We’ve started going to church. Honestly, it feels more like a workshop on mindfulness than anything religious. It’s Unitarian. You know, church for the sensible, grown-up hippie of the 60’s and their liberal offspring, right down to the magazine-worthy modern design and proudly hung rainbow flag billowing in the breeze.
A few weeks ago, after the ministry, a man in his 50's approached us. We were all chatting, and he mentioned something that resonated. He said that he likes himself more as a parent than he did as a childless person. Not Earth shattering information, but I was surprised that I'd never had that specific thought before.
I’ve often contemplated the gifts that parenthood has bestowed: patience, perseverance, mental stamina, fortitude, selflessness, priority…. qualities I’m not sure I’d have developed, to this extent, without motherhood. Of course, they’ve come at the price of independence, time, sleep, hygiene, and guilt-free personal indulgence, to name a few, but when it boils down to it, I like me so much more now.
My first child didn’t require much sacrifice of personal freedoms. Most of the things I’d enjoyed, pre-parenthood, were still possible with a little bit of tweaking. I was showering every day, drinking a cup of coffee to completion (without any treks to the microwave), running in the morning, legitimately styling my (clean) hair, reading, sewing, etc etc... That’s probably why having a second didn’t sound like too big of a deal. But, for me, round two more or less pounded the final nail in the coffin of my previous self. There was no way my needs or desires could ever come first again, at least not without acting as a detriment to my parenting.
And, with River’s birth, I also lost some of my capacity for self-reflection. Alas, I wasn’t using it wisely anyway, still spending too much time worrying about how others perceived me. One of my favorite sayings is that “It’s really none of your business what other people think of you.” I had enough time before that second kid to make it my business. After him, I may have thought about it but didn’t have the emotional space to grant it effect.
But, I was still trying to operate like a mother of one, still attempting to pull off a flawless house, remodeling said house, a busy work schedule, all healthy homemade meals, yard perfection, body perfection, things I had no business putting so much energy into when I had two little boys to tend to.
Then I got pregnant again. I was hanging on by a thread, my health was failing, my marriage was fragile. How was I supposed to pull this off? At the time, I was petrified, feeling like a derailed train maneuvering through a dark, endless tunnel. Today, I realize that my daughter saved me from myself. From my overachieving, ridiculous self.
It was by far my most difficult pregnancy. I was sick for the duration. I was exhausted, battling adrenal fatigue from the aforementioned lifestyle. But, I still pushed myself too hard, getting up at 5 am every morning to exercise till the very end, working 10 hour days on my feet, and continuing to do all the house stuff. The Universe was trying to tell me something, and I was the heedless teenager with her Walkman blaring, holding up her middle finger.
Indigo was born, and I got legitimately knocked on my ass. Back to work four weeks later, colicky baby screaming in the next room, breastfeeding, up all night, trying to parent two little boys, finishing our remodel and then selling our house, packing and moving to another state- operating in pure survival mode, all before she was even a year old.
Living through that, the utter chaos of it all, broke me.
And I needed to be broken. A fragile vase, too close to the edge of the shelf, I could feel myself teetering, and then slowly losing footing, eventually shattering to a million little pieces.
But those fragmented bits of me found their way back together, some rightfully lost to the rubbish pile, and others spared. With each subsequent child, we’re made anew. For some, it takes longer than others to accept the beauty of that transformation (me, me, me), the necessity therein. It took space and time to unravel, moments of quiet that hadn’t existed when I’d worked and lived in a project house. There was depression as I lost my sense of self, then redefined it and my priorities. My importance, my worthiness was no longer a derivative of hard work. Now, being a mother to my children is distinction enough. But, it took all three to get me there.
And, I like myself so much better now.