What does it really, truly mean to be a mother?

Does being a mother mean your life mainly consists of potty-training, play dates, naps, report cards and trips to Target? Does being a mother mean solely complaining about no sleep, public meltdowns or dealing with preteens and puberty?

While those are definitely some of the most real and common topics a mother may speak openly about to her friends or acquaintances, they only scratch the surface of what it actually means to be a mother to another human being.

Becoming a mother is more than the act of shoving aside your own personal desires once your child is born. Raising a human being who is completely dependent on you for food, warmth, love, comfort and protection is no joke.

Quite often, actually being a mother is very different from our ideas about what a mother is or should be.

Being a mother means being wrong a lot but wanting so badly to be right. It means making agonizing decisions when you don’t even know what the right decision is. Being a mother means you are bound and tied to the well-being of another soul until you take your last breath.

Being a mother means being relied upon to know how to do things you may not know how to do, how to make things you may never have heard of, how to fix things without the right tools and how to soothe the darkest fears imaginable within your child without any light to guide you at all.

Being a mother is a journey which can take you up to the peaks of joy, through the valleys of contentment and right down into the trenches of your own emotional limits.

Being a mother means you will be cracked open by panic, worry and stress. It also means you will be stitched up again by sweet smiles, soft little hands and the warmest of hugs.

To choose to be a mother means you have decided that you are ready for this journey even when you don’t know where you were going or how you’ll even get there. It means the person you once thought you were will likely take a backseat to the new warrior created by motherhood.

You will get dirty, bruised, knocked over, tested and most of all—you will realize that the love for a child can expand over any kind of obstacle.

Motherhood is the shedding of a skin that used to be.

Becoming a mother can induce newfound compassion and strength but it can also breed resentment and depression. Some women struggle to find an identity at all after becoming a mother. It’s never guaranteed that motherhood will be as rewarding for some as it is for others.

As a mother, you will feel weaker than you’ve ever felt in your life. You will have moments of such exhaustion and vulnerability that you’ll question your maternal path and your abilities altogether.

What it means to be a mother is so much more than many of us bargained for, expected or were told. Motherhood often takes no prisoners and it can indeed function without mercy on many occasions.

But despite the trials, tribulations and battles, motherhood is ultimately a gift. It’s a gift which tests us, evolves us and shows us true compassion.

Motherhood isn’t for the faint-hearted. It isn’t just shopping at Target. It isn’t just stress over meltdowns and homework.

Motherhood is a complicated endeavor that weaves together our fears, inadequacies, hopes and promises into a pattern that looks nothing like we thought it would, yet turns out to be the most intense, stunning and humbling display of all.

This post originally appeared on The Pondering Nook.