I wrote this as a guest post on another blog. I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say, that fell through. Rather than wasting a perfectly serviceable post, I’m posting it here, even though it’s sort of a non sequitur with my recent posts. Not that that’s ever stopped me before. Enjoy!
When I was expecting my first child, I didn’t think going from “Pre-Kid” Me to “Mommy” Me would be that big of an adjustment. I knew that the lack of sleep thing would take its toll, and breastfeeding, while it was really the only route I’d considered, would take some getting used to, I was sure. But the personal stuff? Not really on my radar.
I was a doula before I was a mom, and I used to tell my first-time-mom clients something about mourning the loss of their pre-mommy selves even as they embraced their mommy role. I’m not sure where I got that; I probably read it somewhere. And although I said it, I’m not sure I entirely believed it. Or if I did believe it, I think I had the idea that it was something a new mom could check off her to-do list in an afternoon. “Mourn the loss of my pre-mom self? Check!”
I wasn’t a career woman before I became a mom. I’d quit my corporate job more than a year before my daughter was born. I’d been attending births as a doula and teaching yoga classes until I got pregnant and morning sickness got too much for me. For months, I’d mainly just been taking walks, visiting friends, and reading the entire Clan of the Cave Bear series. I’d been focusing all of my attention on becoming a mom (and reading fiction). Surely there wasn’t much else I needed to do to complete the transition than just give birth.
My daughter disabused me of this notion rather quickly.
The first challenge of motherhood was my daughter’s birth itself. Rather than being a home birth surrounded by women who cared for me and trusted my body and the birthing process, it was rather the opposite of that. I experienced one of the more objectifying births I’ve attended. It wasn’t the worst, but it was mine, and it was difficult to get back into myself after being acted upon as I was in the hospital. I’m certain this didn’t help with my transition to motherhood.
The two other sticking points:
First, I did not bank on the fact that I would belong to my daughter more than she belonged to me. I was helpless in her presence. I had to respond to her needs even before I responded to my own. If she wanted to nurse for an hour and a half and there was nothing on television (as there often wasn’t since we didn’t have cable), I sat and, for lack of a better term, meditated for an hour and a half. I was her mother more than she was my child. This was a surprise to me, but one that I’ve gradually learned to accept. I still belong to her more than she belongs to me, and she’s six years old now. And it’s still exhausting, although less so now that I fight it less.
And second, it took me longer than I expected to feel empowered in my mother role. I always marveled at the mother lion way my own mother and my mother-in-law responded when one of their children were threatened, even in a very minor way. While I felt this instinct strongly, I often second-guessed myself. I didn’t trust my own opinions or instincts when it came to my child. It took me eight weeks to figure out that this was not a child who could be left in her car seat bucket and toted from car to stroller to car to home, no matter what the other moms seemed to be doing. She needed to be close to me, or she would cry. She needed to nurse more often than every three hours. I had to learn that I wasn’t ruining her by meeting her needs. I worried I was “giving in”. I was simply surrendering to the role.
Several months after my daughter was born, I was given the best parenting advice I’ve ever heard. I pass this advice along to every new mother I come across. It’s this:
As your child’s mother, you are the expert on your child. No one knows your child like you do. Not her father, not her doctor, not her grandma.
This is a scary thought, but it’s also incredibly empowering.
The biggest thing that I had to realize was that my intellect, which had so far served me well in my life, would not support me as I expected it to during birth and motherhood. I couldn’t reason through labor, and I couldn’t reason through the tumultuous emotions that accompanied my first year or so with my daughter. These were visceral experiences that could not be controlled by or filtered through the actions of my mind. This doesn’t mean I don’t read and research and attempt to change our situation, if necessary. It just means I relinquish direct control of anything involving my children. I can influence their environment, but I can’t control my children’s actions.
I don’t remotely believe that being a parent is necessary for personal growth. But for me, it has been a profound education. I have grown in ways that I couldn’t imagine before having children, and I’m much happier with the person I am now than I was with who I was before I became a mother.
It’s been a challenge and a trial—and it continues to be—but it’s one that I embrace.
- My Son’s Birth Story, Part 2: Show Time (imperfecthappiness.wordpress.com)
- Mom and Her Amorphous Job Description, or, A Blog Comment on Steroids (imperfecthappiness.wordpress.com)
- An Empowered First Birth (touchstonez.com)