This post was originally published on February 8, 2018, on Lottie & Me.

Motherhood would be easier if the “expecting” period were only nine months long. Because let’s be honest, those nine months are no walk in the park. Maybe some days we glowed, maybe some days we were comfortable, maybe some days we weren’t eating our weight in pirouettes. But if your pregnancy was anything like mine, most days we were nauseated, exhausted, and weeping at cat-food commercials. More days than not we were worried and neurotic. A few days we were down right miserable. And the whole time we were busy feeling guilty for not loving every moment because, seriously, how lucky were we to be pregnant?

If pregnancy were only those nine months of wonderful misery, I think my expectation of motherhood would have been clearer. I would have known that anything this beautiful and perfect would come with some seriously ugly and imperfect days. That some days I would be crying through my laughter. That in motherhood, sometimes the shit literally hits the fan.

The problem is that, for many of us, the “expecting” begins months, even years before we ever turn a test. All this time we spend dreaming while failing at conceiving. And the longer it takes, and the more we want it, the more bargains we make with ourselves. That we’ll never complain in motherhood. That we’ll cherish every moment. That every time the going gets rough, we’ll remember how much rougher the fists full of negative tests could be and everything will be okay. Every pregnancy hurdle that feels impossible, we tell ourselves it will all be worth it. And let me be clear. It is worth it. It is so, so worth it. But none of this makes mothering easy.

Until now, I never realized just how loaded that one little question could be — are you expecting? And the truth is, I was.

I expected that I would hate my pregnant self and appreciate my post-pregnancy body. I never expected to fall in love with my elephant ankles and my big, protruding belly. But the truth is, that belly was beautiful. Every night I would elevate my aching calves, prop up on a pillow, and watch my baby dance. My belly was firm and my skin was tight and it was a hell of a lot nicer than this belly button crater I carry around now. I was so eager to see my little girl out in the big wide world that I never expected I would miss the time when my baby was a part of me and not just an extension.

I expected that the aches and pains would go away with my pregnancy. In fact, I remember specifically thinking, just three more months, just two more weeks, just five more days and my body will be normal again. And while I knew that, of course, there was a certain amount of recovery involved in the whole labor and delivery process, it never occurred to me that three months down the line my pelvic bones would still pop every time I stood, that rolling over would feel next to impossible, that a good fifteen minute walk would leave me incapacitated for the evening.

I expected Lottie would breastfeed. I knew that sometimes it just doesn’t work, and I’d heard a million times “fed is best” and believed it to be true, but I really wanted to breastfeed. In some small way, I think I thought I’d earned it. Because conception was hard and pregnancy was hard and I didn’t get to have any say in really any part of my journey. So I thought I should get to choose this. Which is silly. And childish. But of all the things in motherhood I had set my heart on, breastfeeding was the one.

So when the nurse handed me Lottie and she immediately latched, I was beyond elated. I didn’t expect that at our next attempt Lottie would fall asleep immediately after latching. That she would continue to fall asleep every single time. That I would be forced to supplement with formula in the first 24 hours of her existence. That she would never truly nurse again.

I expected to be anxious. Because I’ve always been anxious. And really, what kind of mother would I be if I wasn’t a little anxious? I did not expect to feel eternally vulnerable–like I’d just given birth to the greatest piece of my heart and left it out in the world, free for the taking. Never has it been so easy to hurt me. My whole life is in that girl, every little bit of me, and that’s more than just a little anxiety inducing.

I expected to feel completed, like Lottie was the missing piece to my happiness. I had spent so much time unhappy, trying to become a mother, that in some part of my mind ‘motherhood’ became the ultimate goal, the one thing in life I needed. And in some ways motherhood has completed me — I am so much happier, so much happier than I ever thought I could be. I have come into my element in ways unimaginable since Lottie’s birth. But I have also learned that I can’t spend my life living for my child; I have to live for myself, too.  To continue building my identity beyond ‘mother.’

In the end, my greatest expectation was this:  I expected to love my daughter, I just never expected how much.