When I got pregnant with my daughter, to say I was taken aback would be a bit of an understatement.
Though my husband and I are both aware enough to know what constitutes "trying" and what doesn't, we assumed that we would, after maybe a year or more of "trying," end up making some challenging decisions about fertility treatments. It was the experience that many of our friends and family had, and we came to unconsciously assume that making a baby was a difficult thing to do.
Not so, for us.
And so I thought there would be more time. More time to figure out what life with a baby would be like. More time to travel, to try for a promotion, to pay down debt. More time for quiet mornings in bed, more time for spontaneous road trips, more time.
More time to feel ready.
When we announced our impending familial growth to our friends and family, the congratulations and the you must be so happys and the this is so excitings flooded our ears, but until I was well into my third trimester, I couldn't hear them.
It's not that I didn't want a baby. We were "trying," after all. We had spent several years on the fence and finally decided that there would never be a clear answer for us. Our decision ended in more of a "might as well" than a "YES!"
I've come to find since that the feelings I had during my pregnancy and into the first years of my motherhood—the feelings that I didn't expect when I was expecting—were far more common among women than I realized. And they were not feelings that were isolated to women who had previously been ambivalent about having kids, as I was. These were feelings that most, if not all, the mothers I've since spoken to about my experience have had.
Even though I had been a doula and heavily involved in the birth profession in the years leading up to my first pregnancy, I had never really heard anyone talk about prenatal blues. When I lay in bed, hands cradling my growing belly, sobbing, my husband and I chalked it up to a wild roller-coaster ride of prenatal hormones.
But unlike the often inexplicable outbursts associated with the hormonal cocktail of pregnancy, my tears flowed for a very identifiable reason that I have since come to more fully understand. It seemed as if my life as I knew it was ending.
Mourning My Old Self
My daughter is now nearly 5 years old, and I have an 18-month-old as well.
There are still days that I rail against the fact of my motherhood.
It's not that I don't love my kids or that am not endlessly grateful that they've graced my life, but I know I'm not the only mama who wishes, every so often, she could return to her pre-kids life. Just the sheer fact of my lack of physical autonomy—the fact that I sleep with tiny humans snuggled up to me (and all over me), that my body doesn't look the same as it once did, that I've only just now been able to spend a night away from my children—has been enough to highlight just how free my life must have felt before I had children. I must have had so much time! What did I even do with myself?
There is an "old self" that used to spontaneously decide to spend the day scuba diving, that traveled around the world, that meandered slowly through Saturday morning markets. She didn't fully appreciate her own autonomy and freedom then, though. I know, intellectually, that life was just as busy then, in its own way, as it is now. But I look back on those days with rose-colored reverence; they likely weren't as carefree as I re-imagine them. My sense of mourning is palpable sometimes, and letting go of that old self has been a long process.
My daughter arrived three weeks early, continuing her already well-developed pattern of taking myself and my husband by surprise. I thought I would have almost a month, maybe more, to finish the baby blanket that I was knitting, to process my impending motherhood in my journal, to finish work and shift gears, to feel ready. Incidentally, my daughter also arrived the day before my 30th birthday, and three days before the New Year. I had planned, as I always do, to spend a significant amount of time journaling, reflecting, taking long walks, and processing as I took stock of the previous year and prepared for this year of massive transition: Not only was I turning 30 and becoming a mother, but I also wanted to take time over the course of my maternity leave to rethink the career that I had become disillusioned with and start enacting a plan for change.
I can still see myself, perhaps three weeks later, sneaking out of bed at 5 a.m. after a fitful night of nursing my new little girl. Though I should have been sleeping, I sat in the big chair across the room and listened to her and my husband quietly huff and snore while I got to the business of setting goals and planning the coming year in the way that I had intended in the days before she surprised us with her entrance.
I see it now as something I needed to do, as something I had no way to know not to do, as a new mother. But over the course of that coming year—the one with all the big goals and the prospective career change—I also learned the power of surrender. Because some days, fighting against something that was beyond my locus of control (and so many things are, for a new mother) was ultimately disempowering. Like a toddler screaming and kicking her fists because the sky isn't pink, I was wasting precious energy, both emotional and physical—trying to make things happen or not happen—that it would have been more powerful, enjoyable, and beneficial for all if I could have surrendered and let go of my control over the outcome.
In the span of not quite five short years, I went from becoming a woman who was fairly ambivalent toward the idea of having children to a woman who defines herself as a mother. I have even come to focus the large majority of my career (the one I was so desperately trying to envision at 5 a.m. while my daughter slept) on supporting other mothers through their transition into that role. This has been my biggest learning through the course of my journey toward bringing children into the world:
When you birth a baby into the world, you also birth a mother. Whether for the first time or the third, birth is about becoming someone different than you were before; it is so much more than the singular (albeit mighty) act of bringing a baby from the inside of your body to the outside. It is not to be underestimated.
My doula—the wisest woman I know—told me in the days before my daughter was born that it takes two to three years to fully transition into motherhood.
Rather than being frightened by this number, I chose to see it as permission. Permission to sometimes yearn for times past, to get it wrong, to be gentle with myself, to get it wrong. Remembering this has allowed me to soften into my new identity, my motherhood, and come to see it as the greatest gift of my life.