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I was nearly crying in frustration. I angrily texted my sister that I HATED this child. Babysitting this one-year-old from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the month of July had seemed like the perfect gig, but on this particular morning, it most certainly was not. He wouldn’t nap and wouldn’t stop crying. He wouldn’t drink from the bottle I was instructed to give him, which would help him get to sleep. Quickly, exasperation and frustration compounded into anger. I put him down in his crib as he wailed.

I couldn’t stand his thick, bowl-cut, pin-straight hair; it got in his eyes, and he looked like Toad from Mario Kart. His crying wasn’t continuous, but came in short shrieks emitted from his seemingly enraged face, bobbing up and down at the edge of the crib, hands gripping the rungs of the crib so tight that his fingertips turned white. This kid was not normal.

I was irritated that this was my reality. That I wasn’t out with my own job in the legal field like this little boy’s mom, or in New York City like practically all my friends from college, working for a marketing firm with free La Croix in the posh office meeting space. I was in Florida with Toad getting paid by the hour. I held him again, he finally tired of crying, and he went to sleep.

I went out into the dining room to apply for “real” jobs, but I couldn’t focus on the job descriptions and cover letter writing. I was texting my sister and my mom, and later I cried to my husband, because my emotions shifted from frustration and anger to fear. Who was that person in there thinking mean thoughts about a sweet little boy? Who gets so frustrated that they don’t just feel compassion for a crying baby? Who says they hate a child, even in the heat of the moment? Tenderness, gentleness, patience . . . how could I ever be a mother without these intuitive inclinations? My mom said that when it was my child it would be different.

But I was scared by the person I was in the darkened nursery. The only vocation I was sure about, especially as a young newlywed, was motherhood. But how could someone as quick to anger and poor in kindness be a mom? I had heard of sleepless nights and unending crying that mothers deal with. Here I was, struggling with this one-year-old, fully rested with only a few more hours left with him that day.

My sister, mom, and husband were right in their attempts to ease my fear. The second my son came into this world three months ago, I have known a love deeper and more transformative than I could have imagined. I could get up every hour to feed him, hold him, soothe him.

But I still struggle. You might have noticed that part of my frustration came from a disdain for my lowly position as babysitter. When I said I went to “apply for ‘real’ jobs,” I really did feel that what I was doing couldn’t be considered a worthwhile use of time. As I look on the angelic face of my son, I am filled with all the love and tenderness I longed to feel for the child that was not my own. But there are still doubts and fears floating in my head: “I don’t use my talents, my intellect, my college degree. I should be working; doing something important. I bring no financial contribution to the family.”

The need for power, money, and admiration—these feelings that devalue caregiving for the most vulnerable—are certainly instilled by a society with seriously botched priorities. But as motherhood prunes my soul into a more nurturing, caring, patient one, as I get up again and again to respond to my son’s needs, I realize that my desires for power, money, and admiration are not the problem. They are merely symptoms of a deep selfishness that, so far, I’ve been able to cling to. This selfishness whispers, “Certainly I am more important than changing a diaper. Certainly I am more important than the needs of this crying child.” But love calmly replies, “What could possibly be more important than this little life, this treasure in your arms?”

There is so much beauty in motherhood. The uglier parts that I’ve experienced so far—morning sickness, labor, postpartum healing, learning to nurse, sleep deprivation—perhaps these are the most beautiful, because they provide an opportunity to love.

Of course I didn’t meet the “job requirements” for being a mother before I became one. I had only begun learning how to love my husband, and most arguments in that first year of marriage came about because I put myself, my needs, or my own desires above his. (Since he isn’t a little defenseless, dependent baby, it takes a more conscious effort for me to love him correctly!) But motherhood has required sacrifice and self-gift, and has taught me these things gently. With every baby smile, sigh, and stretch, love transforms me into the mom I feared I couldn’t be.

Moms of multiples, moms with a baby in her arms and a couple more dangling about her legs, moms of kids with disabilities, moms in general are always asked, “How do you do it?” They often shrug, or thank coffee or the help they get from their spouse or grandparents. I never knew how they did it. And I still don’t fully get it. I only have one! (And he’s a pretty good sleeper.) But I am learning that all-consuming motherhood, which demands every ounce of a woman’s time and energy, also comes with a transformative gift: lessons in love.