There is a fundamental shift that occurs after having a first baby. It is cataclysmic. Everything changes. It is the beginning of a powerful transformation. Paradoxically, to become a mother means a deepening of one’s heart and narrowing of one’s world. A pre-baby world may consist of hobbies, friends, family, and an enriching career. Then, in one crowning moment, a woman’s whole world is harrowed down to one consuming orbit.
Some women find ultimate fulfillment in mothering. Others find staying home with children an interminable confinement.
I think most fall someplace in between. There are a string of small moments that are so momentous it fills your heart to bursting. Yet, these moments are elapsed by long hours full of endless need that dull the mind and dampen the spirit. There is a complete lack of autonomy or personal space that many find suffocating. Finding footing in this new landscape can be daunting. There is a new defined sense of self taking shape. It is tender and easily bruised. This fragile form can easily be crushed by the relentlessly grinding gears of raising children.
Before many women have their first baby, so much emphasis is placed on their birth experience and success breastfeeding. New mothers’ seem to believe their whole worth lay in the balance. Yet, once your feet come down from the delivery stirrups; life goes on. Because the truth is, the evolution of becoming a mother is not something that happens overnight. Our validation is not found after a victorious birth experience. It is a slippery elusive thing intertwined with our ability to parent and find joy in the drudgery of rearing children.
Mothers Need Other Mothers
It is so vitally important women are given a chance lay a stable foundation. Women need community postpartum. Especially the community of other mothers. There is a relevance to their conversation that may have once escaped notice before. Being able to relate to both the highs and lows of other women living through the same period of life can be extremely enriching. You need to be able to rejoice in small milestones only other mothers will appreciate, cry tears of frustration to an empathetic ear over the hardships of childrearing, and learn and grow through shared experience. It is helpful to know the lows are not failings but just part of the landscape.
Find a group of mothers to meet with regularly. It can be at church, through daycare, through family, or friends. Some areas have fantastic new parent support groups that can be enriching while building a network of friends. Breastfeeding support groups can serve the same purpose. Postpartum is a good time to build a community. Especially if a woman is facing a hardship postpartum. The community of shared experience is invaluable.
Remember Your Partner
Last but not least, it is vital for women to reconnect with their husbands postpartum. This does not always mean having sex (though for some it does). The baby and all the womanly community is vital but it can sometimes take the space a partner once filled. He needs you and you need him
When a woman reconnects with her partner, she will see a glimmer of the woman she was before becoming a mother. Don’t forget her. She is just as fundamentally a part of the spirit as this new consuming role. By remembering who we were, a small sacred space is kept safe. It may feel like that piece will forever be forgotten. She is just there, just hibernating during the frenzy of the baby years. Don’t be afraid to dust her off and spread her wings again. There is more to any mother than child rearing. Find ways, albeit small, to cultivate that fertile ground. Don’t starve her out behind forgotten doors.
Early on motherhood feels like a stripping away of all the elemental pieces of ourselves that brought definition. As time trudges on, you begin to realize it is not about losing hold but about blossoming. We emerge from the chrysalis of our former selves intrepid and unsure if we are ready to embrace our new form and take flight. Some of us flounder. We hold on too tight to who we use to be and miss all the possibilities that reside just over the horizon. As we grind through sleepless nights and never ending days wearing puke stained yoga pants and a messy topknot to hide the fact we haven’t showered in days, it feels nearly impossible to believe something vital has not been lost.
You define what kind of woman you are going to be. Will you fly? I hope so. While you’re sitting in your mesh undies in a hospital bed, or at home with a toddler screaming at your feet, just remember you are standing at the edge of a precipice. This is not an end. You can choose to be a woman who is defined by motherhood or a mother who refuses to be defined. I choose the later.
I find definition in my job, in my role as wife, and in community other fledgling mothers. By taking small moments for myself I can nurture that little hidden place where the essence that is fundamentally just me can still whispers dreams in my ear. I believe it makes me a fuller person for my children, my husband, and myself. By not denying that I am still an individual beyond my role to my family, I am able to share that vital light.
The birth of my children is not the climax of my life. I’m no longer a starry eyed girl dreaming of babies. I’m living it and I have the baggy eyes and gray hair to prove it. Thankfully, vanity has never been my strong suite. I’m more concerned with eating up these moments. I want to devour them whole. These are the moments that culminate to a good life. Our fleeting days literally take every bit of vitality I can muster but Lord I am grateful. So for now, I’ll throw my hair up in a messy top knot, slip into some stretchy leggings and live the shit out of these days while they are in my grasp. Birth was just the beginning and now I’m prepared to fly.