A few weeks back I received this note from a client of mine, a new mom I had just done newborn pictures for.

Hey Rachel! Hope this doesn’t sound creepy, but I’ve been so excited for our pictures that I often find myself on your Instagram looking at your previous newborn shots! Tonight I took it a step farther and decided to read your blog posted in your bio. I never expected that my social media “stalking” would end with me sobbing! I wanted to share that I resonated so, so deeply with your post about Charlie and the “first few weeks.” I love being a Mom but it’s HARD- from the postpartum recovery, to my anxiety and nighttime baby blues, and the constant google searches and trial/error (do I burp her more? Maybe it’s a growth spurt? Is it bad If I have another glass of wine?!). This has been the most amazing and challenging 3 weeks of my life and it was so nice to read your post and feel like I’m not alone.

There I was, now wiping away my very own tears, feeling completely humbled by one of the kindest emails I’d ever received. Was I creeped out? Hell no! It felt pretty nice to hear that I’m not the only one virtually “stalking” people on social media! My husband, Mike, has said on multiple occasions he’s not sure if he should be impressed or scared by my online investigative abilities. But as moved as I was by my client’s message, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what post she was talking about.

I had to pull up my own instagram profile and click the link in my bio to refresh my memory on what exactly it was I shared with the world, a blog post I had written titled “The First Weeks - Learning to Lean In.” As I read through it, I expected to be brought back to those exact moments that I described in great detail, full of emotion and the type of rawness that only the early postpartum days can evoke. But instead, I just felt this void. A disconnection from that girl who I apparently was a few months earlier. It bothered me, thinking that there was a part of myself that I seemingly had buried somewhere so far away, as if I was ashamed of who I was during that earliest stage of motherhood. Mike and I always joke to other new parents that our motto during the first few months with Charlie was “survive and advance” but I don’t think I realized that was what I was actually doing every day, every hour, every minute; I was literally just trying to survive. During those lowest points, I truly did not think things would ever get better.

There was one moment during that blur of a time that did stick though, and feels especially fitting now. It was over brunch in the middle of a crowded First Watch cafe. I was attempting to eat my first actual meal of the day, slug my second cup of coffee, all while trying to keep Charlie asleep long enough in his little cocoon wrapped around my chest for me to catch up with my friend, Colleen. Coll and I have been close friends for years; she and her husband grew up with Mike and when I came along to their crew, Coll took me under her wing. Over a decade later, the same could be said with every other major life moment we both experienced that came after. First our engagements, then our weddings, and now our kids. At one point during our chat, I just started crying. I was a mess. I felt like I had no clue at all what the hell I was doing. My boobs ached. I smelled like spit up. And I was just so fucking tired. Like she’s always done throughout our friendship, Coll looked me straight in the eye and told me what I needed to hear. That even though I couldn’t imagine it right now, things would get better. “I promise it just will," she said. So much better that I’d probably look back on this very moment one day and laugh. And get this part - she told me it’d be so much better that I’d actually start considering having another kid! HA!

So on the eve of Charlie’s first birthday, as I sit here and blow up balloons and bake his little funfetti cake while he’s asleep upstairs, I can’t help but laugh. Just like Coll told me I would. The “better” I had so desperately hoped for in those early months arrived, and ironically, it was even better than I could’ve ever imagined. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to pinpoint when it happened; there wasn’t some major turning point or developmental leap Charlie reached that got us there. But we did. And while we won’t be surprising Charlie with a little brother or sister anytime soon, I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about it often, with excitement and eagerness nonetheless.

Having a kid changes you, completely. As a writer, I’m even at a loss for words right now trying to describe what it feels like. The way your child nestles in your chest before a nap, but looks up one last time before he falls asleep as if to make sure you’re still there. How he gently moves your hair out of your face to say hi, only to swiftly tug it back (and hard I might add) to hide and play an impromptu game of peek-a-boo. The way he sits on your lap, legs crossed, bottle in hand, living his absolute best life watching morning cartoons, kicking his feet in excitement. And God, that giggle. The one you get when you haven’t even tickled him yet, but he knows it’s coming and there’s nothing he can do to stop it. There isn’t a better sound in the entire world.

These moments that were once a constant are becoming more fleeting as Charlie becomes more independent. We can’t help but cheer him on loudly as he’s learned to stand, arms raised in the air like Superman jetting off into the sky. I’m so proud of who he is becoming and what he is achieving while also wishing I could press rewind and have him just lay still in my arms again for hours on end like he used to. Letting me stroke his cheeks for as long as I wanted, blissfully unphased while he cooed away, sometimes slipping in a quick smile. Most times now it feels like a race against the clock to get his diaper changed, or sneak in a quick hug or smooch before he’s off to the races again. 

I’ve spent this entire year watching my son grow without realizing until now how much I’ve grown alongside him. I’ve learned so much about myself because of him. That I’m stronger than I ever thought I could be. That listening to my gut is always the right choice. That my deepest worries are rooted in the deepest love I’ve ever known. That my level of patience is indeed higher than I ever anticipated (I’ll be sure to report back on this one during the toddler phase) and ultimately, that even on my not so good days, I am still doing a damn good job raising a happy and healthy little boy. A little boy who turned this once scared and uncertain girl into a brave and confident mother.

Happy 1st birthday, Charlie. I love you more than all the stars in the sky, the fishies in the sea, and all of the pizza in NYC.

Love, Mommy