“A smile is the universal welcome.” Max Eastman
When Gracie was first born, I was forced to come to terms with how scared I was to be a mom again. I was learning to parent with a heart that knew the sting of massive loss. In a way, I was a first-time mom, but I had carried life before. I knew what it felt like to hold a new baby, I had just had never left the hospital with one.
I was worried I wouldn’t be able to help her when she needed me. I didn’t feel qualified to care for a life so helpless. I didn’t understand why the hospital let me take her home without some kind of certificate, affirming I could do this mom thing.
For the first many weeks, whatever situation arose felt impossible. It didn’t matter how normal it was. Baby wouldn’t eat: a catastrophe. Massive blowout in public: doom. Diaper rash: worst mom ever. I felt like an imposter. Other people were moms; I felt like a fake.
But slowly, as all the first times because familiar, my confidence began to take root. Habits and small successes affirmed my new identity. I began to feel like a “real mom” more with each passing day.
Early one morning, in a still moment, something massive dawned on me: this little baby could see me. She was studying me with marked intensity as if she was looking for something. Although likely blurry through newborn eyes, she could see my face. Being one of the only two faces she saw regularly, I made a snap decision that whenever she looked at me, I was going to smile. The world is a scary and new place for a baby, full of strange smells and sounds and lights. In all the unfamiliarity, how wonderful it would be to always see your mama smiling at you.
I know I wasn’t consistent, but I tried. Through my tears and her tears, through poop and spit up and laundry, I forced myself to grin like an idiot. There is actual science behind this idea. Smiling releases dopamine and serotonin in the brain, both of which make you feel happy.
Time marched on, and the forced smiles made real change for both of us. Gracie became soothed and comforted by my expressions. As for me, even if it was forced, smiling became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I’d squeeze out a smile, and then I actually became happy. My perspective changed. Maybe the massive blowout at the pizza place wasn’t such a big deal; maybe it was funny. Maybe the fact that I was so tired I could practically smell colors wasn’t so bad because I could quietly shop online in the wee hours. Maybe everything that happened wasn’t mission critical. I learned to be discerning with my reactions.
The more I smiled, the more she smiled, and the easier mom life became. The more confident I felt in my ability to care for my baby, the more I truly enjoyed the small moments. As weeks turned to months, we went from surviving to thriving.
We celebrated her first year of life.
Her second year.
Her third year.
She will be four in April.
And now, a present-day mom to two vibrant and active girls, I truthfully still have no idea what I am doing. At least it doesn’t feel like it. But when I remind myself and accept the power I have to control my mood, my reflex is to smile. When in doubt, I just try and love them the best way I know how.
Choose your mood. Claim your vibe. Your vibe affects your tribe.
Thanks to Laura Wagner Photography for these lovely pictures.