Ideals and Going Under
I had it all figured out; my life, you know. I was excited to be a mom,
a hands-on mom, a fun, good mom. I was going to teach and train my
babes, spend days enjoying their laughter and curious little minds. We'd
bake cookies together, read all day when it rained, play for hours, do
crafts, and dance every morning. Oh yes, I knew how it was going to be
because I was going to create that picture. The vision was fixed in my
mind and my heart, the vision of the woman, wife, and mama I was going
to be. The woman who occupied my mind was lipstick and familiar perfume,
pancakes and smiles, singing and a gentle voice.
She was up early preparing for the day, all dressed, hair done, cute
shoes on. She was kind. And she always had her quiet time as the sun
rose, breaking the dark into light ... she was light. Good, nearly
perfect. Oh yes, I would be this woman, the woman that my children
This woman, this idealized '50s cliché of perceived security and
togetherness, was what I clung to. This vision of the lipstick pancake
mama somehow warmed my heart and made me long for what I never had. My
mom was the opposite of my dream. She was cigarettes and oatmeal at the
babysitter's, alcohol and cutting words, inappropriate and lost. She was
a woman who succumbed to the only way she knew how to make it through
this hard life. She chose alcohol to get her through, so that is the
smell I remember when I think of her. She wasn't bad; she was wounded.
Her own pain came out in sarcastic, unnurturing, unsympathetic,
unmotherly ways. Because of all the wounds she instilled in me, I threw
out all the good that came with her, all the fun and free-spiritedness.
She was everything I was not going to be, I vowed it. I loved her; I
just didn't want to be her.
I was determined to be the "good" mom, the straight arrow, responsible
and loving, always mature and wise. I would be that woman on the cover
of the 1950's Good Housekeeping magazine. I thought I had a
choice to be her, to be me, wrapped in her. Yes, that's what my children
needed, because that's what I needed.
I thought I could wrap myself up in an image, but I couldn't, because
that picture wasn't real. When it finally dawned on me that I couldn't
be my vision of what a "good mom" was, my little world of "perfect" came
undone. It was like someone punched me in the gut when, no matter how
much I tried, I couldn't be my ideal. I felt tired all the time. I
didn't get up early or even get dressed sometimes until the afternoon. I
was a terrible housekeeper. Lipstick? Forget it. I was a woman lost,
grasping for air, and with nothing to hold on to, I fell flat.
Discouragement, depression, and hopelessness surrounded me.
The days became long and impossible. Taking care of my children was too
hard. Being a good wife was too hard. Cleaning, creating life, living
... was just too hard.
My ideals dropped one by one, as the days turned into blurs of time that
I couldn't contain. I went from a super-motivated, driven mama to a
"don't-get-me-out-of-bed-I'm-depressed" zombie. Because I couldn't
achieve my unrealistic goals, I became lifeless and depressed. I didn't
even want to try anymore. "Why bother?" I found myself saying over and
over again, "I'll just mess up again." I was in a sad state, and I
desperately needed someone to speak truth into my life. That's why this
book is so important to me. I want to share the experiences I've gone
through and am going through as a young mama because I want you to know
that you're not alone, that there is so much hope waiting around the
bend. I promise you.
Many of my ideals were good, but the standard I set for myself to meet
them was completely unrealistic. A good mom, in my mind, was up bright
and early before her children woke up; she got dressed, did her hair,
put on her makeup, had her quiet time, and had breakfast simmering in
the pan as she went to wake up her babes. Of course in my fantasy she
was always cheery, always smelled good, and never raised her voice. She
was what God never asked us to be apart from Him: perfect.
What was I thinking? And why didn't someone set me straight?
The reason it hurt so much when I couldn't live up to my ideal was
because I had imposed an impossible standard on myself. I forgot that I
am a complex human being who has a sin problem. And so do my babes! I
didn't take into account my personality, my weaknesses, or my strengths.
Rather, I just chose an image and purposed to be that image. I didn't
purpose to be Sarah Mae, a unique individual with gifts and talents from
God. I didn't even purpose to be who God wanted me to be. Without a
realistic vision, I was crushed before the season of motherhood even
It was immaturity and an idealistic spirit that led me to think I had
motherhood figured out. I like my idealistic spirit, and I want to hold
on to it because it's part of how God weaved me together, but I don't
want to get snared into the assumption that all my ideals will be just
as I envisioned them. Rather, I want to see my ideals as guideposts to
look to. I want to set realistic goals that fit who I am, and what God
requires of me. I want to always say, "Lord, what do you say?"
And above all, I need to remember that "good" motherliness has nothing
to do with how God sees me. Nothing. I am pleasing to Him on my good
days and my bad days. His love for me never wavers ... and never will.
Because I'm His.
