I have a confession: I struggled to bond with my baby, it did not come instantly at all. It was a long struggle but the biggest lesson I learned was how to receive Christ’s grace in the midst of it.
Expectations, expectations, expectations
I think every woman has expectations of what motherhood will look like before becoming one. Some have a picture-perfect image of motherhood, you know, like the pictures we see on Pinterest or Instagram. That breastfeeding would be a piece of cake. Your body would be like if no baby was ever in it. And your kids would be perfect little angels who sit quietly and attentively in church. You and your spouse would be the ideal parents, magazine-worthy.
On the other hand, others imagine motherhood as the end of life. They might think, “now, all my life will solely be devoted to my kids. Bye, bye fun! No more date nights, no more career or anything else I might find exciting.”
The truth is these both extremes are flat-out lies.
Even middle-of-the-road expectations were off
I think I came into motherhood with a little bit of both extremes. My view of mothering was shaped by society and my upbringing. On one side, I saw motherhood as a gift from God, something to look forward to, but on the other side, I had all the negative voices of people circling my head. Their comments of how “mothering is a drag.” The criticism from my family about girls who became pregnant. Saying they “ruined their life.” I received criticism myself because I got pregnant early in our marriage. So I had mixed emotions.
However, for the most part, I was excited; I expected motherhood to be easy. I mean, all I needed to know was how to feed the baby and make sure he was clean and alive. What so hard about that? (or so I thought) I had done it several times before with my nephews. I had done my ongoing research and read every baby-advise in the book. What could go wrong?
He knew I was his mom and I was terrified
Yet, I found myself on a stiff hospital bed, unable to feel half of my body because of the epidural. Resting on me was a cute, tiny, wrinkly naked human being crying his eyes out. Oh, the first time I saw his sparkling brown eyes was by far one of the best days of my life. But now he was there, and I had no idea what he expected of me or what I had to do from here.
I was used to holding my sister’s babies, kissing them, and hugging them, but when the tears started pouring out, they went back to their mamas. But now, I’m the mama.
Furthermore, a part of me was expecting one of my sisters to come in and say, “I got him from here.” But nope, it was just me, me, and this soft, smooth baby who didn’t want to let me go. He knew I was his mother, and I was terrified.
Expectations come crumbling down
My husband and I had planned for me to breastfeed. We were so sure everything would work out that we didn’t even buy a baby bottle. I had done all the research, kept myself healthy, and was well equipped.
Things did not go as expected.
Since the first time I tried latching my son, we both struggled. When we got that down, I was not producing more than one ounce of milk. The moments that I imagined with much ease, happiness, and free of worry turned out to be painful, exhausting, and filled with severe anxiety.
As the days went by, nothing seemed to work. I would latch my little skinny baby from 3 am to 7 am (I am not exaggerating), but nothing would come out. For the first weeks, it seemed I had not slept in ages. I am so grateful that my husband supported me along the way. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without his help.
Self-doubt set in and didn’t let go
The furious blizzard of thoughts stormed in as I saw all my expectations crumbling down, “Is this my fault? Am I not good enough? Is my baby not happy with me? Why am I even thinking of myself, I am so selfish.”
When my husband and I took our baby to his first doctor’s appointment, he had lost so much weight. It seemed as if he could disappear in his baggy clothes. His doctor was concerned for him. I had no choice but to supplement. So great was my despair as I believed I had failed the one I was supposed to care for.
“How will I make it as a mom if I can’t even keep my baby healthy?” I thought to myself.
Motherhood quickly became a burden
It wasn’t just the breastfeeding failure that burdened me but the failure I felt as a mother. I would pray to God, “aren’t I suppose to be happy right now? Why am I not enjoying time with my son?”
In addition, I would receive remarks for not breastfeeding, for not dressing him a certain way, or not covering him enough. It all just added up.
Eventually, this guilt and shame led me to distance myself from my son. And in this, I started seeing motherhood as a burden rather than a joyful gift. I got involved with things that gave me some sort of achievement, like finishing seminary and being involved in every area in the church that I neglected my son.
The first and the second year went by, and all the feelings of disappointment, remorse, and self-reproach were still there. My Instagram was filled with happy faces, hugs, and kisses but no one saw the struggle that hid behind it all.
Correspondingly, I believed all my problems would disappear if I only did more. If I were only more productive, had a fit schedule, and had a clean house, I would be a better mom and wife. But that only left me feeling burned out, empty, and broken. I felt discouraged as I saw my insufficiency. As I realized that I would never be enough, that no matter how hard I may try, I would always fall short. Nonetheless, God helped me see that my problem was not an outer problem (that can be changed with a “to do list”) but an inward problem (that only Christ can change).
