I’ve always thought of myself as a thoughtful gifter, but my wife’s first Mother’s Day has me utterly confounded. She’s carrying much of the load for the family right now, and I would do anything to show how much we appreciate her.

This all started a few days before Christmas when I found myself pleading with Google for some sort of intervention. Without one, I was in serious jeopardy of arriving empty-handed at our first Christmas morning as a family. Three weeks earlier, we’d brought our son, Wesley, home from the hospital, and our lives were promptly upheaved. We never bothered with a tree. There just wasn’t time or room. He’d never notice, we said.

We didn’t need to worry about gifts, either, Cathy said. I disagreed. In light of the last year—a miscarriage, a near-impossible pregnancy that became a reality, a delivery that came 2 months early, followed by an almost-2-week stretch in the NICU—I had to find a way to thank her for her courage, her perseverance, and her strength.

Finally, I found two items that said enough of that (nothing in my tax bracket was ever going to say all of it), but not in the explicit, heavy-handed Hallmark way. The first was a vintage sterling silver locket with two tiny citrine rondels at the connection—one for him and one for me (it’s our birthstone)—and a larger one just below them, which I imagined signifying all of us. The second was a framed picture of her nuzzling Wes on her chest, back when he was no bigger than a loaf of bread. The locket, she could take with her when her leave ended, and she went back to work. The portrait, we’d install on the mantle and marvel every day at how fast he’s growing.

Over the past four months, we’ve settled into more of a rhythm. There are still lots of abrupt turns, but there’s at least some semblance of a basic routine we’re trying to follow. For a while there, it was as though we were learning to walk all over again. Some days, we make it further than others, which remains difficult for both of us to accept. Our previous lives were guided by to-do lists. Many a weekend, we’d find our way to each other only after we’d dusted off our respective tasks.

With Mother’s Day looming, more jewelry feels inappropriate (though she’d debate that jewelry’s always appropriate); practicality’s replaced sentimentality in our daily lives. Cathy’s returned to work, but, the instant Wes nods off, she’s rinsing bottles, doing laundry, and pumping. On the weekends, when she should be napping, showering, or getting in a car and driving as far away as she possibly could, she’s scrubbing the shower, folding laundry, or cleaning the range. She’s been the one who’s carried us through the early going, and I can’t help but feel like she’s running herself into the ground.

That first year of motherhood takes you through a mind-altering wormhole that leaves you emotionally drained, physically exhausted, and mentally scattered. It means working yourself beyond exhaustion on behalf of your family. Where I was learning to get by without making it all the way through my to-do list, she was forced to abandon hers altogether. Wes required of her a wholesale change. Ready as she was for it, you can never be fully prepared to abandon your identity and embrace the unknown within a single breath. It took a while to understand, but I see now that Cathy’s only trying to reclaim some of her life.

So my Mother’s Day gift is to help her finally do what she refuses to do on her own: Carve out time for herself. She may balk initially at the idea of hiring a home cleaning service, but she’ll accept it when the other side of it is an uninterrupted day together as a family—or away from us. I’ll leave the decision up to her. Motherhood’s the most selfless act I can think of, so it seems only right that the one day that’s set aside to honor her should be her most self-indulgent.

Up until Wes was introduced into the mix, our relationship was essentially equal—she did her fair share, and I tried to do mine. But, as it does for most couples, motherhood tilted the scales. I think what I’ve come to realize is that the best thing I can give my wife on Mother’s Day is the recognition of that fact and the most sincere thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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