As a mom of two little boys (ages 3 and 1), I’ve been able to connect with countless women by transparently sharing the beautiful and broken moments of motherhood, particularly those surrounding two very different pregnancies and birth stories. If there’s one area I’ve recognized as a constant place of attack, it’s our identities, and it’s no surprise that there’s often resistance when it comes to birthing and raising a generation in the image of the Father.
There’s a really honest question I want to bring forward to mothers, and I think it’s one we should sit with despite the discomfort it brings: how many of us have found ourselves in a place of disillusionment as new moms? We might not want to admit it (because it doesn’t feel “good” or grateful), but I’m convinced that if we didn’t experience these feelings early in our postpartum journey, it’s quite possible that they have bubbled up at some point as we’ve navigated the early years of motherhood. We’ve got to look at the expectations of mothers in today’s society and make room for the tough conversations surrounding stigmas and mental health.
While some of us reflect on our birth stories with joy, there are others who sit in the confusion (and even trauma) of what we expected to be the most beautiful experience, leaving us disappointed and isolated. I’ll never forget the feeling of holding my firstborn, Elijah, in my arms. I admired every precious detail of his perfect face and tiny body with awe and gratitude. But I’d be lying if I said that my reality matched my expectations. Every ounce of me wanted to embrace motherhood, but all I really felt early on was defeat.
There was a laundry list of things I didn’t expect with his birth (and I imagine most women have a list of their own). I didn’t anticipate an emergency C-section, requiring assistance to pick up my baby in the middle of the night, continued bleeding and contractions after surgery, extreme physical pain for weeks, being incredibly overwhelmed with breastfeeding, the sheer exhaustion, crazy hormones, a newborn who cried almost constantly from reflux, and immediate onset depression like I’d never known.
It was deep, dark, lonely, and terrifying. There were times I would just stare blankly while holding this beautiful boy who I adored immensely, and feel guilt wishing I was anywhere else. Motherhood was exactly what I wanted, yet I was miserably overwhelmed and paralyzed with a sadness I couldn’t explain. The weight of it all crushed me—I just wanted to enjoy those first few weeks, but the unexpected physical and emotional toll seemed insurmountable. Isolation crept in the form of comparison, as I didn’t know a single person whose introduction to motherhood looked like mine.
Pinterest and social media have somehow convinced young mothers that it’s possible to “curate” the perfect birth and motherhood experience, or at least the appearance of one. Whether we want to have the perfect birth plan, the sweetest announcement photo, the best playlist for laboring, the most expensive “necessities” from our registries, the longest breastfeeding journey, or the most impressive homemaking abilities, we’re constantly inundated with this focus on the appearance of ease and perfection. But for those of us in the trenches of raising little ones, we recognize that it’s actually quite absurd to expect ease and perfection in the context of mothering. Mothering is messy and complex, full of grace and challenges. It’s moments of beauty and brokenness, it’s holy and it’s humbling. It’s anything but ease and perfection. In order to be there for our fellow friends and sisters, we’ve got to be more open and transparent with our places of struggle so as to release the shame and inadequacy that the ideal of perfection projects.
To lessen the potential for disappointment and disillusionment at the intersection of motherhood and identity, there are a few action steps we can focus on:
1. Stand firm in your identity. We have to remember that our identity comes from Christ (1 John 3:1). When we start to see our identity first as a mother, a wife, a friend, etc. we often exchange the eternal for the temporary. When I was drowning in postpartum depression all I could see was defeat as a mother (which was a lie!), but he rescued me and drew me out of deep waters (Psalm 18:16 NLT) because he cares deeply about his children. I’ll never forget the feeling once I sought help and the cloud of heaviness lifted, how clearly I could see and feel the Lord’s nearness. He was exactly where he had been all along.
2. Encourage one another (and stop comparing!) I believe the Lord wants us to focus less on all the tangible preparations and more on preparing our hearts for the days ahead. While a healthy amount of preparation is necessary (when it comes to birth—take the classes, make a registry, do what you need to do!), but remember that aesthetics, accessories, and milestones mean very little in the scope of eternity. However, the posture of our hearts and our connections with others matter greatly. Let’s “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11) by sharing more than just the pretty parts of our stories with the understanding that our transparency has the power to connect and help. We’re doing our friends (and ourselves) a disservice if we’re struggling silently while pretending that everything is great. When it comes to the things we share, or post online, consider Galatians 1:10: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?” This gives perspective on our motives, and can help discern if what we’re consistently sharing is helpful or harmful.
