Before I had my first baby, I had a lot of ideas about what motherhood was going to be like. Some of them turned out to be relatively accurate, while others did not.

I was always called the “mom” of my high-school friend-group and it was expected I’d be the first one to have kids out of us all.

When I waitressed during college, families with kids always got put in my section of the restaurant and I loved it. I’d take them on tours through the kitchen and offer to hold them so their parents could finish eating.

I was excited to dive into the world of motherhood head first and revel in the chance to be a stay at home mom. I pinned things on Pinterest about DIY sensory activities, chore charts and lunch box organizing systems.

I was baby crazy.

Naturally, I thought this instinctual draw towards motherhood would translate into some sort of super-mom-mode when I actually had my own kids one day.

And, surprise surprise, I was the first one out of my friends to start having babies.

But since my daughter was born a little over two years ago, motherhood has not been what I had built it up to be.

In many ways, it’s even more beautiful and meaningful than I could have ever imagined as a high-schooler or college student. I truly never knew a love like the love I have for my child was possible.

But this pre-motherhood idea of what I’d be like as a mom—so absorbed with my child, devoting all my time to nurturing and teaching her about the world—just didn’t happen.

Once the fog of the newborn stage passed, I tried hard to find that expected image of motherhood within me. I did do lots of nurturing and teaching about the world with my daughter, and I did enjoy it! But it wasn’t enough.

Eventually, I realized that I was the one lacking some nurturing!

The creative and intellectual aspects of my personality (that I now realize I once took for granted) were not being stimulated through baby lap-time at the library or finger painting with my daughter.

This, of course, sent waves of guilt washing over me. I struggled with admitting to myself, let alone to others, that motherhood just wasn’t enough.

Because my husband and I had made the decision for me not to go back to work after the first year, I felt that meant I had to give my all to being a stay-at-home-mom. But my heart just wasn’t fully in it.

I craved something more that I could focus on and feel excited about. But I also wanted to be available and present with my daughter in her early years.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of being torn between these two desires. And with parenthood being new to me, I didn’t exactly have a standard or measure as to how I was supposed to navigate these feelings.

Was I supposed to be putting my needs and wants aside for my daughter? Was that the right thing to do?

These are not the kind of things they write about it parenting books or teach in pre-natal classes.

Thankfully at that time, I had a supportive husband who didn’t expect me to live up to that super-mom-mode image and I had a close friend who was going through a similar experience as a first-time mother.

They both helped me to wade through that initial uncomfortable stage of feeling like I should be one way when I felt another.

Once I began to let go of my old expectations of motherhood and allowed myself to regain a sense of individualism, free of guilt (mostly), it became clear I needed to find a new balance of nurturing my daughter and myself.

This wasn’t an easy task and honestly, I still have moments when I struggle with it. But I knew I had to figure it out or I would continue to be unhappy, which wasn’t doing any good for anyone.

So, in order to serve those neglected aspects of myself, I started a small home-based sewing business, took some mini online courses and now am entering the world of freelance writing—all things I can do for myself while still giving time and energy to being a stay-at-home-mom.

Another major piece to this puzzle was coming to terms with accepting that daycare isn’t just for kids whose parents work out of the home. Having a part-time childcare option or a babysitter to come over now and then is a great thing for both my daughter and myself.

I felt so guilty about taking advantage of childcare when I was going to be home anyways but I am so glad I let that go. My daughter is thriving with the extra social interaction and I have time to take care of myself properly. Everybody wins!

As I write this, I can feel my second baby girl kicking at my bladder and rolling around inside my womb.

Of course, it makes me worry what another baby will mean for this sense of individualism that I re-created for myself after my first daughter was born.

I worry that I might lose myself a bit like last time, at least for a while. But this time I have a bit of perspective as to what I am capable of after that newborn fog lifts again.

Sure, life with two kids will be a whole new experience, but at least I know now that to be the best mom I can and to give them the attention and love they need, I also need to show myself some attention and love.

Being a mother isn’t enough to sustain all of my happiness and fulfillment. 

It’s taken me a long time and a lot of courage to say that out loud and accept it.

But the beauty of accepting it now is that it has freed me up to truly feel happy and fulfilled during the time I spend with my daughter and on my own.

I don’t have to spend my time worrying about how I should or shouldn’t feel or stressing about my level of commitment to my children or myself.

Letting go of my previous expectations of motherhood has given me my life back. 

It looks different now of course, but it’s still my life and now it feels more complete than ever.

This post originally appeared on Sparks Freelance Writing.