The other night, I closed a novel I had just finished and smiled to myself. I thought about how nice it was to spend this pregnancy—my second—checking titles off of the Hello Sunshine booklist rather than meticulously obsessing over a stack of pregnancy, breastfeeding and parenting books like I did during my first pregnancy. I put a lot of pressure on myself during my first pregnancy to know everything I possibly could, as if the simple act of knowing what to expect during the 27th week of pregnancy or having 10 different screenshots of feeding and sleep schedules saved to the notes in my phone would truly change anything.

But like all first-time moms, I genuinely didn’t know what to expect, so reading and researching made me feel like I had some control over very unknown circumstances.

But this time, I do know. Well, at least I know a lot more than I did before. At first, I thought this to be a blessing, maybe even a gift to the second-time mama who has walked through so much to earn the badge of experience. But with each day as my belly grows, I’ve realized that knowing brings its own fears and joys, just as the unknown did before. And some days, I feel like knowing is actually harder than not knowing what is coming next.

I knew at the first onset of nausea in the early weeks of this pregnancy that I was in for a rough ride. I knew that even a trimester of morning sickness could feel like an eternity when it takes every bit of strength in your body to get up from bed in the morning and somehow embrace the day—when every smell would send me straight for the bathroom. It made me envy the days from my first pregnancy when the nausea would hit and I would optimistically tell myself that it could go away tomorrow. I knew better this time, but I got through it just like I did last time.

I knew what joy beyond measure feels like the first time I felt the flutter in my stomach as my baby moved, making itself known to me. I remember this feeling my heart exclaimed as my body embraced the most welcomed sensation it has ever experienced. Just as with my first, each kick still takes me by surprise—the sweetest reminder of the intimate bond that I, and I alone, have with this child. I knew at the first kick that these were precious moments. I also knew that one day they would go away, only to be replaced by a perfect baby in my arms, but that my body and my heart would miss the companionship of these wiggles. I knew that my time to enjoy them was limited to the weeks ahead.

I fearfully find myself awake some nights with the anxiety of knowing just how hard it will be when the baby gets here. Will this baby eat right away? Am I strong enough to walk through weeks of triple feeding and daily weight checks again? How did I even survive all of this on no sleep last time? And how will I manage being a mother to my two-year-old as I do it? I remember, in my most sleep-deprived and desperate state two-weeks postpartum with my first, looking at my mother and sister with tears in my eyes, wondering out loud how the human race had managed to go on for this long when taking care of a newborn is this hard.

But I also know now that each mother and baby carries with them their own unique story of hardship and triumph. I know that even in my worst days, I barely walked through the fire that some mothers have gone through. I know, and truly believe, that we are not given more than we can handle, and that each of us as mothers have carried a load that we thought could break us at any moment, but it didn’t.

I know that my heart will barely be able to contain the joy of meeting my baby for the first time—that my ability to love unconditionally will stretch the realms of reality to make way for the biggest love that could ever exist. I know that I am about to live one of the best moments of my life, and I know I would do anything to slow down time because those moments will be as fleeting as they are wonderful. I know that as I prepare to give birth to my last baby, that this will be the last time I get to feel the joy of meeting my baby for the first time. I know that I will spend the rest of my life living that moment over and over again. I know that there will be a day when I would give anything just to breathe in one second of that moment again.

But I also know now that each day will truly be better than the last, which seems impossible to believe at first but somehow is true. I know that the passing of a stage, no matter how bittersweet, comes with the wonderful welcoming of something new and just as special, even though it is a little different than the last. I know not to ever wish for one stage to end, because it inevitably and cruelly will, and I know that I can’t live in the past if I want to joyfully embrace what is in front of me right now.

I know another baby, like my first one, will bring a flood of emotions that will make me fear and resent my own mortality. In the few short years of my own motherhood, I have seen mothers walk through unthinkable heartbreak that makes we wish I didn’t know how hard it can be. The phone call with the diagnoses. The months of chemo. The miscarriages. The loss of a parent. The loss of a spouse. The fear of not seeing their child get married, let alone start second grade. Even during my fourth month of pregnancy, a tiny freckle on my side turned out to be melanoma, and I spent as much time fearing every terrible outcome as I did thanking God for an early diagnosis. As moms, we know how precious life is because we have literally created it ourselves. We know we would do anything to hold onto it forever. We also know we can’t.

I know that there is no pride in doing things alone nor in keeping these feelings to myself. My beautiful babies are undoubtedly the core of my motherhood, but my beautiful friendships? Those are the icing on the cake. The women in my life, who’ve shared their experiences and feelings with such raw vulnerability, have made me feel like a native to the land of motherhood rather than the blind stranger I was when I first saw a positive pregnancy test. I know now that time shouldn’t be wasted on friendships that don’t fill your heart, and that you should lean in as closely as possible to the women who love you without exception. I know that the people who love my kids as their own are a rare and special gift, and those who love rather than compare are the women I want standing by my side.

Of all the things I have come to know in motherhood—the scary and the beautiful, the vulnerable and the brave—the one thing I know for certain is that it is worth it. All of it. I know that for every toddler tantrum that there will be a moment of infectious laughter later in the day that will fill my soul. I know that for every trip to the doctor or day spent at home with another cold that there will be a day I see my children run carelessly on the beach. I know that my own exhaustion, stretch marks and the occasional feeling of not even recognizing myself mean I’ve become something even more extraordinary: a mom. I know that even on the worst day, that a toddler’s breath on my chest as she falls asleep is the only reassurance I need that my life has been enough. I know that everything to come is still truly unknown, and that’s okay.