I wash my face for what must be the first time in at least four days. The cold water splashes over my skin, waking me up better than my first cup of coffee did. I pat my skin dry and take a look in the mirror. How one can simultaneously have two large chin zits and canyons of crow’s feet lines is beyond me. The universe can be so cruel. Weren’t the seasons of unstable skin eruptions supposed to end in high school? And surely wrinkles weren’t supposed to come until at least mid-fifties. Somehow I am currently straddling both life stages in my complexion.
My attention is quickly diverted from my tired haggard face. “Moooooom! I can’t find my shoes,” my four-year-old yells. They are by the back door, right where he threw them when he came inside last night.
“Look again,” I say. “They are probably right by the door from yesterday.”
“No they are not!” he moans as his tone of voice takes on the distinct high pitched whine that makes my patience disappear in a single instant.
“Look with your eyes!” I yell back. I don’t feel like utilizing my PhD. in finding things this morning.
“WAAAAAAAAAAAAA,” he starts crying. “Mommy please don’t yell at me. I just can’t find them.”
I run into the kitchen to give him a quick hug, apologize and point him in the direction of his shoes. At that moment I am instantly bombarded by approximately 100 other questions from my two older girls. And then the baby spots me . . . screaming immediately pierces my ears until I pick her up and hold her. I rush back into the bedroom with her to get dressed.
I find a pair of jeans on the floor and pull them on. I never knew you could physically tuck in a part of your body into pants. I remember the days this wasn’t a necessary part of my routine before having four children. It’s not a pretty process, but a necessary one. I find the single bra that currently fits my ever-swelling and shrinking breasts and the largest possible t-shirt I can find. Thank goodness fitted things are not in style at the moment.
By 8:10 a.m. my children are dropped off at school and I am “alone” (The baby is asleep in her car seat, so I am not technically alone. It is as close to alone as I’m going to get any time in the next 72 hours though). As I drive back home, my brain hates myself for a seemingly endless list of reasons, from how I look like I just rolled out of bed, to my deep level of home and general life disorganization, to how I yelled at my kids and everything in-between.
My phone dings. A text from my husband: “I love you. You are a great mom. You are doing a good job.”
Everyone says that marriage changes with time and after children. It most certainly does. Our relationship looks different. It has grown as we have grown and changed. It has adapted as we have had to with each new baby and a new stage of life. Our time, energy and resources are no longer solely ours to disperse.
Mostly though, love after babies has been more of a lesson of loving myself than anything else. My husband is unwavering in his love for me. He has been from day one. And my love and appreciation for him have grown as he embraces his role as a dad more deeply with each passing day. He is a good man. Love that has grown at a snail pace at this time is love for myself. With each new season and stage of parenting, I find myself having to reinvent and rediscover who I am to the point I don’t even know most of the time. My body has also gone through ebbs and flows of pregnancy, post-partum and year-long breastfeeding four different times. When all is said and done, my body, my thoughts, and my energy haven’t really been “mine” for about eight years out of the past decade.
In all of this embracing what I was made to do in becoming a mother, knowing and loving who I am has been completely depleted. In dedicating my time, attention and heart into motherhood, I somehow lost a grip and understanding of who I am and who I want to be. I spent more time than I care to admit scrolling mindlessly through social media for hours as I breastfed in the middle of the night or in a moment of escape from the fighting or screaming of my children. In this, I was consistently consuming images and words trying to tell me who I should be, how my kids should be and what my marriage should look like. It wasn’t a pretty season.
I found myself trying to force myself and my relationships into an image I thought I was supposed to be. It never felt right, yet I kept trying. In it all, my husband never wavered. He never stopped pursuing me or who he saw God had created me to be. Even as I flailed and questioned who I am and what I should be, he let me walk my journey, and loved me endlessly.
I remember one night confessing to him that I felt like a fraud. I felt like I had tried so hard the first part of our marriage to put my best face forward and not allow him to see the broken and unsure parts of me and who I was. I was so fearful that if he saw me in a light other than perfection that he would not love me anymore. The problem was, motherhood had broken me. It cracked wide open and exposed the deepest parts of my brokenness and pieces of who I am that I cannot stand. I am not patient. I am so selfish. And most of all I need and want everyone around me to follow my plan for my comfort. And it was all getting exposed by tiny humans I thought I would be able to control (spoiler alert: that myth of control died quickly).
I told him all of this through ugly tears. I was sure he would look across at me and say, “Who are you, you monster?!”
He grabbed my hand. And he did more than assure me of his love for me. He showed me the depth of his love for me. “Babe, I knew all of this. I have known of your brokenness since before we got married. It’s okay. You cannot hide from me. You don’t need to hide from me. I adore you and love you.”
This beats flowers and fancy dates and fun vacations anytime. It’s better than any gift or note he has ever written to me. It took having babies to begin to show me the depth of my brokenness and imperfection. In the process, I was forced to become exposed much more than I cared to be. I am on the road to loving myself, every part of it. Instead of hating each little thing that doesn’t align with my image of who I am supposed to be. I am learning to love, accept and grow into who God made and called me to be. In the process, I’ve learned of the depths of my husband’s love for me.
I stood next to him and took a vow of a covenant of marriage 12 years ago. I loved my husband. I didn’t fully love myself though. I was far too busy hiding the ugly parts from him. In God shining a light on the broken, jagged edges of me, I have somehow learned to love myself more. In the process, I have been able to truly accept and receive my husband’s love for me. It saddens me how much of his love I missed out on because I was too busy trying to hide my brokenness.
This love isn’t something you will see in a movie or read in a book. It’s real-life stuff. It’s the love you feel in your bones. No matter what, that love between us is there. It is not a fun process to learn to love yourself and be open to the gift of love from someone else. It’s a vulnerable path to walk. It can be painful and the journey is long. Even when it hurts, it is worth it. When it is better than anything before it, it is worth it. In many ways I know I am still only at the beginning, and if it is worth it now, it will definitely be worth it at the end.