Recently I was able to get together with a good friend of mine who has been out of the country for the past three years. She was the first person, other than those who attended our birth, to hold our daughter after she was born, and is incredibly dear to our family. So much life had taken place since I saw her last– raising our first-born, having another baby, moving across states while she and her husband have been living, teaching, and traveling in Asia. She asked me a particularly provoking question when we had some time alone: Do you feel like youre still yourself since becoming a mother?
Its something Ive thought about a lot as I have waded into the waters of motherhood. If you read parenting blogs, or spend any measure of time talking with parents, this topic will come up. Losing yourself in motherhood. Becoming less you. What does that mean, exactly?
For a time, your former job, hobbies and interests fall to the wayside. That book youve been wanting to read may sit for months on your nightstand, untouched. The career you began and thrived in, where you felt comfortable, challenged and competent is given away for a time. Youre unable to attend the weekend soccer games you used to frequent. Your television shows are often exchanged for Peppa Pig and Super Why. No longer having the resources you used to: no getting your hair done on a consistent basis, no weekly girls nights or happy hours, no shopping sprees on a whim. When youre alone having a conversation with another adult, be it a friend or your spouse, you find yourself excitedly discussing sleep patterns, your new stroller, or the new milestone your baby has just hit! Who is this person? We have all asked ourselves this question at one time or another.
What it seems to come down to, for me, is this: Do I define myself by the activities I formerly engaged in, or the material things I was once able to collect? Am I my highlighted hair or weekly sushi dates? Am I my ability to climb in the car and drive on a whim? Am I the respect and reverence of my co-workers? Or do I define myself, my personhood, by the state of my heart, the ways that Ive grown, and all of the priceless intangibles I possess? As Ive processed these questions over the years, I know my answer.
In a culture that is increasingly me-centered, it can be surprising to find that you can give your body, your time, so much of yourself to others while still maintaining your personhood. The more I digest this idea, I find it a little funny. When youre single and somebody asks you about yourself, its common to jump into descriptions of what makes you happy, what you enjoy, your particulars. This shouldnt change after becoming a mother! I am Rachel, who loves the weather, heart-to-hearts, reading, gardening, and iced coffee. I pray for increased faith, empathetic interactions, and thrive off of truly knowing the people I love. I carry these things with me; they are not, I am not, lost. The truth is, I feel more like myself than I ever imagined I could. I came alive the day I met my daughter. Ive been forced to examine the corners of my being; to evaluate where I fall short, for the sake of others. My patience has, many times, been stretched beyond its limits. My selfishness constantly needs laying aside. My beliefs and views beg to be developed, because Im helping to mold tiny ones, too. Ive found that my fear is greater, but so is my joy.
I know that parenthood can feel, at times, like a heavy fog that will never lift. Sometimes we feel like well never have the energy to care about anything outside of the immediate tasks at hand again. As with any life change, it takes time to get our bearings before we can climb out. But I grieve the thought of holding back from newness and next-steps because of fear of losing yourself. While bits and pieces of what I am capable of doing at the present time may slip away, I lack nothing because of what Im able to gain if I keep perspective.
The truth is, we would not have stayed the former us we are mourning, forever, anyway. Life would be a shame if we did, wouldnt it? Its okay to look back and fondly savor memories from the past; they helped make us who we are. They’re integral pieces of our journey. But, in light of that truth, we can embrace the process of growth and change, look back with gratitude, and mother with the knowledge that our personhood, what makes us us, is not only ever-present, but being invaluably molded by our circumstances.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.