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I waited until my husband Kevin was at work to put up the star decals.

I was eight months pregnant and adding the finishing touches to our baby’s nursery. Slate blue crib and changing table-dresser, thick white rug, and the sweetest solar system bedding you’ve ever seen, it was all there, except for that last detail: the smattering of little gold stars I wanted on the walls since, as renters, we couldn’t paint them.

Standing atop a step stool with my Jupiter-sized belly, sheets of decals in hand—yes, it was worth the risk of falling, and yes, that’s why I waited until Kevin wasn’t around to do it—I noticed a crack in the ceiling. I took a photo to send to our landlord, worrying only whether the maintenance crew would get ceiling dust on the rug.

Boy, was I in for a surprise.

The man who came the next day to fix it brought his toolbox, but curiously didn’t open it after examining the situation. A few minutes later, he came out to tell us the news.

“The whole ceiling is compromised,” he said, with an apologetic glance at my belly. “We need to replace it.”

My head began to spin. The whole ceiling. They needed to redo the whole ceiling. The nursery we’d so lovingly assembled had to be empty by the next day.

I knew I should have been grateful that we caught the problem before anything dangerous happened—before the baby was born, even—but I just sat on our bed and cried. Kevin, to his great credit, didn’t get mad at me for turning into a teary, pathetic lump while he emptied the room. Tragically—comically?—the crib was about a centimeter too wide to fit through the door, so Kevin had to take it apart. The pieces leaned against the coffee table in our living room, a dismal monument to the whole debacle.

A few hours later, the two of us stood in the doorway of the baby’s room. It was as bare as when we’d moved in, except for the little gold stars on the walls.

Starting at the empty nursery, I couldn’t help but think about the symbolism in this turn of events.

Finding peace in emptiness

I’d been working too much when I got pregnant.

Suffice it to say that three jobs totaling some seventy hours per week was unsustainable. I knew it was a precarious arrangement, and it wasn’t supposed to last forever—just until the baby was born, and then I’d cut back to part-time.

What really happened was that when I told my boss at my full-time job I was pregnant, I also told him (through embarrassing, ugly tears) that I quit. It was still several months before my due date, and yet, the workload was more than I could handle. I felt brave for prioritizing my own sanity and cowardly for giving up, but most of all I just felt relieved.

The first few weeks at home were… uncomfortable.

I’d been so excited to rid myself of the overwhelming stress that I hadn’t actually thought much about what it would be like, to have so much free time.

Sure, I had projects I wanted to do, like purge our closets and comb through Amazon reviews to find the perfect stroller. I wanted to compile and print our wedding album (as Kevin and I approached our third anniversary; oops). I had books I’d been meaning to read, museums I’d been meaning to visit, and recipes I’d been meaning to try.

I did all those things, and I still worked a handful of hours a week at my other jobs, but they weren’t enough to quiet the nagging feeling that I’d lost a chunk of my self-worth along with my commute. When Kevin got home from work every evening, I’d rattle off all the tasks I’d completed that day. Whatever the list, the subtext was always the same: Please tell me this means I matter.

Despite my pregnant belly, I felt empty—and it hurt.

But something extraordinary happened in the months that followed. Slowly, quietly, the knot of tension in my stomach began to unwind. I stopped feeling enormous pressure to be productive every day. I didn’t blush when I explained my work situation to other people. I began to embrace the silence of my day-to-day solitude, rather than hasten to fill it with music or podcasts.

It happened so gradually that I hardly noticed until one day I realized I felt fine—adequate, whole, valuable—without measuring my productivity. No matter what I did as an employee or as a mom, I’d still be me, Laura, and that was enough.

It had always been enough.

Rebuilding from a stronger foundation

After staying at my parents’ house for a couple days during the construction, we returned home to a brand-new ceiling. The workers, bless them, managed not to damage any of my little star decals. We vacuumed what remained of the dust on the nursery floor and moved everything back in: the rug, the crib, the changing table-dresser. You’d never have known the chaos it had gone through.

We welcomed our sweet boy, Jude, at the end of July. If those quiet months taught me not to measure my worth by my productivity, my newborn son drove the point home even further. He cried and slept and nursed (and nursed and nursed), but he could produce nothing other than spit-up and dirty diapers. And yet, he was so undeniably precious that my throat constricted when I watched him sleep or tilt his face toward mine.

In the end, I did feel tremendously grateful that I’d noticed that crack. I was grateful for those months before Jude’s birth, too. I needed the emptiness, as much as it hurt, so I didn’t jump straight from Laura-the-professional to Laura-the-mom without a thought at who I’d be without any title.

Now, in addition to taking care of Jude, I’ve begun working more, too. Life has returned to some kind of normal. But it’s a “normal” with a more solid construction—just like the nursery ceiling.