He just wouldn’t stop crying.

It was one o’clock in the morning in a small Manhattan apartment, and my husband and I were struggling to get our two-week-old son to settle.

As I slowly paced the room, rocking and humming to the baby in my arms, I felt my throat clamp up and my eyes moisten; never had I wanted so badly to just drop down and sleep.

As grateful as I was for this beautiful and healthy firstborn, at that moment I couldn’t help but miss the abundant one-on-one time I once had with my husband, when almost every Saturday night meant a candlelit dinner date and uninterrupted conversation.

I knew life wouldn’t be like this forever. I knew the baby would soon learn to fall asleep more easily and that dinner dates would once again be possible. But right then, I felt stuck in an eternally sleepless babyland.

Of course, I hadn’t ended up here by accident. This was the life I had freely and gladly chosen. Both my husband and I come from big families, and we would love to have many children of our own. I had known such a life wouldn’t be easy, but nothing could have fully prepared me for the tidal wave of emotions that crashed over me that night.

Growing up, I had seen countless big families, many with small children. Among them, the parents I admired the most hadn’t dodged those long newborn nights, nor anything else in the obstacle course of raising kids. But what stood out about them was that they simply loved life.

Busy? Absolutely. Preoccupied with a thousand tasks at once? Constantly. Frequently taking a headcount and accidentally mixing up siblings’ names? You bet.

Nonetheless, these were not parents who stayed up at night flipping nostalgically through their wedding album, pining for quieter days. Their lives were more complex now, but a certain joy and peace sustained them. They embraced each day without looking back.

About a month after my husband and I were married, we sat at the rehearsal dinner for his brother’s wedding. I smiled as I watched my sister-in-law juggle her adorable five-month-old with her husband. As we ate, she asked me what it was like being at a wedding so soon after my own.

With full sincerity, I told her that I loved it. Though the memory of my wedding still glowed fresh in my mind (and I still had an itch to wear my exquisite dress just one more time), it was so wonderful to be at a celebration like this and be married at last. We could enjoy the day completely, without the nagging countdown until our own big day.

After a thoughtful pause, my sister-in-law wholeheartedly agreed. My comments, she said, reminded her of how she felt about her new life as a mom. Though wildly different from newlywed life, she wouldn’t trade it for anything. “It sounds extreme,” she said, “but it’s kind of like a death and rebirth.”

In other words, she explained, having her son meant saying goodbye to the experience of just her and her husband. They would always cherish those memories, but they wanted to take the natural next step into a new experience together: parenthood.

Now, having stepped into that realm myself, I couldn’t agree more. Life comes in phases, and each phase involves some sort of departure, a farewell to a previous rhythm. When you get engaged, you give up the carefree stream of dates by taking on the complex operation of planning a future together. At the same time, you enjoy a time of festive anticipation. When you get married, you give up the ability to base life decisions on your preferences alone, but you gain the total and lasting commitment of the person you love best. And when you have children, you do give up a certain amount of sleep and on-demand solitude, but you gain the best gift yet: a whole new person, whose very existence is a daily reminder and reinforcement of the love between you and your spouse.

I looked back down at my tiny son, now falling asleep in my arms. I was still exhausted, but I was happy. Yes, this baby certainly enriched my life. Fatigue and frustration will come and go, but one thing does not change: as our family grows, each stage presents a new life, complete with unique joys, challenges, and adventures that build on the ones that came before. All that remains is for us to jump in and embrace that life. 

Editor’s Note: Making of a Mom is a Readers Write column. Share your own story here.

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