I had coffee with a friend the other day. A pregnant friend who is in that "second-trimester, starting to feel uncomfortable in her own changing body, slightly grumpy about the restrictions it is placing on her" friend. We are relatively new friends (and yes, we did "meet" via social media), but our stories are quite similar. She could be me seven years ago. A woman in her mid-30's with a burgeoning career, life experiences and accomplishments that she is proud of and someone who is pretty sure of who she is in this world.
And she is afraid.
Afraid of what becoming a mother means.
Afraid of losing herself to this new role in her life.
Afraid of following in the footsteps of the mothers in her life, who became wholly consumed by motherhood and whom she feels lost all of who they were before then.
So I told her what motherhood did for me as a woman.
I told her that becoming a mother has taught me more about being a woman and has opened me up more to the world around me than any other life experience I have ever had.
And then she looked at me with the wide-eyed look of someone whose fears had just been confirmed!
So for my friend, and for everyone else who may have these fears about motherhood and losing themselves in it, I felt the need to explore this more. This is what I have come up with...
You can read every "what to expect" pregnancy and new baby book on the library shelves, watch every TLC show about babies and childbirth, listen to all your friends tell you all their tips and tricks for being a new mom, and it won't matter one bit. The minute you have a child, the moment you open your eyes after that last big push, or you finally hold your baby in your arms after a long adoption wait, or you wake up after your c-section to see your baby sleeping cuddled with your partner in one of those uncomfortable hospital chairs... you have new eyes.
And they see everything differently.
All of a sudden, everything takes on a slightly different tinge, has a more sweeping scope, uses a different filter.
I was not a "natural urban" anything before I had kids. I was Natasha, and all I really had to worry about was me. Yes, I was married and we were (and are) a great team and we were as inseparable then as we are now, but my life really was primarily about me. My career, my promotions, my wants, my needs, my whims...
When we started planning a family, in that plan was me going back to work after six months, a list of recommended daycares and day homes and a career to get back to ASAP. We decided to start "trying" in earnest after a trip to Tanzania in 2005 and we got pregnant within three months. All was going according to the plan.
Half-way through my second trimester, all the shit hit all the fans!! I had dangerously high blood pressure. I was admitted to hospital within an hour of a routine OB appointment and 24 hours later we were having a discussion of "fetal viability" with a neonatologist.
THIS WAS NOT IN THE PLAN PEOPLE!!
We had to make some big decisions. I had to take a medical leave from work immediately and was kept in hospital for two weeks. After I was finally allowed to go home, our life became about daily Non-Stress Tests (which is a really ironic name for them by the way!), weekly ultrasounds, perinatologist appointments and ultimately full bed-rest. We lived each week holding our breath until after the ultrasound to hear whether or not our baby would have to be delivered then or if he would get another week to grow and develop in utero.
Maybe it was because my "vision" changed earlier than some. Maybe it was because I "saw" my baby every week from 26 weeks until 3 days before his birth through the lens of the ultrasound wand. Maybe because I had to read different kinds of "what to expect" books (ie, what to expect in the NICU, how to care for a premature baby, what long term complications we might encounter, etc...). Whatever the case, from that first moment of panic, nothing in my life was about ME anymore.
And here is the plain truth of it all.
Yes, motherhood is an all-encompassing endeavour and yes, one does become consumed by it, but in my opinion, that is more biology than it is sociology. A human child needs its mother to survive. She provides it with warmth, love, nourishment, protection. Our bodies and the systems within them, adjust to the post-natal state and function perfectly to do all of this. A mother and child will breath in sync while sleeping together, a baby will imprint on the mother's scent and will be primarily soothed by her nearness. The hormones released by both mother and child during breastfeeding, not only serve to perpetuate this amazing feedback loop of supply and demand, they also provide both with a sense of calm and an endorphin rush of happy. In essence the mother and child are really just two parts of one beautiful and biological machine of great complexity. It does no one any good, especially mothers, to fight that part of our nature.
I did not and I do not see this initial all-consuming part of motherhood as a surrendering of one's self. I see it more as an opportunity to explore a deeper part of one's self that has not been readily evident before. Motherhood teaches us the true inventory of our bodies, our minds and our souls. Motherhood made me look very closely at every aspect of my life. From the obvious ones, like getting the safest car seat and making sure I knew how to install it properly and using non-VOC paint when decorating his room, to farther reaching environmental issues like choosing to cloth diaper and researching every product that touched his tiny little body. I was relentless in all of this and I spent hours on parenting forums (remember those days?). I was a sponge for all things mothering. I wanted to be GOOD at this. Really, really, good!
What I discovered through all of this was that in order to be 'good' at it, I had to let go. Let go of plans, of schedules, of ridiculous expectations (both mine and those of others), of doing things a certain way without exception. This was hard for me. I am a creature of habit and I like a certain amount of order in my life. Having children has taught me that sometimes a nap is just as important, if not more so, than a shower some days. It has taught me that what I say and do with my children and to my children is going to have a lasting impact on them and therefore on this world. It has made me so much more aware of global reproductive rights and how much work there is to be done right here in our own back yards, let alone across the globe. It has made me painfully aware of all of the misinformation that exists in our world with regards to both breastfeeding and formula feeding. Motherhood opened me up to the most amazing parenting practice ever - babywearing. And through babywearing, motherhood made me an entrepreneur. Motherhood made me an advocate for women and in turn a voice for many... and yes, it made me an ACTIVIST and a FEMINIST too.
Some would look at my life and say that I have indeed surrendered my former self to motherhood. I mean, look at me, I am a stay-at-home mom, I drive a micro-van, I arrange play-dates and go to yoga while my kids are in school. AND I did some of those "extreme" parenting things too, like extended breastfeeding, elimination communication and co-sleeping. Oh, and I have a blog too! They might as well slap a MOMMY sticker right on my forehead and move on to the next person in line to ask what they "do" for a living. It's got the be way more interesting that motherhood, right?
To these people, I would say look closer. Motherhood has opened my eyes to a world far beyond my front door. Seriously people, giving birth (without drugs to boot!) is an experience that tests you both mentally and physically, and I passed that test. TWICE. There is nothing I can't do now! The world has opened up to me, and not just because of the internet (although it has helped immensely), but because I have let so much more of it in! My children are going to inherit this world after me and I will do my part, however small it may be, to ensure that not only is it a better one for them, but that they in turn will see my example and want to make it an even better world for their children.
You know that iceberg picture that everyone shows at every presentation you have ever been too? (Go here to see the one I am talking about). I think of that image when I reflect on my life. I was the tip of the iceberg before I was a mother. Like my pregnant friend, I had a full life, I had adventures, I had a career, I was proud of what I had accomplished and felt I was a valuable, contributing member of society. Motherhood didn't make me forget about all that, nor do I think that it consumed me. Motherhood just opened up my life to boundless possibilities and to the depths of my mind and my soul that existed below the surface. It has made me grow and has pushed me and made me take risks and venture far out of my confort zone way more than anything else in my life. Motherhood has made me accept my vulnerabilities as a human being and see them not as a weakness of character, but as a path to create more goodness, more beauty and more LOVE in my world.
In a nutshell (and 1700 words later-Ha!), motherhood was the beginning of my legacy. I have actually birthed three babies that will live on after me and carry a part of me with them always and forever. My son with his thirst for knowledge and attention to detail, my daughter with her quirky sense of humour and love of all living things, and finally my writing. My story... their story...
My evolution as a mother
and as a woman.
Both sides of the same coin.
And as I have learned, it serves no one to fear or resist either one!