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Like a Mother

Updated: May 15

I do not like change.

 

As in, I still use AOL as my primary personal email address.

 

I don't do anything impulsively or make any sudden movements. It took me a full year of marriage to decide that I was ready to officially change my last name and my childhood bedroom looked exactly as it did on the day I left for college in 1996 until my mom sold the house a year ago. I like to gradually ease into new things and dip my toe into the water to adjust to the temperature before diving in or, better yet, tentatively enter one step at a time.


All of which is the total opposite of what it’s like to become a mother.

 

Sure, as a birthing parent, I did have 40 weeks of pregnancy to wrap my head around the idea that, if everything went according to plan, something the size of a poppyseed would grow into a watermelon that would someday call me Mommy, but nothing about being pregnant actually prepared me for motherhood. Aside from reducing my sushi and alcohol intake, I was still doing all of the same things I was doing before; I just had to pee more often.

 

Becoming a parent hit me, well, like a mother.

 

I knew parenting would be challenging. Even though my husband and I were in our 30s and had stable jobs, good health insurance, and planned, hoped, and saved for this pregnancy, I was under no illusions that it would be a cakewalk. Friends who already had kids griped about diapers and lack of sleep and fewer date nights.

 

I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” but I don’t remember it mentioning anywhere that becoming a parent would change every single molecule of my being.


 

I thought the hardest part after giving birth would be getting back into my skinny jeans. It turns out that I fit into my pants within a few weeks, but it’s been more than a decade and I’m still trying to figure out this motherhood thing (and those jeans definitely don’t fit anymore, FWIW).

 

What I didn’t fully comprehend was that having a child didn’t just mean that we were now a Party of Three with less disposable income; it meant that my entire universe now orbited around a 6 lb., 14 oz. bundle of complex emotions who had absolutely zero regard for my sleep schedule, to-do lists, exercise routines, career goals, or boundaries. Plus, he was really horrible at making clear requests. Effective, perhaps, but definitely not clear.

 

In many ways, becoming a mother felt like a tidal wave that washed away my identity and took with it all of the things that I liked about myself, the pieces I felt confident about, and my sense of feeling anchored in the world. My life was turned upside down and instead of predictably rotating around the sun, he was now the axis. Not only was there no predictability (sleep like a baby LOL!), there was no give and take in this relationship.

 

I didn’t know how to navigate this new reality. What I had learned from the 34 years of life prior seemed irrelevant. Graduating from Ivy League schools, earning a Master’s degree, living in different cities, more than a decade of work experience…nothing had prepared me for this new chapter.

 

It felt disorienting and discombobulating and, if I’m really going to be honest, it felt terrifying and overwhelming. Not only did I not know who I was anymore, but I was suddenly tasked with a new around-the-clock job without any relevant training or useful onboarding. The pre-natal classes we had taken focused on labor/delivery, infant CPR, and swaddling, but there was no head’s up about the day-in and day-out physical, emotional, and psychological intensity of caring for a newborn.

 

I waited for the maternal instincts to kick in (relevant sidenote: why is there not a comparable term for paternal instincts or parental instincts?). Women have been having babies for millennia so I should just intuitively know what to do, yes? Plus, my mom is the postermother of mothering so surely, I must have inherited at least some of those genes, right?

 

Nope.


Being a mother felt so unnatural to me. I loved my baby and I was fiercely protective of him, but I mostly felt clueless, worthless, and hopeless. I missed Marissa and my life B.C. (Before Children).

 

I now realize I was likely suffering from post-partum depression, but I think that diagnosis feels like a non-useful blanket statement on a much more complex and nuanced set of legitimate challenges. It also makes it seem as though it's an individual’s responsibility to resolve rather than a systemic issue that dismisses or minimizes the seismic shift that new parents, especially mothers, experience.


In fact, maybe we should be more concerned when someone doesn’t feel as though their entire world is rocked after having a baby. Maybe we would anticipate and pre-emptively provide comprehensive layers of support rather than pathologizing the whole thing. But, I digress.


My husband was supportive and very much a partner, but his employer at the time didn’t offer any paternity leave so he went back to work after cashing in two weeks of vacation. My mom came to help for a bit, but she doesn’t live close by so she eventually had to return home (although she did leave us with a freezer full of dinners). That’s when things really got real.

 

Even before I delivered, I joined three different groups for new moms because I was so anxious about being alone and bored during maternity leave. I made sure to have one thing planned each day to have some structure and things to look forward to. I went to breastfeeding classes at the hospital and baby playdates at the bookstore. It felt nice to connect with other new moms, but I didn’t feel like I could share the full extent of what I was experiencing because I felt so much shame for not feeling more grateful for the miracle of motherhood. So many people had it so much harder or were navigating much more challenging circumstances; I gaslit myself before anyone else had a chance to do it for me.

 

I felt guilty for not feeling guilty when I went back to work at 12 weeks (also my employer did not offer paid family leave so it wasn’t really an option for me to stay home longer). I was desperate to have something in my life that I could feel successful at again; my infant was not very good at giving direct, yet positive and constructive feedback.

 

A whole decade has passed since those early blurry days of motherhood and, although I’ve learned a whole heck of a lot in those ten years, I still feel clueless most of the time. Not only do my two kids need different things from me given their personalities, ages, and developmental stages, but it turns out that they keep evolving and growing and changing! Just when I think I’ve got the hang of it (I don’t really know what “it” is, but let’s just say that I feel good about my parenting for a fleeting moment), they switch up the game and don’t even bother telling me the rules. Suddenly, we’re once again in unchartered, choppy waters and I’m back to feeling like I’m a newbie who has never done this before. It helps that my ten-year-old can give me direct feedback (although it’s still not usually positive or constructive), but the biggest difference is that now I have earned my sea legs so I feel more sturdy and better equipped to navigate the next adventure.


If you (or someone you know) could benefit from working with a certified coach focused on personal and professional growth and a trained facilitator who will provide customized, holistic, and tireless support as you or your team identify and take action toward your goals, please reach out to One Eleven Leadership to set up a complimentary consultation.

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