How 2016 Changed Me

A new year has arrived and it only feels appropriate to look back and reflect on the year behind us. Everywhere I turn, friends have posted about how their 2016 was for them. I've heard about how great some friends' years were, how others were tough years in their lives, and lots of recaps on events throughout the months. Looking back into our 2016, it's easily divided into two parts--before Williams and after him. He was born right in the middle of our year, so the first half was spent preparing and waiting for his birth, and the second half was used to adjust and figure out what our life as a family of 3 looked like. He was our defining moment for 2016. 

I'm painfully aware that the Rachel from March is quite different than the Rachel in December, in good ways and bad, too. Spring Rachel was eager and expectant and naive, Winter Rachel is tired and weary but overjoyed and fulfilled. They always say that a baby completely turns your life upside down, and I was one that agreed with that statement, but silently thought, "Yeah, but this baby will really adjust to our lives, right?" I look back and laugh at the Rachel I was before Williams. 

I wrote the next couple of paragraphs when Williams was around a month old and never got around to finishing the post, much less posting it. But the words are raw and real and the feelings feel too familiar to me, and I wanted to share them, because they tell a lot about my year. 
      Motherhood. All I ever wanted to do in this life, and here I am, drowning. It's been a hard, trying month, if I'm honest with myself. Having a baby with tummy issues and sleep troubles plus a mama with emotions and hormones all over the place doesn't quite add up to the picturesque version of my firstborn's first month on this Earth. Lots of tears have been shed and lots of sleepless nights have gone by. I've prayed some desperate prayers and have had to ask forgiveness more times than I can count for being irrational and angry and sad. I've questioned if God was even listening to me anymore, usually around 2 am, when I feel nothing but alone. 
 Being a mom has brought out the best in me and unfortunately the worst in me, too. I've really struggled with letting go of the vision I had in my head of what motherhood would be like, because it's nothing like what you plan. I've had moments of total clarity when all felt right in our world, when he would rest peacefully and stop crying for an hour. I'd think, "well maybe I do know what I'm doing." But then came the overpowering moments when I felt completely broken and inadequate as a mom. The latter feeling is one of the hardest things I've had to overcome in this life--I've been weary and worn down and sometimes can't see past the day that I'm stuck in. I've wondered why this doesn't come easy to me, why I'm struggling so much. All I've ever wanted in life is to be a mother, but I'm just not cut out for this like I thought I would be. Who knew you could feel so many emotions at the same time? Happiness, helplessness, joy, exhaustion, bliss, sadness, anger--all in the same day, all in the same minute. I guess that's one of the joys that comes with being a mother. All consuming emotions.
Anxiety has taken over my heart these days. And I feel like that's something that people don't tell you about before the baby comes. You're warned that you'll be tired and that the physical recovery will be tough, but it's so much more than that. No one tells you that you're going to worry every second of every day when you bring that sweet little bundle home from the hospital. That your mind never shuts off, never rests, and is constantly thinking of that baby. Is he warm enough? Should I give him formula? Is he going to wake up soon? Why won't he sleep? Why hasn't he pooped? Why won't he stop nursing? Am I enough for him? But with this influx of worry comes love. A deeper love than you knew was possible, but an even greater responsibility than you knew, too. The kind of love that almost feels like it's suffocating you. A heavy kind of love, that fills your heart up but weighs you down at the same time. It consumes you. You'll feel like everything is going wrong. I said to my mom yesterday, "But this wasn't supposed to be how his first weeks shouldn't be this hard." You'll feel buried in this love for that new, sweet baby. How is it possible to feel such joy and such emptiness at the same time? 

Those words shake me to my core, because those feelings are still so familiar. Postpartum anxiety is real and is hard. I think Andrew and I both knew I had it, but were too afraid to really talk about it. But one day, you wake up and everything seems more settled. The fog in your mind seems to have lifted a little bit and you start to feel more like yourself again. You start letting go of the unrealistic expectations you had for your life as a mother, because that just fuels the anxiety you try so hard to get out from under. You start to figure out what works best for your family. Your baby starts to know you and you start to know him--you look at each other and it feels comfortable and familiar and like it's supposed to. Your heart wants to explode because you love him so much. That love seeps into places in your heart that you didn't even know were broken. 

I want to hug that Rachel from July and tell her that it's going to be okay. That the baby WILL sleep eventually. And you'll get to shower regularly and even eat a full meal in peace every now and then. That in 6 months, you won't know what you did before that little baby. That your whole life will revolve around him and it'll be all you ever wanted. That that heavy love will grow you and make you stronger than you knew you could be, until all of the sudden it doesn't feel quite as heavy.

Looking back, I see really wonderful, redeeming moments when I physically felt the Lord's presence around me and around our family, reminding me that even in those dark moments, when anxiety clouded my every move, I was and am still enough for Williams. That the Lord created us for each other, to be what each other needs day in and day out. That the Lord restored me even in the many moments of weakness as a mother, and still rescues me from those depths of sadness or worry or anxiety today.

When I think of 2016, I want to talk about preparing for Williams, my baby shower, and his perfect birth. Or even traveling to Charleston, Nashville, Savannah, or the beach with family; the many weddings and good times with friends. I want those to be our highlights, those to be the things I blog about and boast on--but it's easy to focus only the months of survival with a newborn. The months of anxiety. The hardest days in my life, when all I was trying to do was get to the next day. But thankfully, in the middle of the glorious mess that was the second half of our 2016, all I see is Williams' little face and God reminds me that his life is an answered prayer. How we spent days and nights longing for this life we're living, as difficult as it is some days. So in the high and the low and every other fleeting moment between the two, I'm pouring out thanks for the year that was 2016 in my life, for Williams, and for the redeeming, forgiving, and gracious Lord above who gave him to us and constantly reminds me that even in the darkness, there is light. There is redemption and grace. 

So I'm going into this beautiful, fresh, clean-slated new year with a bigger heart, more love, and maybe some deep scars, but they're healing with every day that passes. I learned a lot in 2016 and grew in ways that I didn't want to grow, but needed to grow. My faith was stretched and tested but the Lord remained faithful even when I didn't. It's safe to say that 2016 was tough, but I wouldn't change a minute of it, because it brought us to where we are right here in this moment. I have big hopes for what this year will bring for me as a mother, as a wife, as a friend, for our family. I know He will keep reminding me that I'm enough for Williams and for Andrew, even when I don't feel it. Here's to 2017 being a year of redemption in my life. I know that the Lord will continue being faithful with every step.

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