I’m a mother, and the forever impact of that sentence echoes deep to my soul. Yet I often feel so transient in this otherwise permanent role as I struggle to define my new identity.
During pregnancy, we’re told how our lives will never be the same. This paints such a simplistic picture as if we simply have our lives before parenthood and then after.
But when the baby comes, we quickly learn that it’s not so black and white. Our lives continue to change as we make our way from one phase to the next. There’s the newborn phase, the baby phase, the toddler years – and then before we know it, we have teenagers, adults who go on to do things in the world.
As I sit here in the baby phase, imagining all of this seems impossible. What do you mean my baby is going to be walking and talking soon – let alone one day going off into the world on his own?
With this comes many mixed emotions. Before becoming a mother, I had a full-time career to fill my days with specific responsibilities that could be summed in bullet points. These duties fluctuated, but my identity was clear and my days were predictable. Imagining a future was easy.
I have been trying to apply this predictability to parenthood, thinking if I give myself an identity within the realm of motherhood that I can build a clear path to my future. But I’m a different mom today than I was six months ago, and I’ll be a different mom a year from now. I’ll also be a different mom when I have more than one mini-me, or when the military decides to move us again and we find ourselves in a new town.
All of this mixed in, and I don’t see anything when I think of myself in 5,10 years – or when asked as I so commonly do about “returning to work.” I draw a blank. This scared me at first. Gee, you can’t picture your future anymore?
My first reaction is to compare – and essentially shame – my new self with my pre-mom self. There are obvious differences. I can’t fit into a size 0 anymore, and I wobble in any high heel over two inches. Grocery shopping has replaced the excitement of clothes shopping. My daily soy chai latte in downtown has been replaced with lukewarm coffee in the four walls of my toy-strewn home. My regular hot yoga class has been replaced with an I-really-need-to-make-it-to-any-kind-of class. My purse filled with work papers and lipstick has been replaced with diapers and teethers.
And no matter what I do, my baby is always on my mind. He has a permanent place in my heart and an all-consuming spot in my brain. So where did I go?
It is in these all-consuming moments of motherhood when I worry if I’ve lost my identity. In response, I’m told by moms wiser than me that this is just a phase. A phase. I won’t be changing diapers forever.
When I really think about what this means, I start to realize that we all live in phases. This isn’t unique to motherhood. It’s just that before, I was in control of when I turned the next page. As a mother, I have surrendered control, and my family has become co-authors in chapters that were once all mine.
But if this was truly a loss, wouldn’t I feel empty? Because I don’t, even though I miss daily chai lattes, high heels and child-free workouts.
Maybe, despite the fear that exists, we as mothers don’t actually lose ourselves. We build upon ourselves, and it’s a slow change that involves loss to make room for gain. I can’t see myself in 10 years, but it’s because living in my today is finally more fulfilling than hoping for a different tomorrow. I am content in this demanding, messy, humble phase.
Tonight, I’m bouncing my six-month-old to bed to the muffled sound of our white noise machine, and tomorrow, I’ll be attempting freelance work from my office decorated in primary colors while airing the Hot Dog Dance on Mickey Mouse Club.
And I’m perfectly okay with not knowing what comes next.