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Lilliana Vazquez: Moms need to celebrate their own milestones, not just the babies'

Motherhood is hard. Reframing small wins as ‘mom milestones’ may make it a little easier.
"I thought that being an 'older' mom meant I would know how to do this. I didn't," Lilliana Vazquez writes in an essay for TODAY.
"I thought that being an 'older' mom meant I would know how to do this. I didn't," Lilliana Vazquez writes in an essay for TODAY.Rudy Torres

When my son, Santiago, turned six months old, I wanted to celebrate — him, of course. But also me. Yes, me. Remember me? Or, if you’re a mom, remember you? The woman who actually brought that tiny, amazing, inspires-you-every-day baby into this world? 

My journey to motherhood at 41 wasn’t an easy one. It took me six years to get pregnant. There were multiple rounds of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and failed intrauterine insemination (IUI). When my husband and I finally welcomed our son, we were beyond grateful. That doesn't mean it wasn’t hard. But because having a baby was something we wanted so badly and something we worked so hard for, I felt that grateful was the only feeling I was allowed to have, or at least publicly share. I felt like I couldn’t admit how hard it was, how scared I felt and how isolating motherhood can feel, especially in those early weeks.


Because having a baby was something we wanted so badly, I felt that grateful was the only feeling I was allowed to have, or at least publicly share.

Lilliana Vazquez

I thought that being an “older” mom meant I would know how to do this. I didn’t. Motherhood was a tremendous adjustment for me — and I had a lot of help. I had family, a night nurse. “How can I still be bad at this?” I thought to myself. It then occurred to me that whether you’re 18 or 41 or anything in between, if you’ve never done something before, it’s hard to get it right all the time. With newborns especially, the learning curve is so steep and the stakes are so high — sometimes you feel like the world is asking you to climb Mount Everest. Every day.

Slowly but surely, Santi and I started to learn together. I think of our days together like a dance. We’re partners, dancing 100 times a day. He trusts me; I trust him. I do my best to teach him what he needs to know to reach his milestones and trust that he will get there — sleeping through the night, for example — in his own time.  

And when he does, we’ll celebrate that milestone. In the meantime, we’ll celebrate others — his and mine.  

"It's time to shift the language we use around motherhood away from guilt," Vazquez writes.
"It's time to shift the language we use around motherhood away from guilt," Vazquez writes.Rudy Torres

Because it’s time to celebrate mothers, not just their babies. We can celebrate wins both big and small, from returning to work to going to Target (alone) to pumping one extra ounce. Each victory is worthy of recognition. It’s time to shift the language we use around motherhood away from guilt. Think about it: How many times have you heard someone say something like, “I could only breastfeed for three months.” What if instead we said, “I am so happy that I was able to breastfeed for three months!” — how would that change our perspective? What if we honored what we accomplished instead of thinking less of ourselves for not doing more? Words matter, and a simple shift in language could do so much to alleviate the failure culture that many moms experience.

When Santi turned six months old, I posted a photo on Instagram of myself — hair and makeup done, dress and heels on. I felt like the moment was worthy of a celebration. I was still standing. I had a happy and healthy baby. My marriage had survived this seismic shift. On that day, I felt more like myself than I had in the previous six months. 

Still, I was nervous to hit “post.” I was worried that people — especially other moms — would judge me for taking a moment that was supposed to be all about the baby and making it about me. But I needed that moment for myself. To mark the epic challenges of life with a newborn and to honor my survival. 

I also wanted to document it for Santi to let him know that there’s nothing selfish about recognizing your own needs and taking care of yourself. But most of all, to have him one day see his mom put together, finally feeling strong and confident in her greatest role yet. I didn’t know if I’d be able to get myself together like this for another six months. So on that day, in that moment, I needed to celebrate how far I had come. 

As Santi reaches milestones, so do I. As your babies reach theirs, so do you. Let’s make space to celebrate all of us. 

As told to Genevieve Brown. This interview has been edited and condensed.