As a first-time mom, I didn’t quite know what to expect in the “fourth trimester.” I definitely anticipated that there would be struggles — such as not getting any sleep — but I never thought I would be one to struggle emotionally postpartum.
“After all,” I thought, “I have three younger brothers, two of which I helped raise since they were born. I’ve got this mom thing down pat.” All I ever really wanted growing up was to be a wife and mother. It’s part of my identity, it’s my vocation. I’ve always known I was made for this.
I see now that God grinned and shook his head every time I offered such an answer to those who asked if I was nervous to be a mom.
Fast forward to May 25th of this year, in the hospital, holding tight to my baby boy after a successful, natural, vaginal birth. The adrenaline, relief, and intense love that I felt as my dear husband and I gazed at our son’s face for the first time was truly miraculous, and it surpassed all expectations I had for that moment. I did it. My son was nestled in my arms. Now, we could pass the remainder of the hospital stay just resting and soaking in every little beautiful detail about him.
So began the fourth trimester, a time which has called me again and again to make a gift of myself when I feel like I have absolutely nothing else to give.
The needles, the blood, the stitches, the catheter, the uterine massages (which do not feel like a trip to the spa…), the trips to the bathroom that could make the even the strongest cry, a baby that doesn’t know how to nurse, the tongue tie, the tests, the anxiety… the utter exhaustion… the doubts…
And then just like that, we were sent home.
Although I was fortunate to have my husband home with me for some time after our son’s birth, I still struggled. The hardest part was not the lack of sleep, nor the struggle to breastfeed. The hardest part was the lie that I believed all too easily, magnified by the other hardships: you are a bad wife and mother.
Despite the amazing support of my wonderful family and friends, I quickly succumbed to this and countless other lies about my physical appearance, my abilities, and my worth.
What I was doing wrong? There was nothing I desired more or felt more called to than motherhood, and yet at every turn it became increasingly clear that I was horrible at living out my vocation.
The downward spiral was swift and isolating. I didn’t quite know how to express my frustrations verbally, and often the only explanation came in tears. So much is expected of mothers and for this first time mom, it was crippling.
Thank goodness I was able to by voice my concerns to my husband. I would hate to think what this time in my life would have been like without his never-ending support, patience and affirmation.
Still, there have been many times that I have relied on him too much, especially once he returned to work. I was turning to him only, rather than first approaching our Lord in prayer. And while I don’t mean to imply that anyone can “pray away” intense emotions like the baby blues, I certainly wasn’t giving myself a fighting chance by neglecting to turn to Christ, and my husband was suffering because of it. I was putting divine expectations on my very human spouse, setting us both up for failure. My frustration and impatience with my wonderful – yet imperfect – husband grew and grew.
Discouraged by my inability to shake these insecurities, I started reading Getting Past Perfect by Kate Wicker. In it, she responds to the lie that “being a mother is the most important thing a Catholic woman can do.” In Christian circles, parenthood is praised to the utmost degree. The vocation of marriage and its fruits, children, feel very much at the center of who you are as an individual because we recognize the gravity of the call to marriage and parenthood.
Don’t get me wrong, your vocation should be one of your highest priorities. But if your motherly vocation becomes the only priority, that’s when you can begin to feel like a shell of a person or completely self-reliant. In the first chapter of Kate’s book, I read the following passage. Its simple message has set me on a path to speak truth to the lie that was rooting in my soul:
“Secular society warns women against losing their identities in their children, but our children aren’t the real identity thieves. They really are the blessings, not the soul-sucking leeches. No, the real identity thieves aren’t the children themselves but the ways we may start to view motherhood. If being a mother is your end-all, then you’d better believe it’s going to rob you of some of yourself. But if it’s a mighty calling but not the only calling pressed upon you, you will not become a ‘nonperson.’ You were God’s daughter first, and you’ll always be his beloved. That won’t ever change, no matter what season of life you find yourself in.”
I have been failing so often to choose joy during this fourth trimester because I was relying on my vocation to fulfill me. How very foolish. I know rationally that my vocation is not my end-all — my life with Christ is. But since motherhood can feel all-encompassing, my core purpose and identity are easily pushed to the side. This is why we must daily unite ourselves to Christ.
We must place ourselves at the foot of the Father — as His children — and pray for the grace to live out our vocations in the way that is pleasing to Him. Let Him pour His overflowing love into your heart, and then you will be able to make a complete gift of self even when you feel like you have nothing left to give.
So, to those moms out there struggling with their vocations, with the “fourth trimester,” and with Satan’s horrible lies: Yes, you were made for this, beautiful child of God. You were someone’s beloved before you took your wedding vows – make sure you spend some quality time with Him each day.
— Briana Talley is an Ave Maria University grad, a Theology of the Body enthusiast, a Shakespeare lover, and a new wife and mother.