Just a note: I’m going to talk about my journey during the early days of motherhood and the struggles I had. If you find reading on that subject difficult or uncomfortable please feel free to close this window in your browser. I promise I’ll write more about crystals soon.
I often describe the time after I had my first son, when I became a mother, as the hardest time of my life. Crossing the threshold of pregnant woman to mother was something that nobody can prepare you for. I imagine that it’s the same for every woman who has ever carried a baby, or adopted a baby, or has been pregnant, or lost a pregnancy. Once you cross that threshold, there’s no going back. You simply aren’t the same woman that you were before, in small ways and in big ways, you know things and feel things and have unlocked a part of yourself that you can’t put back. I felt as if one night I went to sleep as one person and woke up as an entirely different person. I couldn’t even recognize myself in the mirror.
I wasn’t prepared for that.
I was the first of the “kids” in my family to have a baby. I have a group of cousins who I grew up with and am close to, I’m the oldest of the bunch. I was the first for, well, everything. From bringing a boyfriend home for Christmas, to moving away to a new city after college, to getting married, getting a puppy and then - having a baby. I asked my aunt, one of my dearest friends, if she thought I would be a good mom. “Of course you will”, she said plainly, “you’re good at everything you put your mind to”.
At the time, I’ll admit, I thought she was right. I was good at everything I put my mind to. I got the roles I wanted on stage, I got the job I wanted in Chicago, and had the wedding of my dreams and a honeymoon filled with adventure. I was good at the things I put my mind to. In hindsight, I wish I put my mind to more things, but that’s a different blog post.
Then I had my son. After 30 hours of labor, I sat, terrified and in love with this new human. I expected to blossom into this whole new person, a loving miracle of a human who effortlessly took care of this baby. I did not. I struggled with everything. I felt lost in a sea of worries and uncertainty. The months ticked by and the feelings I had of being an impostor only intensified.
Quickly after I had my son, two of my friends had their first babies. I remember going to visit them in the hospital and when I walked in the room they were glowing. They looked so natural, so happy, so immediately at home in their motherhood - and I sobbed the entire way home. It only confirmed my suspicion, that I was not a natural mother. That there has been a terrible mistake. I was missing a piece of the puzzle and now my poor son is going to have to grow up with this frazzled, overwhelmed shell of a mother who can’t seem to do anything right.
(Note: Of course, that’s total bullshit. The phrase “natural mother” is bullshit.)
If I could go back in time just once it would be to comfort that version of myself. I would let her cry in my arms and say, “You are enough”.
My problem was that I had lost myself. When you cross the threshold into mother an entirely new identity is thrust upon you. Lose the weight. Breastfeed. Keep working. Stay home. Music class. Swim class. Sacrifice. Don’t ask for help. Cook. Clean. Sacrifice more.
I couldn’t check any of the boxes, I felt like it was all-consuming and a struggle, I was trying to live up to an ideal that I had created in my mind and failing at every turn. I had unknowingly set myself up for failure by creating a report card that was impossible for me to pass.
When you stripped away my job, my body, my old hobbies - I didn’t know who I was. The version of “mom” I was trying to be was making me miserable. Like, cry-every-day-what-is-wrong-with-me miserable.
I had to start from scratch with myself and my expectations. I started noticing what made me feel happy, and what made me feel miserable - and started doing more of the happy things.
I know this sounds elementary but please believe me that it’s a big deal. I felt like I was building myself from the ground up. Waking up at night and pumping to increase my supply made me miserable, so I stopped. Going for a walk by myself made me happy, so I went for a small one every day. Trying crash diet after crash diet and drinking protein shakes made me miserable, so I stopped. Meditating made me feel awesome, so I did more. Watching TV made me feel like crap, so I stopped. Reading self-development and poetry and collecting crystals made happy, so I did more.
I let go of the expectations I had for myself as a mother and tried to enjoy the small moments and, eventually, I found myself again. I swear too much and feed my toddler too many fruit snacks, but I dropped the guilt and try to do better everyday. I’ve gained 20 pounds since my wedding day and I’m just tired of beating myself up about it, so I don’t. I have fewer friends, but I surround myself with the most extraordinary and supportive ones in the world.
I wish it didn’t take the birth of my son as the catalyst to burn it all down and start from scratch, because I do feel like I missed a lot of time in those early days when all I did was worry and cry. But I can say now that I’m a happy, messy, mom-in-progress. Being mindful, looking inward, and focusing on my truest self has - to be dramatic - saved my life, and at the very least saved my happiness. And with this platform I only hope that it can inspire you to take inventory and find what makes you truly come alive. It’s not the ideal that society or your ego has for you, but the whispers of your heart.