I currently live in a cliché. I am four weeks into motherhood, sitting in a nursing bra and a pair of pajama pants from high school that I’ve been wearing since yesterday, and I am fully aware of the fact that my deodorant is falling a little flat at the moment. I haven’t brushed my teeth today, I ate a bag of hot Cheetos for lunch, and I think I have dried spit-up on my big toe. I had hoped to write a few thank-you notes and maybe leave the house today, on a Target run perhaps. Instead, in the minutes Annie decided to nap, I chose to pump and add a few more ounces of breast milk to my self-worth our frozen stash for when I go back to work, and then I scrolled through Smocked Auctions’ insta feed and daydreamed about yet another Christmas outfit for baby Annie. (She might spit up on one, right? Better get a back up.) Behold, the epitome of a new mother.

I glance across the room at my sweet daughter, flailing her arms in her Mamaroo (who names these contraptions?), wondering if I should instead have put her down in her crib per pediatrician and parenting book edicts. And suddenly I am aware of other parts of the cliché that I am surprised to have fallen into so quickly. I love her. Oh, how I love her! And with a fiery strength and intensity that kind of scares me a little. But also, I feel panicked and fearful much of the day, unnervingly questioning whether I’m “doing it right,” whether I’m a good mom. I worry about the degree to which I am following the “little-l” laws of motherhood and meeting the expectations laid out for me in caring for my infant: Feed on demand! Establish an eating schedule! Breastfeed for a year! Let her cry it out! Introduce the bottle early! Don’t let her sleep in your bed!

My head spins as I think about my day-to-day patterns and choices, all connected to one law or another: “Do I wake her now or wait fifteen minutes since she’s only been down for half an hour? Do I wake her at all? She isn’t sucking anymore. Is it my milk supply? Should I not have pumped an hour ago? Should I put her down and see if she can put herself to sleep or hold her until she stops crying? What if she grows dependent on me to soothe her? Why isn’t she taking the bottle? Is it the kind of bottles we bought? Should we have even given her a bottle?”

It’s exhausting, and I feel burdened by the weight of the law, guilt-ridden over what feels like my maternal failings.

And while these questions and patterns might to an outside observer seem like tiny details, for a new mother, they are not simply minutia. They comprise the pieces of her new identity, this new role she has been thrust into most likely with little to no training and definitely little to no sleep. So the question we are actually asking amidst all these others is simply, “Am I a good mom? Am I enough as a mother?” This weight, this question of worthiness, comes not only from parenting books, blogs, and pediatricians, but even the questions those well-meaning friends ask when they generously bring over food: How’s nursing going? Is she sleeping through the night? Has she taken a bottle yet? Does she like the paci?

Vulnerable, hormonal, and feeling particularly sexy these days (#not), I hear wrapped up in these questions subtle messages regarding my adherence to the laws of motherhood, and therefore the degree to which I am “enough” as a new mama. When a friend asks, “How is pumping going?” I could (if I was really on my game as an emotionally mature adult) see her question as an attempt to connect with me, but typically I just hear the voice of a gremlin: “If you don’t’ freeze X amount of milk each day, you won’t be able to provide breast milk for X amount of time, and that’s not enough. You’re not enough.” If she asks, “Is she sleeping well?” my mind immediately jumps to those Babywise scheduling techniques I’ve been too scattered to even try, and the gremlin proclaims in accusation, “You can’t even get your baby to sleep more than three hours? So-and-so’s daughter is already sleeping through the night. She’s got her shit together.” Usually, I can Brené Brown myself out of these moments by naming the shame I’m experiencing and connecting with my husband or a trusted friend, but in this new arena of motherhood, I find myself flat on my back, sacked by the gremlins, the expectations, the lack of sleep, the slow physical healing, the fact that I haven’t showered, and these cultural demands that no matter how much I may try, I just can’t meet.

But just as I did during Advent last year (ironically, amidst the struggle of waiting for pregnancy and a baby), I’ve begun considering another new mama: Mary. I consider how physically spent, disillusioned, and weak I am, and then I shudder to think of Mary’s circumstances: literally being hauled across the desert on the back of an ass at 39+ weeks pregnant, being told that actually you can’t give birth to the Son of God in a bed, or even indoors for that matter, but that there’s a barn out back you’re welcome to. And yet, nowhere in the Christmas narrative does Mary lose it because the nursery wasn’t done or because she forgot Jesus’ Feltman going-home outfit or because her milk didn’t come in quickly.

Mary showed herself some grace. She knew that at the end of the day, Jesus was going to be all right, that her value and worth was linked not to the degree to which she fulfilled the demands set before her (or that she perhaps set for herself), and that she was not God. She knew that this baby boy of hers had come into the world that she might be free of the burden of the law, and that He was the righteous one, not she.

Mary’s story helps me remember that my worth comes not from whether I’m “doing it right,” or whether I breast feed or not, or whether my baby doesn’t cry during church, or whether I carried full term. Her story helps me remember that I am, in fact, not God, but a fallen human. Because if Mary—a teenager who gave birth sans epidural atop some straw and then had strangers show up in her delivery room with weird gifts—if she can have a little post-partum grace, then, shoot, I can too.