I always imagined my first pregnancy to be nine months of looking and feeling my best ever. I fantasized about flaunting my bump in beautiful, form-fitting dresses and rocking that quintessential glow. When I got pregnant with my daughter, Emma, I had totally mastered the art of bringing order to chaos. My life was finally a well-oiled machine, and I worked my ass off to get there. I was as mentally, physically, and practically prepared as I could ever be. So, of course my pregnancy would be perfect, right?

Uh, nope. As it turned out, that fantasy was a far cry from what really went down. I was so sick I could barely work, which really shook me to my core.

I was nauseous, constipated and fatigued (among other things), and the all these physical symptoms took a serious toll on my psyche. There were days I spent crying in bed, in part because I couldn’t stand the way I felt physically, but also because I knew I was being ungrateful. I couldn’t turn off my complaints even though I had this incredible blessing growing inside me. Bringing a child into the world is arguably life’s greatest gift, but this was no picnic.

I eventually realized that everything I was going through was re-shaping me in preparation for being a mother. From what turned out to be the most physically and emotionally stressful time of my life, I’ve learned the value of slowing down, of trusting, and of being able to ask for help (which was not my strong suit). And while viewing it all from a different context didn’t make the pain go away, it did allow me to feel empowered and deal with it more actively.

I called upon the resources that had helped me before. I seeked the support of my friends and family, worked hard to stay as healthy as possible throughout my pregnancy, and took the time to unwind through meditation and prayers. I learned to surrender to the uncontrollable and discovered that self-acceptance isn’t a state of being, but a practice. On particularly rough days, I cultivated the discipline to live in the moment. Every moment of physical and emotional pain yielded patience or flexibility or gratitude—invaluable things I now know I need to access on the daily as a new mom.

Emma was worth every bit of pain and discomfort it took to get her here—and to learn these powerful lessons. She was the inspiration and driving force during my pregnancy, and now as my little girl, she continues to be the shining star guiding me through life’s unknowns. When everything seems to be falling apart, I look to her innocence in awe and gratitude, and I just breathe.

Photography by Amy Frances for Well Rounded NY.