Enthroned in an overstuffed chair, I was surrounded by a sea of
pink—tissue paper, ribbons and bows, baby booties, tiny lace
dresses, and rose-budded sleepers. My heart was swirling with idealistic
and peaceful dreams of my coming daughter and me. Beloved friends of all
ages had come together to throw a shower for my highly anticipated baby
girl, soon to be born.
"Oh, you'll be the perfect mother!"
"Don't worry about her birth, it will all be over so quickly, and after
all, you seem so prepared!"
They were certainly right about that. I had carefully read all the baby
books, attended all the birthing classes, and eaten all the right foods
in all the right months of development. I had practiced repeatedly the
correct way to breathe during labor, packed my overnight luggage and
diaper bag with all the extra needed baby items, and decorated my baby's
room with great skill. I was fairly confident I had everything under
After I collected all of my newfound treasures and said my thank-you's,
I started down the hall to make my exit. As I slipped out of the room, a
woman I barely recognized as a member of my church was very
intentionally waiting in the hallway to corner me.
"Sally, I feel I owe it to you to warn you about what is ahead. All of
those easy-schmeasy comments about giving birth and having a baby and
being a mother are just lies. You are going to hurt like you never
imagined during labor and your first weeks are going to be harder than
you ever thought. I just wanted to warn you that this is the hardest
thing you have probably ever done in your life, and if you are not ready
for it to be hard, you will become quite depressed!"
What a thing to say to me at my baby shower! I just brushed off her
comments as extreme and assumed she was a serial whiner. As I made my
way outside, I whispered a prayer for her under my breath, "Please,
Lord, bless this poor woman and help her to grow a healthier attitude!"
Fast-forward to my daughter Sarah's birth: twenty-two straight hours of
labor, and more pain than I thought possible. Sarah was stuck in the
birth canal for two and a half hours, and so eventually a doctor had to
perform an emergency removal using forceps. There was a seemingly
endless amount of grunting, groaning, twisting, and drugs just to get
Yet the moment she was placed into my hands, I was filled with such awe
and surprise at this baby—my own sweet, precious
baby—who was in my arms. Her little face was battered, but
her dark blue eyes were looking pensively toward my voice. I was
smitten—and a little shocked as well. I don't know what I was
expecting, but it seemed so much more of a miracle to me than I ever had
imagined. I fell in love instantly.
"I'm so sorry, but we must take your baby away from you for a little
while. She failed the AGPAR test and could be having some severe
After three hours of immense anxiety, my normally straight-faced,
bearded doctor walked into the room and said with an exhausted sigh, "I
am so sorry, but Sarah's lungs are filled with meconium and she is not
breathing very well. She seems to have some other mysterious issues, and
I am afraid you will not be able to hold her or have her with you for at
least a couple of days."
After all of the anticipation, excitement, and planning, my hopes and
dreams were dashed and my mother-heart was already broken. As my
husband, Clay, wheeled me through the hallway passing happy, smiling
moms showing their sweet babies off to admiring relatives and friends, I
felt the intense pain of heartbreak, of having nothing but the sadness
of empty hands.
The next time I saw Sarah, it was only through a thick, protective glass
wall, and I could see her pathetic little body surging up and down as
she gasped for breath. Oxygen tubes were in her nose, monitors were
strapped to her fragile, tiny body, and tubes were seemingly everywhere.
This was hardly the entrance into motherhood of which I had long
To make it worse, I developed the flu while I was in the hospital and
became quickly dehydrated. Consequently, my milk never came in.
"Some women just don't have the right kind of breasts," the
self-important nurse commented to me as we watched baby Sarah strain at
her first bottle of formula, amidst tubes and constraints. Just the
words I needed to make me feel even more insecure! In retrospect, I wish
I had reported the surly nurse to the hospital—just what are the
right kinds of breasts?
Finally, three days after her birth, after what seemed like an eternity
of complications and challenges, I was able to take my sweet first child
back to our home. As I sat in the faint light of an early morning in our
little den, I held my precious little one ever so tenderly, feeling very
isolated and alone. Little did I know that this moment would signify a
pivotal moment in my life as a mother.
Fear flooded my heart, and the insecure thoughts began to surge in.
What if I don't know how to take care of her? What if she gets
pneumonia? Anxiety wrapped around my whole being and sent me into a
hole of insecurity. I had no parents to advise me until later that week,
and in their own raising of my siblings and me, they had taken all the
detached routes—no nursing, attaching, or nurturing. There was no
one to give me the kind of advice I was longing to hear or validation
for my newfound ideals from all the books I had read.
As I sat in the still darkness, my heart cried out to God, perhaps more
sincerely than ever before.
