Dear Old Self:

Congratulations. You’ve just given birth to a baby girl, and she’s the most beautiful and terrifying thing you’ve ever seen. As you lay in your hospital bed, mind racing after three hours of sleep and an emergency C-section, I know you’re full of questions. There’s the immediate panic: Why won’t she latch? What if she stops breathing? Can you handle this? And the bigger question: Will your life ever be the same again?

Five years and two kids later, I can tell you, unequivocally, the answer to that last question is no. Your life will never again be the way it was. Never again will you get mad at your husband for waking you up at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. No longer will working 70 hours a week seem like a badge of honor. And it’s going to be a long time before you care if your panty line shows through your miniskirt.

And good riddance to all those things. You have bigger concerns now. You have a tiny human to keep alive, to teach, to shape into a functional member of society. If that thought makes you want to pass out, don’t worry; it’s probably just the painkillers.

I’m here to tell you you’re going to be fine. Not perfect – never perfect. You’re going to yell. You’re going to humiliate yourself shouting at a 5-year-old in the supermarket. You’re going to say things in anger to your children that I can’t write here because, years later, I’m still too ashamed. Some awful shrew is going to lash out at your husband. That miserable woman is going to be you.

Your daughter, at four months old, is going to fall off the bed. Your son is going to fall headfirst off the couch – twice. You’re going to rush your daughter to the ER after a sledding accident, too paralyzed with fear to fill out the hospital intake forms, or to notice the tears rushing down your cheeks. You’re going to forget to breathe.

But they’re going to be fine. They’re going to recover from the bumps and bruises. From the words said in anger. You all are. Because the love you’re just now starting to understand is going to quietly consume every ordinary moment of every ordinary day. It’s going to guide your fingers as you work your daughter’s hair into an Elsa braid. Fill you with pride as you watch her through the window of her dance class. Calm her as together you walk into a birthday party, your daughter timidly clinging to your hand.

And, somewhere along the way, you’re going to recognize her love in these moments. In her blissful giggles as you teach her the Hammer Dance, the two of you gliding ridiculously across the floor. In her implicit trust as you help her decorate a tiara, convinced you could never steer her wrong. In the rhythm of her breath as she falls asleep snuggled next to you in front of the TV, her head resting gently on your shoulder. She’s going to be the best friend you’ve ever had.

You’re going to watch with awe as your son grows into a little man. As he takes his seat at the family table, his high chair fading into memory. As he attempts his first words, trying so hard to make you understand. As he takes his first tentative steps away from you. He’s going to break free from your embrace, eager to explore his world on his own – only to rush back into your arms when he falls, because it’s the place he feels safest in the world. He’s going to laugh when you laugh, smile when you smile, kiss your cheek when you hold him close. He’s going to be the miniature love of your life.

Your husband is going to be more than the man you married. He’s going to be your companion on this crazy, wondrous journey called parenthood. He’s going to be the one person in the world who loves your children as much as you do. Who knows when your daughter is pretending to be mad, or which cry means your son is lonely. He’s going to sit by your side at parent-teacher conferences, hold your hand through the Terrible Twos, celebrate every one of your birthdays. He is and always will be the original love of your life.

As for you, you’re going to figure this mom thing out. Maybe not today, as you try to make sense of the baby at your breast, the scar on your body, the sleep that’s no longer yours. For now, just let it all in. The fear and the joy, the stress and the hope. You have time. And when you return home, put down the laundry once in a while. Sit. Breathe. You’ve created something wonderful. It may not always feel like it, as you struggle to stay awake or sit without pain. But you’ve planted a seed, and it’s going to grow into a beautiful new life. And I’m not just talking about that miracle in your arms. I’m talking about you – about the new life ahead of you. No, it won’t be the same. It will be better.

This is only the beginning.

Meredith Hale is the author of Mommy A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the Joys, Wonders, and Absurdities of Motherhood. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and the Mommy A to Z blog.

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