My mother-in-law gave me a gift for my birthday. It was a mug that my father in law gave her when she turned forty and it read “I’d Rather be 40 Than Pregnant.”

For many women, the women who have struggled with infertility or who long for motherhood, I know it’s far from funny. My heart goes out to each of them.

And then there are those exhausted mamas out there who, like me, are reeling from the last decade of motherhood… The joke makes me smile and brings up all the feelings.  

So far, forty feels just right. The last decade was filled with diapers, cribs, and car seats. I was pregnant when I celebrated my thirtieth  birthday and my thirties were filled with three births. (Actually four, if you include my business.) These years have been filled with so many sleepless nights and big dreams for our family. They were filled with so much beauty and so much stress.

Those babies are now ten, eight, and four. We’ve decided there are no more babies coming. As much as I love being a mama, I admit that getting older seems easier than starting the whole process of motherhood all over again. I’m relieved.  

But it’s more than just relief… Only now I am recognizing how my late thirties were filled with something that looks a lot like grief.

Truth is, motherhood is filled with grief. As soon as I gave birth to these babies, the letting go process seemed to begin. And now, looking back on those years of nursing, chasing, and diaper changing, I realize I was letting them go all along.

Time is funny. You don’t realize what’s happening on a daily basis, but  then you stop and look back and realize how much they’ve already changed and moved away from you in so many ways.  

Once upon a time, I used to know everything  that happened in my children’s days, from when they went to the bathroom to exactly what they ate for lunch.  Now, I’m lucky if I get a full answer from them about anything they did while away at school. Things I used to know and things I used to get to take part in have slipped away. It feels like it’s happened both gradually and all at once.

Everyone told me it would go by so fast and it has in some ways. In other ways it has CRAWLED. They call it “the longest shortest time” and wow, are they right.

No matter how I look at the last decade, this time with my babies has already slipped by.  I feel sad and filled with a sense of longing. I have grief that I will never have another pregnancy. Grief that I will never do those 3am feedings again, soaking in the still and quiet of the night. Grief that I packed those cribs away.  Grief that we’ll welcome no more babies into our lives.

And then that little mug reminds me that while there is certainly grief, there is an equal sense of relief.

Relief that I am able to focus more on my own career. Relief that as the kids grow up I am able to have more time for my own projects. Relief that I am able to sleep through the night. (Well, most nights.)

Forty is also bringing with it a feeling that I can let go of perfectionism. I am letting go of the ideal that I have to be perfect in order for my kids to be happy and successful little people who will someday become perfect adults. I am realizing they just need me to just be me.

And this…this is such a relief.

I am giving myself permission to be messy. And in doing so, I am giving my kids permission to be messy as well. When I allow myself to make mistakes and get back up again, they learn how to be resilient. When I treat myself with self compassion, forgiving myself before I ask forgiveness from others, they are learning what self-love and self-worth really are. When I trust my own intuition and find my own voice, my children learn how to trust and speak for themselves.  

And guilt.

Now that I am owning my relief as I close this chapter of my fertility story, I also open myself up to guilt. I love my children and I absolutely loved their babyhood.  I miss them so much, how can I feel relieved to not have to be back there?

Because change is part of life. Motherhood is a perfect example of how we are always changing. Our kids force these changes on us whether we like them or not.

It makes sense. They are growing and changing…fast. And the stages of motherhood cause us to change  along with our kids. I am a different mom to my ten year-old than I was to him when he was a toddler. We are always growing alongside our children. Often that’s  because they are teaching us how to grow along the way.

Motherhood: time and transition

Grief, relief, and guilt all in one cup. Who knew a little mug could bring up such a mixture of emotions?

Motherhood has its way of bringing out all the emotions. When we get lost in the mix we can have trouble making sense of the milestones and the transition. So often, we live through a combination of excitement and anxiety, heartbreak and relief, joy and guilt. They’re all valid. Once we can allow them all a seat at the table and put language to them, we can start to make sense of them. We can start to heal.

When I first got the mug, I wasn’t quite sure exactly why I loved it so much. I had to reach out to a good friend who helped  me get curious about my feelings. Through our conversation, I was able to identify how I was feeling and why. I immediately started to feel better. I gave myself permission to feel the grief and relief surrounding motherhood.

Without someone else to hear me and wonder with me, however,  I may not have been able to name or understand all that I was feeling.

I know that i can not see all there is to see in my life because I am not objective. None of us are when we try to look at ourselves.  I know that I need to reach out and talk to some of my closest people in my life to help bring me clarity. I know first hand just how difficult that can be but I also know how valuable and need it is.

If you are struggling in motherhood, in aging, or with coping with transitions of any kind, reach out to a friend. Reach out and talk about your struggles. Put language around them so you  can make sense of your experiences and your feelings. Sometimes it helps to write it all down. And, if needed, call on a trained and trusted therapist to help you on your journey.

We all need people who give us permission  to let go of perfection. We need to allow ourselves to feel grace and forgiveness, grief, fear, and anxiety all at once. We all need a  place to discover ourselves again.

My Mother’s Day wish for you is that you can give yourself permission to feel all the feelings that come up as you think about your motherhood journey, wherever you are on it right now.