Here’s how I started to set things right
The Lord led me to grow deep in the Scriptures. I started studying the Bible, specifically about the attributes of God, the person of Christ, the Gospel, and God’s will concerning womanhood and family. With His help, I drew nearer to him, and that was when things started changing in me. Most of my growth happened in my ordinary conversations with God. The quiet moments on my small golden beat-down couch. In the mornings, I chose to get up before everyone else.
God made clear to me that the answer to my broken motherhood was Jesus. Yes, I was not enough on my terms, but with Christ, I was whole. He has saved me by grace (Ephesians 2:4-5), and I can also live by his grace. Out of all the portions that spoke to me, I would like to mention Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians briefly.
God cares about everything in our lives
God cares about what goes on in our homes. So much that He inspired Paul (and others) to write about our marriage, that it should display the communion between Christ and His church (5:22-33). Not only that, but He also didn’t fail to mention the relationship between children and their parents. (6:1-4)
Many Christians fall into the error of dividing their walk with Jesus and other areas of their life. Primarily this was the mistake I was making. I had minimized my relationship with God to one that looked like a relationship between a boss and an employee. He was my boss who I would meet with every morning to “talk business,” but that was it. Like a relationship with our boss stays at work, mine wouldn’t extend outside Sunday services or my “quiet times.” But, contrary to this, God wants to be our life. Our motherhood should be lived out in Christ, not on the side.
We ought to live out our Christian life not only on Sundays or during our “quiet times” but also in every area of our lives. When we choose to place our faith in Christ and commit ourselves to live for him, that also includes committing ourselves to parent according to his will. Only depending on him is this possible. So, abiding, trusting in him as our Savior and strength, we can mother for his honor and glory.
Leaning on Christ
Other than the Epistle of Ephesians, I can share many other Scripture portions that God used to ensure his tender grace towards me. So, while I was learning to care for and love my baby, my Heavenly Father cared for me and helped me experience his love and favor. As Isaiah 40:11 says, “he gently leads those that have young.”
All this time, I saw God as an angry Father who counted all my failures as a mother, when in reality, he wanted me to rest in him. He wanted me to see that his grace for me was indeed sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
Along with this, Jacob tells his brother Esau that his kids “are the children God has graciously given [him]” (Genesis 33:5b). Children are a beautiful heavenly gift, not a burden. I realized that God did not give them to me because I would be a perfect parent, but he graciously gave me children because he is good. Undoubtedly, I cannot give my children a perfect mom, but I can show them an imperfect woman held by God’s grace and love. Also, I can extend them the same endless love and mercy God has given me.
God sees you
Lastly, dear mama, God sees me, and he also sees you. We read about a mother named Hagar in Genesis 16. She was stranded with her son in the wilderness with no one in sight. After being humiliated and despised by her mistress, she decided to grab her son and run away, pursuing a better home. When she believed that no one cared or wanted them, she finds the One she will later call “The God who sees.”
Indeed, after receiving comfort and promises from the Lord, she responds: “You are God Who Sees “… Have I not even here [in the wilderness] remained alive after seeing Him [who sees me with understanding and compassion]?” (Genesis 16: 13) These words fill my heart with joy and hope, knowing that God sees us. He knows our pain and understands. Our heavenly Father cares for our families. He desires to give us a communion that resembles that of his and his Son. What better bond can we have with our kids than that?
The purpose behind the creation of humanity and the universe is the glory of God. Motherhood exists not simply because we live on earth. It exists to display our Creator’s compassionate, unconditional and warm love. “As a mother comforts her child, I shall comfort you.” (Isaiah 66:13)
My son and I today
I drove up to my son’s elementary school like I do every afternoon to pick him up. I spotted out his little brown eyes, the sun shining on his light brown hair, and his big, lovely smile of joy. He shook his little legs out of giddiness, waiting for me to pick him up. I noticed he saw me, and with great happiness and pride, he told his teacher, “That’s my mom!” My soul inflated with sweet fragrant warmth, I knew he loved me, and I loved him.
After all, I still cannot say that I am a flawless mom because I have so much growing to do. But I praise our Lord Jesus Christ because I know that I can rest my motherhood on him. And that even out of my flaws, he can make something good.
We’ve now added another trooper to our tribe, and I glorify God that I am a little “wiser” and can use what he taught me with my first child. Additionally, I was officially diagnosed with insufficient glandular tissue (Mammary hypoplasia), which keeps a woman from producing milk. However, with help from my lactation consultant, I was able to combine breastfeeding and formula efficiently.
Do I still struggle to bond and love my kids? Every day I face the battle against selfishness, guilt, and lovelessness.
But now, I see my struggle in a new light. Now I know I can meet this with Christ; I can trust in his grace and trust that he makes up for all my shortcomings. Now I can use my sin to display his love, mercy, and grace. I can ask my family forgiveness when I am wrong, and we can forgive each other because Christ has forgiven us. My motherhood is a perfect image of a weak flawed woman, loved, held together, strengthened, and equipped by Christ to love and serve her imperfect little cubs selflessly for his glory.