"Lord, teach me how to be a mother. I feel so inadequate. I don't know
what to do. But you are Sarah's heavenly Father, and you love her even
more than I do, so please show me your way and help me to know how to do
the right things."
This is the true beginning point—God. He is the one who created
babies bursting with life and the mamas who love to care and watch over
them. He brought forth from His imagination the most beautiful of
gardens, threw galaxies of stars into orbit, and painted our world with
color. In keeping with His character, He must have intended something
beautiful in creating a woman with this ability to give life, nurture
with love, and cultivate the soul of a precious human being entrusted
into her hands.
Each of us has a story, but God, who originated the design of
motherhood, is the expert advisor to whom we should turn. God has
equipped us for every good work, and I am quite confident that He who
designed this role to be so eternally significant is the one who is
ready to help, support, instruct, and guide. He will provide all we need
for the task He has given us to fulfill. But to hear from God we must
become women of the Word and women who pray, so that His voice may lead
us as we grow into this role with grace. I look back now through all of
the huge obstacles, unexpected twists, and challenges on this course of
motherhood through my life and see that at each point, He was there,
helping, carrying, guarding, and blessing as a true and present
advocate. He is the reason for any success or blessing I have felt as a
As I sat in my little den, unsure of either my or my daughter's future,
I gave little Sarah into God's hands, put her at my breast to attempt
nursing, and by faith rested in this new assurance that this place
called motherhood would become a new pathway in my life. I caught a
glimpse of God's longing to teach me more about His ways and His grace
as I accepted this gift He had given into my keeping, my very own little
girl. It was here that great thoughts and inspiration began to be
birthed, as I held my precious one and pondered in the presence of the
Lord what He had in mind for mothers.
In this culture of quick satisfaction and gratification, many of us have
never been taught to believe that someday we will have to give an
account to God, face-to-face, for the spiritual, emotional, and moral
work that we steward in the lives of our children. The souls of our
children will last for all eternity, and if we believe Scripture to be
true, the way we shepherd them will undoubtedly have repercussions far
beyond our lives here on earth. As I searched Scripture in my own walk
as a young mom, I began to catch a glimpse of the profound meaning
imbued by God into the home environment. My identity as a mother would
be wrapped up inextricably in the very place in which my moral character
would be formed. My home, then, became my kingdom over which I longed to
rule well as I was crafting lives, my own children, for His glory.
This kingdom of home is the place of refuge, comfort, and inspiration.
It is a rich world where great souls can be formed, and from which men
and women of great conviction and dedication can emerge. It is the place
where the models of marriage, love, and relationship are emulated and
passed on to the next generation. One of the great losses of this
century is the lost imagination for what the home can be if shaped by
the creative hand of God's Spirit.
When I considered the role of motherhood as well as the shaping of my
children into warriors for His kingdom purposes, I walked by necessity
through the questions of what it means to take on the calling of
motherhood and to embrace home as a place of such great potential.
Becoming a mother is a role that most women are ill-prepared for or
ill-trained to understand, yet it has such vast consequences in the
course and direction of history. I have even come to believe that a
mother's role might be the most determining factor as to how history
Understanding that the best and most lasting "work" I would ever do was
wrapped up in my call as a mother gave me a grand scope for my life such
as I had never known before. I began to see that the nurturing of my
children was my great stewardship in every part of their little lives:
accepting them into my arms and bearing the responsibility of their very
health from feeding at my breasts; developing their emotional well-being
by encouraging them to attach deeply to me as infants; stimulating their
brains by talking with them, touching them, snuggling with them; and
predisposing them to know the love of God by building pathways in their
brains. I was just beginning to grasp how profound God had created the
role of a mother to be.
However, when I look back now on the grand scheme of things, I can see
clearly that motherhood is a process, a journey. It was fraught with so
many moments and days of failure, anger, stress, and exhaustion. Little
by little, I have learned grace, joy, patience, and hope, and slowly my
soul is being shaped into His image. I wouldn't trade the journey or my
ideals for any other life. But I couldn't have known any of this
starting out. I hope in the following chapters that I might help you see
the bigger picture, that as you pursue this beautiful design that God
planned from the beginning, you will find deep fulfillment and lasting
affirmation that will serve you the rest of your life.
* * *
Isaiah 41:10: "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously
look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will
help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."
* Remember, a woman who is alone in motherhood becomes a target of
discouragement for Satan. Are you alone in your role as a mother?
* If God created you to be a mother and is present with you each step of
the way, how should that make a difference in your role as a mom?
Matthew 11:28: "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest."
* Does God understand and know when you are weary?
* How do you find rest amidst this exhausting journey of motherhood?
* Where is your source of strength?
Excerpted from "Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe" by Sarah Mae. Copyright © 0 by Sarah Mae. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.