As we face some of the toughest parenting times we have ever faced, it's important to remember that motherhood has many facets. It's beautiful, yes. But hard.
Mamas, we love motherhood. It fulfills us in a way that we never really thought something could, and is a gift like no other. It's a privilege and honor, and we know those facts intimately.
But wow. Is.it.ever.hard! Especially in light of world pandemics and parenting situations this world has never seen, being a mother means so many things. Today, it means being all things mother we expected: nurturer, caregiver, fixer-of-all things.
But some things even mothers can't fix, and dealing with anxiety and concerns about issues in a world that are so far even our own heads is hard.
Too often we don't allow ourselves to recognize the hard that is becoming a mother because we sound ungrateful if we do. If we are honest about the loss of independence, opportunities and self, some may think we're complaining about the gift we know mothering is. All of us know (or were/are) a woman who can't have children, even though she desperately wants to. All of us know (or are) a mother who had to say goodbye to her child far, far too soon. None of us wants to sound like becoming a mother was way more than we anticipated because we don't want to take that privilege for granted.
We're here to be honest, though. Every woman's path is different, and every cross or burden she bears is one whose weight is unique to her. If we're not honest about the hard part of becoming a mother, or hard parts...then we can't fully be the humans and mothers we want to be.
That's why we wanted to share this past piece that was so popular in our Mothering forums. It's honest and raw, and in sharing it, we hope you know that we're in this together and can support each other through anything. Including losing who we were and becoming who we are.
The hardest part about becoming a mother was closing the door on my former self, and I was not prepared for it.
I was (sort of) prepared for the sleepless nights, for the tensions on my relationship, for the breastfeeding challenges, and even for the postpartum body self-image issues.
What I wasn't prepared for was the truth that once I became a mother, I would never not be a mother again.
I completely get the absurdity of that statement. It seems as simplistic as saying that wet is not dry or that black is not white. Those are opposites, though, and I didn't think of pre-motherhood and motherhood as opposites. In a way, I didn't realize that there even was a difference. I assumed I would be exactly the same person, but with a new thing that I did, with a cute, new person in my life.
But, it wasn't that way at all. I became a variant of me, a me from an alternate universe. Yes to all of those amazing and wonderful things that becoming a mother does to a woman, but this isn't about those changes (and isn't it so funny that I feel obligated to explain myself). This is about the me that I lost, the me that I mourned, and still think about to this day.
It hit me when my first baby was a couple months old. I was tired, disheveled, wearing wrinkled maternity clothes, covered in spit-up and/or baby poop, and feeling a little isolated after being mostly alone with my baby, in my home, in the dark dead of winter.
Related: Ask the Expert: Why is Self-Care So Important for Mom's Mental Health?
One day, my partner at the time called to tell me that some of his colleagues were going out for drinks and he'd like to join them, you know, for team building purposes. I, of course, was on duty as a mother, a small pink creature tethered to me who was vulnerable to my whims and at my mercy.
In that moment after hanging up the phone, I realized definitively that I was no longer who I once was. I still viscerally remember the feeling, that instant, the dawning of realization that I had never said goodbye to who I was before opening myself up to this new person, this new me, the one who couldn't understand what it was to not be a mother.
I had skipped happily and excitedly away from that former me towards motherhood. I'd left her behind me without so much as a wave, the person who had a certain lightness and hope, who had spontaneous nights out, and cashed in Groupons for yoga classes and fancy restaurants right away. The person who went to get haircuts, stayed joyfully on top of fashion trends, read books, and thought a night in was a waste. I loved her and her energy and optimism and youth, and her silly 20-something adventures and (mostly) mildly regrettable mistakes.
And now she was gone and I'd never said goodbye or told her I'd never forget her, that I was grateful for the lessons she'd taught me, that she would always be a part of me, somehow, even if there was no more space in my life for her.
I work with pregnant women and their partners. It is beautiful, life-affirming work. The hope, promise, joy, and love of a family-to-be is intoxicating, the anticipation is invigorating. Towards the end of each prenatal class I teach, after all the joking and laughing about the craziness of new parenthood, I get a bit serious and ask everyone to do themselves the biggest favor they will ever do for just themselves, something I wish someone had told me to do. "Say goodbye to yourself," I ask them. "Do it. Do it with reverence, with love, with peace. You will never again be the person you are now."
I tell them that I don't mean this in a negative or somber way, but in a way that honors the path that has brought them to this moment. I ask them to do something to mark the end of this chapter, to thank this period of their life for all that it has been to them and taught them. For some people, this might be something ceremonial, maybe going through old photos and packing them away. For others, it might be going out for a meal with their partner or friends and toasting the end of a beautiful era and the ushering in of a new one.
Whatever feels right, I urge them, find a way to make peace with crossing this latest threshold.
I look at them, the groups of women and men, pregnant bellies and well-rested faces, and I can tell that they get it, that this beautiful chapter of their lives is ending. It's okay, because there are many others to come, but this one is ending and they need to turn the page themselves, decisively and consciously, because there's no going backwards. It's bittersweet, and I often get a little emotional during this portion of the class, and I can see in their faces that this is a new thought for them, one that is taking them by surprise.
Related: Goodbye 1st Chapter of Motherhood: A Letter to My Kindergartener
Now that my children are 12 and 9-years-old and much more independent I have regained some of the space to do things that are just about me. However, it doesn't mean I am turning back into the woman I was before. I still have these two hearts and souls tethered to me at all times, filling space, defining how I look at the world and how I act.
I love the woman I am now and this chapter I am in, but I will always miss the woman I once was, in the way you miss a sweet, loyal friend who you'll never see again, and I wish I'd said 'goodbye.'
Motherhood is beautiful and amazing and hard and work all at the same time. And, we want you to know that mourning the woman you may have been before you became a mother is natural. It doesn't mean you don't appreciate your motherhood card, or that you don't appreciate the opportunities that you now have to be a new person in new skin too.
It just means you're human, mama, and we're all in with you in that.