The First Year of Motherhood: What You Lose, and What You Gain

In two weeks, I’ll have a one-year-old. It’s simultaneously exciting (a cause for celebration, after all) and mind-blowing, because I’m not entirely sure where the time has gone. If I blinked and found myself transported back to last summer, I’d probably just think: I had the craziest dream.

Throughout my pregnancy and even a lot of this year, I’ve found myself preoccupied with worrying about “losing” myself, or losing the person I was before becoming a mom. I’ve written about it in this blog a lot, as well.

I’ve gone back and forth a lot in my mind about whether or not motherhood triggers an inevitable loss of self. I’ve convinced myself, at times, that it’s not, that we get to decide whether or not we’re erased. I thought, at one point, that people somehow choose to disappear into the role of being a mother, that the vanishing isn’t so much a side effect but a rabbit hole we stumble down because it’s the path of least resistance.

But hindsight is always 20/20 and, in retrospect, I’m not sure how much of that is true. Because I’m not the same person I used to be, and yet I’m also exactly the same. As a mother, I have a ton of new responsibilities, and my days look a lot different than they did before. I spend a lot of time playing on the floor with my daughter — afternoons that stretch into evenings that contain a blur of brightly colored toys, stuffed animal snuggles, and the turning of pages of her storybooks.

And yet, somewhere within me, I’m still the person that I’ve always been. I still dress the same way I always did, still listen to the same music, still perform the same rituals of self-care, still make the same mistakes I’ve always been making.

I still am me, but with another extension of myself.

For a while, I thought that was the answer, the end of the conundrum — but maybe it’s actually the beginning. Motherhood doesn’t erase who you were, it just adds onto it, and you’re left with a thousand stories and multiple senses of self that sometimes feel at war with one another. I keep thinking of that Jonathan Safran Foer quote that goes “Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.” I’m reminded of it all the time, but in the opposite way: All the lives we’ve lived before carry weight, too.

I think it’s okay to admit the fact that becoming a parent changes everything, and that there’s things you miss from the previous chapter. And it’s hard to reclaim the person that you once were, without also being mindful of the role you play in someone else’s life. And when you begin to live your life in relation to other people, it’s easy to grow distant from the thought of yourself as a person, too, a person that existed before you stepped into that role, a person that still exists now.

At the same time, I feel like becoming a mom has uncovered corners of my heart that I didn’t know were there, like rereading your favorite book and finding entire pages you missed the first time around. It’s something I wouldn’t change for anything, and I think what I’m beginning to understand is that all of these feelings can co-exist, that they’re not mutually exclusive. I can be wildly in love with my baby and be unable to imagine life without her and yet find myself inexplicably nostalgic for moments that have come and gone, years that are already in the past, and pieces of myself that feel slightly out of grasp at times.

Motherhood isn’t a linear journey, and it’s not one thing or another. It takes some things away from you, and gives back in other ways. And what I’ve learned in this past year is that it’s OK to acknowledge what’s challenging without it detracting from the things I value. I can be grateful for the good parts and still want to face the difficult ones head-on.

So here’s to the first year. The uncertainty, the sleep deprivation, the rapid series of firsts, the transition from a tiny newborn to a smiling baby, and then a little girl, who has found her way into my heart in a way I never could have expected. Here’s to finding new parts of myself, rising to the occasion, trying my best. Here’s to whatever is ahead, appreciating the moment when I can, being honest with myself, and growing together.

 

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