by indecision in front of a wall of cereal boxes. It was at this exact moment that she came bounding around the corner; her wide and radiant smile met me long before her words did. “What a beautiful baby!” she gushed. “May I touch his little foot?” I was lost in the sadness of my soul and not in the mood to speak to anyone. I simply wanted to grab the nearest box of cereal and get out of there. But as she shifted her weight and began to stroke my boy’s tiny toes, I knew a quick escape wouldn’t be possible.
As she admired my son’s contented coos and smiles, she told me about her two boys. Ten years ahead of me in life, give or take, she began to share wisdom I didn’t know I needed. “I wish I would have just held them more when they were little like this,” she said. “I was always so worried and caught up in getting it all right. I missed out on enjoying these years.” Though I didn’t know this woman standing before me, I sensed her gentle spirit and found myself relaxing into her reminiscing. “I adore them now, you know. Eight and eleven is so much fun! But I miss this stage. I miss these baby toes,” she continued. I mentioned that I had an older son, too, and that my boys were also three years apart. Suddenly, her demeanor changed. She stood taller and her voice was firmer. Looking right into my eyes she said, “It does not ever get any easier, but you do get better at it.”
Reaching out and placing her hand on my shoulder, she repeated the words while patting my back, reassuringly. All of the exhaustion from fighting against the inadequacy I had been feeling as I navigated through mothering two – the guilt, the doubt, the sorrow – all of it welled up with great release as I began to bawl right in front of the Honey Nut Cheerios. I cried in breaking sobs into the arms of a woman I had never before met. And this woman, this mother who seemed to know my pain though I had not spoken of it, stood and held me as though she was embracing a younger version of herself. She let me get it all out, and when I could catch the air again, smiled her pleasant smile, assured me that I was doing my best, and patted my baby goodbye. It was one of the strangest moments of my life, and yet nothing had ever felt more serendipitous. I never saw her again, but I truly believe she crossed my path that day to deliver a message I desperately needed to hear.
I have thought of her words many times over the years; my oldest son is seven and I now have a third baby to love. She was right, you know, it hasn’t gotten any easier. Where some hardships have faded, new challenges have come to light. Isn’t that the nature of this life, though? Just as we think we might have it all figured out, we are given a new trial, as if to keep us on our toes and engaged in this life of ours. To save us from complacency. And while I do still have occasional moments of self-doubt and sadness, the beauty that I’ve witnessed in between is what makes life worth fighting for.
Whether you are struggling with your first weeks postpartum; finding the courage to return to the workplace; learning how to parent your teen or offering one last hug as they head off to college; making your way through the murky waters of loss and grief; or simply holding on through a quiet season of dormancy; whatever challenges you are facing, please know, it might not ever get any easier, but you will get better. You will grow. Your fortitude might even surprise you.
And when you find yourself stumbling, I believe there will be grace to see you through.
*This post was originally published on The BELLAMOM