This ain’t my first rodeo, but having a baby still scares the crap out of me! I have two toddlers with two very different personalities (and two very different pregnancies), and just last week I gave birth to my third little boy. Motherhood is wonderful, and pregnancy is awe-inspiring, but I was anything but “glowing” by the end of my third trimester. I just waddled around the house, chasing after my two-year-old, trying not to look like an overheated dog. I checked my pregnancy app daily, wincing as baby surpassed melon-sized status.
The period after pregnancy hasn’t been a cakewalk either. My postpartum experiences with each of my boys have been some of the most beautiful and the darkest times of my life. And I’ve talked with enough ladies to know that I’m not alone in this; the postpartum period (the so-called “fourth trimester”) is excruciatingly difficult for almost every woman.
My first time through the gauntlet caught me totally unprepared: sleepless nights, cluster feedings, regular pumping, lack of sleep, anxiety, postpartum hormones, and adjusting to a new person whose claimed your heart, house, and body all at the same time.
I think many times most moms think that if they feel like they have nothing left—no energy, no strength, no will power—that they must doing something wrong. I’ve been there! (I had such a romanticized view of what having a baby would be like, one that somehow didn’t include spit up, or explosive poop, or ugly-crying on my back porch loud enough for my neighbors to hear.) But the truth is, being a new mom is just difficult. It’s hard even when you’re doing a fine job with everything.
I mean, you just finished doing one of the hardest things in all of life. On top of that, you now have to learn the ways of a new person who can’t communicate (except by screaming) and who doesn’t give you time off. They demand your attention with a cry that doesn’t cease until they get what they need—and even then, sometimes, they still cry. So there is nothing easy or romantic about newborn life—it is beautiful, to be sure, but it’s also crazy hard and super messy and totally raw.
Lean on Grace
One of the most freeing things that my husband ever said to me was that I didn’t have to be excited about 2am feedings. In my photo-shopped newborn land, I felt I wasn’t a good mother if I wasn’t gleeful about the difficulty of newborn life. But that simply isn’t true. His comment freed me to sacrificially serve my babies without feeling guilty that I wasn’t thrilled about midnight cluster feedings or 5 am wake up calls or mastitis.
In short, my husband gave me the space to struggle, the freedom to get things wrong, and the encouragement to ask for help. And he did all this because he knows that God’s grace covers everything. God’s grace means we do not have to be “perfect” for our children; we just need to trust the One who is. So amidst all the sleeplessness and all the crying and all the joy, here is the one thing every mom should do: lean on God’s grace.
Leaning on God’s grace starts with relishing the fact that we are His children. For in the midst of the early years of motherhood, it is wonderfully comforting to know that I am Someone Else’s eternal child. God cradles and shepherds us in the weakest of times, much like we care for our newborns in a time when they are weakest. Lean on this: “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
I’ve felt the most desperate and intense need for Jesus after the birth of my babies. Praise God that we are His children and He longs to lavish us with grace and mercy every day, whether it starts at 1 am or 3 am or 8 am. God gives us the strength to keep going. He allows us to serve past our own capacity. I know because I’ve been there twice already—and I’m in the throes of it now—and I’ve also seen many women before me love and serve their children through this time. It really is a beautiful to see God’s supernatural power at work in our weakness. Lean on his grace!
Lean into Community
When it comes to raising children, people are fond of saying, “takes a village.” I think it’s true, and that village is the church. The people of God are wonderful, and I’ve been carried along in the faith on the shoulders of many close friends during my darkest times. After I’ve had a baby, when I’m still in the midst of the fog and emotionalism, I often lack the strength simply to remind myself of what’s true. It’s then that I’m so thankful for all the people in my life who remind me that God is good, that children are a gift, and that He has promised to carry and sustain us through difficult seasons.
Instead of letting the postpartum period isolate you, I encourage every new mom to lean into community. After all, one of the greatest gifts that God has given us is his body, the church. That means moms should reach out to others for help, ask questions of moms that have been there before, ask for prayer, talk with friends, spouses, or community group members on hard days, asking them to remind you of what is true. As Hebrews 3:13 says, we must “encourage one another daily.”
The real trick to leaning into community is putting yourself in the where community is found. I know going anywhere with kiddos is tough and schedules can complicate things; however, I also know that it’s totally worth the tears, the third outfit change after a blow-out, and the juggling act of getting toddlers into their car seats in order to be around the people of God. I’ve often been encouraged after a sleepless night by just listening to other moms tell their stories and enjoying their encouragement and company in the mother’s lounge on a Sunday than from taking a nap. Rest isn’t bad, of course—we need rest! But while rest can help our bodies heal, only the gospel can replenish our souls. It takes commitment to lean into community post-baby, but God’s gift to us is His people, and they are a blessing indeed.
Fight the Good Fight
Finally, I think every new mom needs to fight the good fight. After birth, I can’t trust my thoughts and feelings for several months. What I feel is true versus what is actually real are simply at odds for a long, long time. Fighting the fight doesn’t mean trying to eradicate all your feelings (which is impossible); it means standing on the promises of God. It means trusting that what He says about life, Himself, and ourselves is more reliable than how we feel or think in the moment.
God is constant even though I’m being tossed around a sea of emotional confusion. He is a perfect Father when we feel like struggling mothers. His grace is enough for us. His mercies are new every day. He will renew our strength. He is our anchor in trying storms. He is the giver of good gifts, including children. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. He loves us with an everlasting love. He gathers all of our tears and cradles us in His embrace. He restores our soul. He orders our steps. He gives us new life through Jesus. He empowers us to live daily. He has given us victory over sin. He promises, enables and delivers a life full of joy—including the early months and years of motherhood. He intercedes for us. He is faithful. He is just. He is good.
I could go on for pages about this, but I don’t need to, because other people already have: in the Scriptures, in other good books, in devotional apps, in hymns. Right now I have a few books and Scripture-reading plans in a personal “truth arsenal” for my postpartum period. I plan to read when I feel like quitting or when I feel especially confused. Whatever you have to do to keep God’s promises in the forefront of your mind, do it! We are not helpless in this fight, dear sisters. God has given us what we need to fight against postpartum depression, the “baby blues,” or whatever you want to call the crazy hardships of a new mom’s life. We have a perfect Father who loves us, the good news about what Jesus has done for us, the Holy Spirit inside us, and the people of God all around us. And there’s no combination more powerful than that! (But a little chocolate never hurt things, either.)
Jessica Ponder is a wife and mother to three (so far). She loves reading, singing, baking, and urban walking. In her dreams she is a piano player with time to practice, a gardener whose plants don’t die, and someone who could hang out with the entire world at the same time, all the time. Follow her on Twitter @MrsJessPonder.