Embracing Grace in Motherhood: Ashley Nicholes
Motherhood doesn't always (or always doesn't!) go how we thought it would. Today for our Mother's Day series, guest poster Ashley Nicholes is sharing how God's grace helped turn her rocky start into motherhood into a beautiful journey that taught her about the strength she had inside herself, and the strength God was always willing to give. Also today's post features artist Tiffany Webster who is sharing a beautiful free print for Mother's Day, that you can print for free!
Before I had my first baby, I thought I was strong. I had a Master's Degree in educational psychology, I had read every single book on babies and parenting in existence, and I was convinced I knew exactly how to conquer this whole motherhood thing. Heaven's divine approval of my calling as a mother would distill upon our home like morning dew on grass. My baby would be the perfect child, my house would be spotless, and I would be its saintly, angelic mother, cradling my serene infant while dappled sunshine formed golden halos around our heads.
Surely the experienced mothers who just read that first paragraph are wiping the tears of laughter from their eyes. What a wakeup call I was in for! From the moment my all-natural, drug-free birth plan morphed into an emergency c-section, I knew things were not in my control. My husband and I fell in love with our sweet baby boy the moment we clapped eyes on him, but was he perfect? Unless perfect babies scream all day and never sleep, then no, not so much.
Breastfeeding seemed like the least natural thing in the world and my son refused to latch. I had not anticipated any problems with nursing (because I was going to be perfect at everything, remember?), so the only pump I had was cheap, inefficient machine I had quite honestly never even planned on using. Once this proved insufficient, I rented an industrial breast pump the size of a sewing machine (and about as loud) and used it 'round the clock.
But because the lactation consultant told me that if I ever wanted to succeed at breastfeeding I had to keep trying to get him to latch, I had to attempt to nurse my son before feeding him a bottle of breast milk every single time he ate. Our routine for the first month went something like this: try to nurse while my son screamed his powerful little lungs out, give up after 20 minutes of his protests, thaw some breast milk for him drink, change him, attempt to get him back to sleep, pump milk like a jersey cow while stressing nonstop about supply, and start all over again when I would hear my son's cries pierce the air once more.
Sleep went out the window. I don't think I got more than 45 minutes of unbroken shuteye for the first month of my son's life. I cried a lot. I remember sobbing in the library parking lot on my first solo postpartum outing because Brian Adams' "I Do It For You" came on the radio, making me think of all the sacrifices I was going through for my baby and how it was worth it because I loved him so much (hello, hormones!). As soon as Adams was finished crooning his ballad, however, my mind returned to its fantasy of driving off into a magical land of spotlessly white beds where time stopped and moms could sleep to their hearts' content. How is this not already a business?
It was then that a well-meaning friend told me this is what I could expect from motherhood. I slouched into church one Sunday, my disheveled, dry-shampooed-within-an-inch-of-its-life hair pulled into a ratty bun, my dress wrinkled with mismatched shoes. Pretty much your standard vision of beauty. She let me air a few new-mom grievances as she nodded, her eyes filling with sympathy. "It's just really hard," she said. "You'll be lucky if you wear makeup once a week. A shower will be the world's greatest luxury. When you move from wearing sweatpants all day to wearing yoga pants all day, consider it a step up. Welcome to your new normal." I felt tears creep down my cheeks when she left as this idea slid into place in my mind like a Tetris block. Oh, my goodness, this whole no-sleeping thing is like a bad song stuck on repeat, isn't it? I looked around for a paper bag to start breathing in and out of. Would this really be my new normal?
Once I was home, I collapsed onto my knees and prayed. I asked God if this really had to be my life forever. I pleaded for strength and hope. Could I really do this motherhood thing as I had so convinced myself when I was pregnant? Did this whole screaming child, dirty house, sleepless nights thing have to be my life as a mom? I prayed for what felt like hours. I asked Heavenly Father for inspiration. I begged Him to show me a way to grow in this new calling. Like Lot's wife, I often looked back and longed for the days before I became pregnant, if only to daydream about the lazy, sleepy weekends of yore. (You remember sleeping in, right? Me either.)
