My son turns one tomorrow. I am not sure who has changed more in the last year– him or me.

I get emotional about things like stories on GoFundMe pages, kinda-cheesy worship music, and the opening packages of Dancing with the Stars. To say I’m not emotional would be like saying that Kylie Jenner has a natural face.

However, I really didn’t expect to be super emotional about Anders’ first birthday. I’m not one to wish he were still a newborn, because frankly I thought I was going to die that first month of motherhood. I can look back fondly at all of his stages—even those first few weeks—but I don’t find myself on the verge of tears knowing that today is the last day of him being 0 years old. I’m okay with him getting older.

What caught me off guard, though, is how emotional I’ve felt in the last few days about myself. Not about Anders. This may sound weird, but let me explain.

When I think about the past year in terms of Anders, I am so happy, proud, and grateful for the sweet soul he is. He’s healthy. He has done adorable things like learn how to use his hands to grab and carefully study his food before eating it (or throwing it on the ground), kiss me (or bite me…), and say “Nono” when he sees Noma. He has done really horrific things like pooping in the bathtub and then splashing it onto the walls and using the wash pail to dump it onto the floors before I could figure out a plan of action. When he smiles or laughs right into my soul, I’ve never felt that level of adoration in my life. Ever ever. I will treasure the little moments, like when he rolled over for the first time on warm day in April, as we were laying on a blanket together in the front yard. Or when I’d rock him to sleep when he had particularly difficult nights of teething or unidentified development woes.

When I think about Anders in the last year, I just think of love and gratitude.

But then when I think about what I’ve gone through in the last year, the emotions start rolling in. I’m astounded by what a deep change has occurred to the core of me. I am the same person I was a year ago…but then, I’m not.

When I look back to that first month of his life, I can hardly believe we are all alive a year later. I was so tired. I was so scared. I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t know why I wasn’t able to produce enough breastmilk. I didn’t know if he’d ever sleep longer than two hours at a time. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to socialize again, or feel halfway attractive to my husband. I told people that anyone who has more than one kid is crazy, because this. was. impossible.

Twelve months later, Anders sleeps 11.5-12 hours at night like a champ (except last night when he woke up at 5:45 a.m. just to keep me on my toes). I’ve realized that supplementing with formula will have no bearing on his health or future, which actually probably helps me stress a lot less than moms who have a serious chip on their shoulders about breastfeeding. If we have another baby, I’ll definitely work just as hard as I did with Anders to breastfeed, but I won’t freak out if my production never increases like I did the first time around. I’m really grateful I learned that lesson in humility and rationality. I’ve also found a rhythm in socializing, and lost nearly 50 pounds– steadily on track to feel happy in my clothes again.

Twelve months ago—or maybe more like 11—I really couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now I’m IN that light. Bright and shining and joyous.

Becoming a mother is wild. You learn things about your intuition and physiological reactions that blow your mind. Anders can make the smallest peep from his room while I’m asleep, and even without the monitor on, my skin immediately tingles and I’m wide awake. The connection between mother and baby is mind-blowing. I have a new part of me.

But I’ve changed not just because I’m attached to this perfect, innocent gift from God. I’ve changed because of just how dang difficult motherhood is– the kind of difficult that brings you elation. Like climbing a mountain, often wishing you could quit or that you might literally die, but then landing in a place of euphoria once you’ve reached the summit.

Except those moments of “I might die” and “Will this ever end?” happen on a near daily basis, right along with those moments of euphoria.

Today, Anders is 364 days old. Thus, I have reached 364 summits after 364 desperate moments (at least).

This means I’m much stronger than I was 364 days ago. Truly– you should see my arms.

This means I have proven to myself over and over again that I will always survive. That I can make the choice to keep putting one foot in front of the other. That no matter how exhausted, injured, or desperate I feel, that I will always make it to the top of the mountain. When he randomly looks up at me and smiles. When he reaches for me and buries his head in my neck. When I lay him down to sleep and curl up on the couch to watch him happily drift off in the monitor. Elation. Satisfaction. Unparalleled euphoria.

When you are pushed to your physical and mental limits, your perspective on life changes. This is why people train for insanely long races, or take backpacking trips through the mountains. This is why I went dogsledding with 10 strangers in -15 degrees for seven nights. After a huge adventure that painstakingly challenges you, you remember the important things in life. You recognize your worth. You feel powerful, and connected to the world around you.

Imagine doing that day in and day out. Imagine how refined your perspectives become. Imagine how strong you become both physically and mentally.

I am convinced that being a mother—especially one who doesn’t always have a husband around for back up— is the best way to explore the depths of your capabilities. Even women with partners who come home every night feel the same way, I’m sure of it.

A year into this role, and I have watched my patience expand tenfold. Everything is unpredictable and time-consuming, from getting him down for a nap to the time it takes to strap him into the car each and every outing. Accepting that some things (most things) about babies just take awhile, has shaken up my go-go-go personality.

I have learned that I am a better mom when I’m confident and stimulated, so I’ve dedicated myself to excelling in my new career to create a really fantastic snowball effect (despite some serious moments of thinking my head might spin off during the hours that I’m momming and working simultaneously).

I have taught myself to cook enough healthy food to keep him alive, which was questionable this time last year if that skill would ever develop.

I have watched myself “figure it out” time after time. Whether it’s how to fill up his heavy humidifier in the sink while holding him at the same time, installing a new car seat, or generally keeping the house afloat between trash, laundry, dishes, cleaning, mail, broken appliances, low-battery smoke detectors, diaper pail refills, etc. etc. etc. I’ve got this.

I’ve experienced a new level of anxiety, absolutely petrified that my soul would shatter if something ever happened to him. And I still feel that way. But I’ve learned life-changing tools of managing this innate fear, the one most worth mentioning being my trust in God. A trust without borders.

My friendships with the other moms in my life have deepened, allowing me a sense of camaraderie that is entirely comforting, humorous, and real as it gets.

I’ve learned to lean on my husband more than ever before when he is home. I love him more than I ever could have without watching him be a dad, despite being madly in love with him from the get-go. 

I have found deep joy in putting my phone down and connecting with my baby. In those moments, I’m truly living.

I could probably write forever about the amount of fulfillment Anders has brought to my life this past year. I know myself better. I know myself differently. I’ve learned that I’ll never be perfect, but that I’m a really good mom.

So HAPPY BIRTHDAY (one day early) to my perfect son. Without realizing it, I was only a shadow of myself before you came along. I had no clue how refined my spirit could get, and am grateful beyond measure that God gave me YOU to teach me the lessons that matter most in life about purpose, perspective, self-worth, humility, strength, grace, faith, and love.