What remains

A couple of weeks ago I came across a blog post where a soon-to-be first-time mother was worried about whether she was going to lose herself — her true self — once she became a mother. I can’t find the blog post anymore, but I remember that my initial reaction was to brush off the question. Who has time to worry about this?

Despite my initial, sort of cocky reaction, the question stuck with me. Have I lost myself? It’s not something I ever thought about before becoming a mom — I expected change, turbulence,  transformation, but not loss. I knew that my routine would change, possibly my friends, but not who I am.

But how many small changes can you go through before they add up to a whole new person?

Now that raising my son does not take up quite so much energy as it did in the beginning, I think more often about my old self. For the past four years I haven’t given much thought to what makes me happy beyond the short term satisfactions: naps, ice cream, a free afternoon by myself. I definitely have not thought about my career, long-term plans, retirement, the state of my relationships. The “why” of it all. Now these questions are bubbling to the surface when my brain is not in mommy-mode. I expected motherhood to be all-encompassing, but never expected that by having so little time for small daily indulgences — long showers, uninterrupted phone calls — my need to address the big things in life would become so urgent.

I think I sort of expected that having a child will answer a lot of life’s big questions when it comes to purpose and being a part of something larger. I don’t know if that’s true for others — and I am glad if it is — but that has not been the case for me. Does my life have more purpose and direction now than it did when I was single and childless? Sure. Do I feel like my child satisfies every possible mental, physical, or emotional need or desire in my life now and forever? I am afraid not.

Lately I have felt like I am emerging from some kind of a haze or a very long dream, and now I want to know what is next. I know that I have a LOT of work ahead as a mother, but I also know that it’s not the only work I want to do. For the past few years I was satisfied in my comfy, flexible job but now I feel an itch to move on to more adventurous, challenging careers — even in fields that I would not have considered pre-baby. Maybe it’s experience, or maybe it’s age, but I feel emboldened in a strange way, daring to imagine a life that I am not sure I would have imagined for myself before I had a child. Instead of feeling like I lost myself, I feel like I am in the middle of finding an entirely new me.

I have lost some things for sure: the ability to throw caution to the wind, to be selfish, to not think about what impact my decisions will have on the little life growing beside me. I have lost sleep, smooth skin, firm belly. I have lost lazy Sunday mornings, late night parties, long hours with a book or a movie. I lost the certainty that comes with inexperience and ignorance and youth.

But what remains hidden deep under the jiggly body and the sometimes muddled mind of motherhood is desire — for more, for better, for excitement, for challenge, for the next big thing. What remains is not completely unlike the person I once was, yet unrecognizable in many ways. What remains is a vague outline, filled in with colors that were mixed painstakingly during sleepless nights, emergency room visits, and play dates.

I thought that motherhood would settle me, but as it happens it just turned me upside down and dislodged some hidden dreams and desires that I never knew I had. I can’t really answer whether I lost myself, or whether I just changed in bits and pieces and I think maybe it’s hard to know the difference after a while.  It takes a lot of effort to be true to myself these days — there’s just not enough time to navel-gaze, job-hunt, dream, write, plan. My drive feels more focused, urgent because I have to fit it in between naps and meals and work. I am also more aware of time tick-tocking away as I watch my child grow.

So to new mothers everywhere: I don’t know if you will lose yourself or not, and I don’t know if losing yourself will actually feel like a real loss. It is impossible to push a little person out of your body and not feel like your entire world has turned upside down — and that is both a gain and a loss. You might mourn the person you once were — naive, innocent, self-confident — or you might not. But it is good to know that there will be gains and losses and shifts in your life too big to even imagine. Enjoy the ride.

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