If you had asked me what I expected motherhood to be like, I would probably have said, "So, so different from how it turned out!" Looking at my life pre- and post-baby is often like comparing two entirely different lives. I'm in both, but wholly changed.

If I stopped to imagine motherhood prior to having babies, I might have pictured something like what I often see on my Pinterest boards or in my Instagram feeds: beautiful, well-behaved babies; an organized home stocked with educational toys; and me in the middle, juggling all the balls and never letting so much as one drop.

Oh, sweet, naive pre-baby me!

Because if there's one thing I've learned from motherhood, it's that it's so much more than a perfect, filtered capture.

Showing my children the world with Britax.

Motherhood is raw.

I could probably have never predicted the way becoming a mama would turn me inside out at times. The frustrating days leave me close to tears, and sometimes I think I won't be able to make it to bedtime. The exhaustion can make time nearly stand still, whether I've been up all night with a fussy baby or simply spent the day chasing down a toddler with seemingly endless energy.

Every night, I collapse into bed only to wake just as tired as I felt when I laid down. But for all the emotionally taxing moments, I'm rewarded with love beyond compare. Before my first daughter was born, I never knew I could love in this capacity. Yes, feeling something so purely and deeply comes with some baggage, but I wouldn't trade a single ounce of it.

Even the tiredness can be its own reward because it speaks to this incredibly important work I'm accomplishing (dare I say crushing?) every day—being the best mama I can possibly be.

Motherhood is messy.

Beyond the emotional mess that sometimes leaves me feeling ragged at the end of a particularly trying day, being a mama means wrangling the literal messes nearly 24 hours a day. From wiping crumbs from countertops to wiping chubby baby cheeks, I'm probably single-handedly keeping the baby wipe industry in business.

I've learned to pare down our toys to speed clean-up time, but I often still find myself staring at the same to-do list at the end of every day. But even in those cluttered, chaotic moments, I've learned to appreciate the inherent beauty. Our living room may sometimes look like the toy box exploded, but it's also filled with giggles and ear-to-ear grins as my daughter and I play for hours. The kitchen may be covered with tiny fingerprints and streaks of maple syrup, but it's also where we start our morning with freshly made pancakes as we plan the day's adventures.

Our stroller may take its fair share of splashes and splotches from sippy cups and snack packs throughout the day, but it's also the vehicle that helps me show my child the world (plus, gotta love that water-resistant fabric that helps me rise above the messy moments!). Motherhood is messy, but that's how you know it's full of life.

I never expected motherhood to be this messy—but it's beautiful too. Britax

Motherhood isn't perfect.

Being a millennial mama comes with an added layer of difficulty—the struggle not to compare my reality with other people's highlight reel. On days when I've been pushed to my limit (and probably not even had time to shower), the it's sometimes hard to see an Instagram post of a mom who has it all together (and who even had time to blow out her hair!).

I applaud these women for their ability to do.it.all (and I hope to be them on a better day!), a part of me always wonders if I'm getting the full story. Is there a pile of laundry just out of the frame of that stunning selfie? Did her toddler actually eat that perfectly balanced organic meal...or just the strawberries like my little one often does?

I find myself drawn to other mamas who keep it real—who see the beauty not only in the picture-perfect moments, but also in the ones that capture the memories we really want to remember. Like the baby cuddles that happen when your little one falls asleep on your chest instead of in their crib. Or the bath time splashes that end with warm, damp hugs—and huge puddles on the floor. To me, that feels better than any "perfect" picture ever could.

The mess may not be what I expected. Even so, the life we've made for ourselves is so much more wonderful than I ever could have imagined.

One day, my floor will no longer be littered with toys. I won't find cereal in the car seat crevices, and I won't even think to grab a package of wipes before I head out for a day of errands. One day, my little ones will be grown and the messes will gradually fade away.

And I'm so worried I'll miss it all. So, for now, I embrace it. I embrace the love and the mess that comes with it. I embrace the clutter and the cuddles. The spills and the snuggles. I'll take it all because that is where the beauty really lies.