Slowly, as I prayed, peace began to enter my heart. I began to feel my tears drying, my breathing returning to its usual steady rhythm. I found my thoughts suddenly turning to my grandmother. She had passed away a few years previously, and I thought about her life and what she must have gone through as a mom. My grandfather had died at a relatively young age after battling illness for several years, leaving her to raise their 11 children on her own. I could barely wrap my mind around one baby, but 11? And she did it with the unflinching structure and discipline at which she did many things. What advice would she give me?
I felt a small amount of resolve beginning to trickle down my spine. Maybe it was her German blood in me, maybe it was my own stubbornness, maybe it was inspiration. But I could almost hear my grandmother saying, "Chin up, dry your eyes, and get to work. Of course you can do this. You're a Zinn!"
Now, that doesn't sound very lovey-dovey, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. No more longing for a different era of my life. No more hopeless wandering around our apartment or allowing my mind to fill with negative thoughts. If God gave me this child, He knew I could mother him. I just needed to buckle down and get my act together.
First, I got out a notepad and began writing down the inspiration I received about how to get my life back in order. With a broken heart and contrite spirit, wonderful nuggets of wisdom came piece by piece into my mind. Inspiration about my baby's temperament and how to best help him sleep and eat, ways to create structure in my day that allowed me to cook and clean and stay on top of the housework, and the idea for me to begin my running routine again. I took it all to heart and began applying what I wrote down to our days.
The change was absolutely remarkable. I applied principles I had read about in books to my baby's routine and he began sleeping consistently for naps and at night. While he slept, I found time to clean my home and prepare meals, something I truly loved to do and had missed dearly. Exercising in the crisp fall air gave me such a boost each morning, I began calling it my "therapy." Slowly, little by little, I felt like me again. My son and I began a tradition of reading our scriptures together in the mornings while we ate breakfast, something we continue to do to this day, and it truly brings a spirit of peace into our home we could achieve no other way. Motherhood started to become joyful instead of burdensome.
I'm amazed at the grace God continues to give me as a mother. As soon as our sweet babies are placed on our chests after childbirth, we're in charge of every aspect of their lives. God entrusts his tiniest, most vulnerable treasures to us, their mothers, even though we don't really know what the flip we're doing. At least I didn't. And as a person in my own right, I am far from perfect. But that's why God gives us grace through His son Jesus Christ. He allows us to come to Him and ask for help, and when we do, He answers. Even though we've sinned. Even though we've gotten frustrated with our husbands or kids. Even when we've cried so much we don't know if there's anything left inside. By grace, and by His perfect, infinite love, He is there with open arms. We just need to reach out and ask for help.
I'm glad I thought of my stoic grandmother that fateful Sunday. Sure, I could have accepted the words of my friend and continued on as I had, but that was not the right answer for me, even though I believe my friend's intentions were good. I needed to know things could improve and that my life didn't have to spiral out of control. I wanted to know I could receive inspiration about how to be a better mom, and I'm so blessed that God gave me the exact inspiration I needed when I was stuck.
I still ask for help every day. My once-colicky son is now a sweet but strong-willed preschooler with a rambunctious two-year-old sidekick mimicking his every move. Life wouldn't be the same without my cute little tornadoes of destruction, and I love them with every fiber of my being, but our days are long. And when I'm too overwhelmed to stand, I drop to my knees and pray. My prayers may have changed (instead of asking God to help my children sleep, I now ask Him to help my children not throw sand in other kids' faces at the park), but the love I feel from God has not. And it never will.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every [mother] that asketh receiveth; and [she] that seeketh findeth; and to [she] that knocketh it shall be opened.
— Matthew 7:7-8
Ashley is a freelance writer from South Jordan, Utah. She is the mother of two young boys, Calvin and Graham, and considers them the greatest blessings in her life alongside her husband, TJ. In her spare time, she enjoys running long distances, eating delicious food, and brainwashing her kids into rooting for her alma mater's football team instead of her husband's. You can connect with her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org