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Learning how to be the best mother I can be has taught me more about myself than I ever imagined. I never imagined that in learning how to raise my daughter, that she would become the teacher and I, her student. I never imagined that in learning how to understand her, I would also finally understand myself.

Becoming a mom has ripped open my ego and exposed my deepest flaws. It has shown me the areas in which I need to grow and the wounds I never knew were there. Even before she was born, the act of carrying her brought lessons. It showed me that asking for help is ok and when to allow myself a little more grace. It also showed me that my mind and body are stronger than I ever thought possible and that my intuition will guide me if I just stop and listen to it. I know this is true even for moms who adopt or open their homes as foster parents—there are so many aspects of becoming a parent that test you and stretch you beyond what you thought possible.

Seeing myself through my daughter’s eyes has given me a new perspective on how I think about who I am. Who do I want this girl to grow up and say her mom is? What are the feelings and memories I want her to remember about her time spent with me? What really are my values and how will I communicate those to her when the time comes? Was I present when I was with her? Did I put away the distractions, look her in the eyes, and really, truly listen? Asking myself these questions has caused me to go deeper into who I am and my intentions than I would have without her.

Before I got pregnant, I never looked at my future and saw it with a child. I never really cared one way or another honestly, but it’s because I had no understanding of the power and magic that this experience holds.

Here are some ways motherhood changed my perspective from ambivalent to profoundly and personally identifying with it, even before she was born.

I never expected to feel so isolated and connected at the same time.

When I was pregnant, I never felt less included. It feels silly to say considering that there are so many bigger issues out there in the world, but think of almost any clothing store; the vast majority of them either don’t make maternity clothes at all or don’t sell their maternity clothes in stores. So finding things that fit and that I actually wanted to spend money on was a challenge that left me feeling frustrated and isolated. I remember sitting outside a fitting room in one of my former favorite stores, feeling sorry for myself after my husband went in to try on the new clothes he wanted. Nothing changed for him. He didn't have to ask if there was a section for him or not and his body was not changing so quickly that it required an entirely new wardrobe like mine. Go to a restaurant (at least here in the Midwest) and ask for a mocktail, and they will look at you like you have a third eye. Ask about unpasteurized cheeses, and you’ll have to spend 10 minutes explaining the long list of things you can't do because you're pregnant. We missed out on fun trips and nights out with friends. Thankfully, though, there was a flip side to all of these things.

When I talked to other moms about the maternity-clothes struggle, they all had great tips, and several even gave me bags full of clothes to borrow! When I would go out to eat and realize how much money I saved by skipping the drink menu, it became rewarding rather than disappointing. It was also interesting to have a life without alcohol in it for the first time in my adult life. It made me look at my relationship with alcohol in a whole new way, and surprisingly I didn't miss it at all. Thinking about all those foods I had to skip while pregnant has made me a much more conscious eater. I look at my food now for what benefits it can offer my body, and if I’m having a craving for something, I try and listen to see what my body is telling me and understand what I may be lacking. Yes, we missed out on vacations and all those late nights, but in the end, all of these things created connection. Connection with other women in my life, connection with my body, connection with the growing little person inside it, connection with our intentions, and connection with each other are, in the end, the things that really matter.

I’ve never felt more powerful.

Honestly, before being pregnant I never understood people who wanted to be mothers. I’m ashamed to say that I thought them soft or weak, but now I realize that it’s the opposite. It’s not a softness that made me smile with love every time I felt her kick and move, but a deep, vast, and unending space of love so big that it’s hard to even fully wrap my head around. It’s not a weakness that made me want to stay away from seemingly innocent things like paint fumes and unpasteurized cheeses; it’s a fierceness and a strength that drives me to do everything possible to protect my baby and help her grow to her fullest potential.

The term mama bear is one that I used to find a little trivial before I became one. Because once you hold this being in your arms, once you look into their eyes, it changes you. It’s a scary love. It's an “I will do things I never would've dreamed of” love. You stand up straighter, you demand more of the world, you demand more of yourself. You do it all for them, over and over, every day. You may get tired, but you will never stop.

So far, being a mother has been one of the most powerful, innate forces that I've come in contact with; it’s a force to be reckoned with.

I’ve never felt more proud to be a woman.

I always thought that my personal goals and priorities in life were the only things that were important—that what defined me as a person and a woman was what I accomplished and who I was as an individual. Little did I know that my image of a strong, independent woman was being defined by a very masculine definition of success. Now I see that there is a whole other dimension to my gender that I was completely unaware of. The fact that I never taught my body how to grow another life or how to transform into a selfless and intuitive mother made me open my eyes to the untapped potential I had inside of me—I just had to let my ego step aside and my womanhood take over to truly know its power.

Further, I really had no idea what my body was capable of. Before being pregnant, I always hated science classes in school and honestly didn’t even know the basics of my body's biology. If you had asked me where my cervix was and what it did a year ago, I really wouldn’t have had a great answer for you. If you had asked me to explain ovulation, I wouldn’t have been able to give you the ins and outs on how it works either—which explains a lot! After consuming as many podcasts and books as I could get my hands on (oh, and also having a three-day-long labor), I have a whole new understanding and appreciation for what our female bodies can do.

Now I see that being pregnant and birthing a child is one of the most creative expressions of my femininity because it is unique to our gender. As I opened my body up to become a safe place for another human being to thrive in, and as I fall madly in love with this little girl, I've realized that being a strong woman can come in so many more forms than I thought. For someone who has wanted to control and manage as much of her life as possible, this surrender to the power of biology and love has been scary, but freeing. I am also aware this isn’t possible for every woman, and that makes me even more appreciative of the delicacy of this gift.

I’ve never felt more confident.

I’ve never felt more confident in my body. I know not everyone’s pregnancies are easy, but watching my body grow and do things that I never imagined were possible was very impressive. Sure, my body accumulated new ailments and challenges along the way, but I tried to look at them as reminders of the hard work my body was putting in for nine months. Looking at my postpartum body now with its new scar on my bikini line, a softer stomach, and an aching back, I know I've changed. I am softer now, I am a mother and have killer arms to prove it. My back may be hurting, but picking her up is always effortless. I can hold her for hours, rock her to sleep standing, carry her in her carseat plus groceries, and unlock the door all on one foot. Ok not the last part, but some days, I feel unstoppable in what my body can do. I know I don't give it what it needs nearly enough anymore, but I try and take the time to say thank you to it regularly. Thank you for carrying me and my child. I know it yearns for its old regular yoga practice, uninterrupted sleep, and much less stress, but it is strong and I am trying to honor its strength.

I knew labor would be hard, but I somehow felt ready for the challenge, for the struggle, and to see myself and my body coming through it to the other side. Yes there were moments of feeling vulnerable, weak, tired, even incapable at many points, but I also knew the strength I have inside. It was a long process, but every time I thought I couldn't do it any longer I somehow found a strength to keep going. The thing that gave me the most peace was knowing that the entire history of humanity is all connected by this one event—birth. The power and strength of millions of women who had gone before me gave me a calm to know that I could do this too. I knew that I couldn't do it alone though, because as humans we need each other. Having a support system in place with a doula and my amazing husband was exactly what I needed to get through those dark moments. When I felt weak, they stayed strong. Their confidence in me renewed it in myself.

Being a mother has changed me. I am no longer who I once was; I am so much more. I have learned when to say no, what I truly value, and I have learned how to follow my heart.

This journey has been an enlightening one so far. It is always changing and always pushing me to be a better version of myself than I was the day before. There are so many beautiful things I want to teach this little girl about the world, but I know she has already taught me far more than I could ever teach her.

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