3. Give yourself grace, sis. Let’s shift our expectations from simply preparing for the first few minutes and weeks of life to preparing our hearts for the unexpected highs and lows of raising God-fearing children. Give yourself the grace to accept that your reality might not always meet your expectations, and that is okay. If something doesn’t go the way you imagined (getting pregnant right away, an exact birth plan, breastfeeding for X amount of time, etc.), it does us no good to dwell on it without action. While grieving is healthy, we need to surrender it to the Lord so we don’t stay stuck in disappointment. Some women struggle with judgments or stigmas based on things people or culture have told us, like “C-sections are not real birth” or “Christians shouldn’t take antidepressants.” Those have got to go! Let go of any stigmas or mindsets that don’t voice the truth of God and replace them with a Philippians 4:8 mindset, focusing on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
4. Seek wise counsel. We don’t have to do this alone; we were given the Holy Spirit (John 14:26) as a helper, who offers wisdom and discernment when we seek it. Furthermore, you can also seek wisdom from trusted women in your circle who have experience and insight to offer (Proverbs 19:20). Surround yourself with friends and family who lift you up, and who aren’t afraid of addressing the tough subjects. And of course, if you find yourself battling depression and thoughts of harm or suicide, please seek help from a professional healthcare provider, such as your OB, physician, or a licensed counselor. Shame and stigmas have no place in the kingdom, and although it requires humility to take this step, it is well worth it to work toward the freedom and fullness God has for your life (Galatians 5:1).
5. Share your hope. “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble” (Psalm 107:2). I love sharing my story to illustrate the redemption and healing God brought through my second son’s birth story. While I faced areas of resistance and defeat throughout my first pregnancy, I was able to bring those to the Lord and pray fervently over those areas with my second. I prepared as much as I could in a more practical sense this time around, without obsessing over the details that didn’t matter. One of my favorite practical preparations was prepping frozen meals that lasted us weeks and gave us less to worry about. I gave myself lots of grace in my expectations surrounding recovery, and made the most of the late nights watching new shows with my husband. I sought wise counsel to stay ahead of PPD, and even began taking an antidepressant during my third trimester. I weighed the (minor) risks with the benefit of knowing that my toddler deserved the healthiest and happiest version of his mommy as he adjusted to life as a big brother. And I look back on it all with overwhelming gratitude, seeing the miracles and redemption that weave this story together.
All in all, let’s remember that everyone’s journey looks different. God created us all with unique purposes and gifts, which we can use for his glory. If you’re currently in a season of disillusionment or are working through something difficult, consider these steps through the lens of your identity in Christ. I pray that encouragement and hope will comfort your spirit, and you’ll cling to the promises the Lord has for you, to “give you a future and hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Reflection and Application
- Consider the last time you felt disappointed or disillusioned in your journey through motherhood. How recent was this? How often do you feel this way? Were your expectations too high, or is there anything that could have prepared you for the letdown? Bring these topics and questions to the Lord. Ask him to reveal ways you can grow or heal in these places of hurt by highlighting Scripture that affirm who you are to him. Then, speak them aloud to speak LIFE over your circumstances. One of my favorite real life applications is to declare these words over myself in hard times, or use them as an anthem that strengthens my faith.
- Find another woman who could use a little encouragement this week (maybe a new mama, a sick friend, someone who recently experienced a loss, etc.) and do something kind for them. Offer a specific gesture that doesn’t require them to do any leg work, like, “I’d love to bring you dinner; would Thursday or Friday work better?” Be sure to follow up with a card or text message to check in on them emotionally, as this provides space for transparency.
- Ask God to prepare your heart for what’s ahead. Whether you’re expecting a baby, transitioning to toddlers, raising teenagers or anything in between, we’ve got to pray into the spiritual nature of raising children. There is enough chaos in the world, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed or anxious when we try to take everything on ourselves.
- Make a list in your head of people in whom you can confide and really count on. (It’s okay if this list is small!) Find a way to connect with one of those people this week. Check in with a phone call, send a text message, or schedule a time for coffee. Use this time to build intentional connection (or maintenance) as an opportunity for your relationship to reach deep places. Remember that in times of crisis, your inner circle has the most insight and influence, so let’s cultivate those relationships now.
- Ask the Lord to provide an opportunity for you to share your story with someone. Specifically ask for him to give you the words and confidence to share the parts that will help someone else. This might not happen right away, but he will certainly use your obedience and willingness to bring freedom to others—whether it’s through an appointed one-on-one conversation or he provides a platform to share with many, he will always honor your “yes.”
Photo credit: Emilee Carpenter
Megan and her husband (Delyn), along with their two little boys (Eli and Asher), reside in the greater Charlotte area. She works part time for a rising nonprofit, The Lantern Project, designed to train and empower companies and individuals to make a positive social impact in the fight against sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. She is passionate about encouraging/connecting women through vulnerability and creativity, and hopes that in sharing her heart she can draw others to the heart of the Father.