Photo: Jennifer Lightner

We have a photo wall in my house of black and white pictures from different important stages of our lives. I love the pictures, I love how the wall looks, and I stare at it often. Sometimes I take a moment to really look at it, not just fly by. I usually just look at the kids, but the other day I stared at my face in each picture. 

I have no idea what prompted me to do that (I hate looking at myself in general, let alone analyzing a photo of myself) but each face—my face—told a story.

In my wedding photo, I was ecstatic. It was hands down the best day of my life. The picture is of me with my husband during our first dance. I’m beaming with a smile ear to ear…I’m truly happy. We had no time to choreograph our dance, we were barely in the same city, let alone the same room before we got married. But I didn’t care how lame we looked just holding each other and swaying like teenagers—I was married to the love of my life and I was the happiest girl in the world.

The next photo is of my son, exactly seven days after he was born at his Bris (a religious ceremony—and probably the most stressful life event for a new Jewish mom). In the picture, my husband and I were holding him and kissing the top of his head. I looked terrified, my face a complete look of self doubt and uncertainty. Am I holding him too tight, too loose, is he okay, will he be okay, what happens if he cries, what happens if he doesn’t cry, is he too hot, too cold? I literally worried about everything and felt responsible for every single emotion of his—and I was certain I was going to mess it all up.

The next pictures were taken two weeks after my daughter was born. My son was 2 and-a-half years old. My husband and I had a house, a mortgage and two kids. I felt like a real grownup. We could actually afford a fancy studio photographer and fancy birth announcements. I now had two little people counting on me…and I was…exhausted. 

In this particular picture of the four of us, I looked impatient. I looked like I had a fake smile and I remember thinking, please everyone just look at the freakin’ camera…just one decent picture. Hoping my naked baby does not poop on me. Hoping my son doesn’t tantrum and refuse to be in a picture, hoping we can get the perfect birth announcement… Thinking: just keep it together people!

Looking back at all these photos, I thought what I would tell my past self, knowing what I know now.

Dear Wedding Day Me,

Remember this day and this feeling forever! The love you have will literally carry you through some dark times. You will be challenged, beyond the point you think you can endure and you will doubt yourself…a lot. Some days will feel like it’s too hard to keep going.

You will walk through fire, sometimes alone, sometimes with your husband by your side, sometimes him holding you and sometimes you holding him. But you will come out the other side holding each other and completely in love! You are stronger than you think.

Dear New Mom Me,

You have so many doubts, everything in you is unsure and worried. That’s okay. Your son doesn’t see any of that. He doesn’t care if you nurse him or give him a bottle. He knows you love him with all your heart and he loves you right back.

You’re his rock, the one he comes to when things go wrong. Tou figure sh-t out and tell him it will be okay. And he believes you ’cause you’re mom. You got this, and…You are stronger than you think.

Dear Veteran Mom Me,

The next couple of years will be tough. You’ll feel like you will never have your shit together…again…or ever! Your kids will get hurt and you will feel like the worst mom ever. Sh-t gets real. But things get better. They always get better. You’ll walk through fire again…and again…and again—but you get through it, stronger every time.

You will meet many guardian angels throughout the way, in many different forms: just be open to it, to all of it.

Life is messy and unpredictable and so hard for your Type A personality—but you gotta let it go girl! Just let it go and enjoy these fleeting moments. They don’t last. Be present and don’t worry about the perfect picture, because it’s the memory behind the picture that is so much sweeter and better.

And never forget: you will always be stronger then you think.