Yesterday, I sat with my kids in a planetarium awaiting the start of a laser show. Just them and me. No one in my lap, no one crying, no one strapped to my front while standing in the back corner, separated from my family, swaying gently but intently, praying a baby will stay asleep.
All of us in a row, four kids and me, anticipated the 40-minute program. As the woman with the microphone made the opening announcements, pointing out the lighted exit, no surge of panic zipped through my body: I wasn’t worried about which children I’d take with me if one started to cry. I didn’t have to contemplate which kids I’d leave—are they old enough? safe enough?—to stay without me sitting protectively next to them.
I reached over to grab my youngest daughter’s hand when the lights dimmed, but she took my arm with her two little hands, lifted it up, and placed it with a declaration back into my own lap, “this is my chair.”
Sadness ran full speed in front of me, she doesn’t need me?, but like a flash, it was gone before my brain had a chance to fully register it. So I sank into the seat, warm and happy, pleased and surprised. I just might enjoy this.
For this moment, what I’d heard for so many years, was coming true:
It gets better.
We were six weeks out from our international adoption and a fellow adoptive mom who was a bit older than me and had been through the process four times over, came to my house under the guise of talking through the paperwork. I ended up peppering her with questions and listening to her advice.
After an hour or so, I thanked her for coming over, for taking the time to help me. For being a resource, an example, a friend. For preemptively pouring into my cup which we both knew was sure to drain out in the upcoming months.
As she walked away from the house, she stopped on our flagstone pathway halfway to the driveway. I stood at my open front door when she turned to me with a pointed finger slicing horizontally through the air. “And remember!” she said with every kindness a new mom needs to hear,
“It gets better.”
I nodded. Maybe teared up a bit.
“I know you know this from your other kids, but you’ll probably get to a point where you’re be crying and confused and wonder why you did this, so I want you to hear it and remember.
"It gets better.”
This is the great fear, isn’t it? That we have our babies and though we love them fiercely, we’re also so tired, drained, empty, pulled, and we fear it’ll never change. That we’re stuck in a perpetual cycle of naps and snacks and bath times.
Our hearts sit with the tension that we wanted this motherhood, but we’re also captive to it.
My husband and I came home from the hospital with our first daughter and the moment of us driving over the bridge from the main road into the park next to our neighborhood, Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” playing on the stereo, tears streaming down my face from the back seat where I maternally sat next to my just-shy-of-six-pound creation is etched into my memory forever. I’d never loved a child, God, my husband more in that singular moment.
I wouldn’t have called myself a nervous first-time mom. But looking back on it, I was. It’s hard not to worry about your baby’s eating, her sleeping, the acne, that rash, is she breathing? while you haven’t slept more than 120 minutes at a time for the last three weeks and your breasts feel like they’re on fire and all you feel for your husband is rage.
Enter, despair. Nothing is right. Nothing is okay. Life isn’t what you thought. I'd never loved my child, been so sure I was a failure, disliked my husband, and questioned God like I did in those first months of motherhood.
But you get through one day, and then another, and then another. You keep at it, this making it through the day, until you find yourself in a place, maybe two months, or a year later, when you realize life fell into place without one bit of fanfare. Maybe it’s the napping, the eating, the marriage, or the work schedule. We figure it out, or find it figures itself out, leaving us surprised at the other end.
(Many of us, at this point, decide to have another kid—which I both shake my head at and totally understand: I’ve done it three times.)
But with each child—every time—no matter how much I prepare myself, the pattern is the same: utopia, despair, go-through-the-motions, then (wow, how’d we get here?)—it’s better.
What I wanted so desperately to be assured of, to hold onto, to anchor my heart in, was what I didn’t know I needed to hear. When I was a first and second time mom, I didn’t know it gets better and I wanted (needed) someone to tell me that I’d make it—that we’d make it.
And even when I had number three and adopted number four, I needed to be reminded of it again. Because motherhood can be a pleasant, painful amnesiac.
As I write this, I’m sequestered in a corner of a coffee shop, an instrumental Pandora station playing through my earbuds (to drown out the too-loud laugh of the lady in the black sweater), sipping on a latte that’s next to a notepad with my to-do list with tasks that are actually getting crossed off—all while my four kids play at home with their cousins, everyone old enough to get along for hours on end, fill their own cups of water, and wipe their own behinds, loosely supervised by my husband.
Tonight we will get together with more family and although I still have to help younger children fill their plates, I won't have to feed anyone. My kids will probably eat more than one dessert and stay up later than their normal bedtimes, but I will not freak out and leave early or stay and worry, unable to enjoy myself.
So allow me this privilege, sweet momma. As a slightly older, just-a-little-ahead-of-you-on-this-journey mother. Watch me as I stop on my way out of this coffee shop to go back home, how I press my open palm against the air for emphasis, and say to you, assure you, and ask you to remember:
Life might be hard right now, but it gets better.