Hello there. I see you, pushing the stroller, walking by yourself down the city sidewalks, just as I used to do. No, I mean it. I really see you. I see the look in your eyes, and I think I know what you are feeling. If the eyes are the window to the soul, I’m pretty sure your soul is kind of stunned right now. Yes, of course, you love your baby very much! In fact, you love that baby more than you thought it was possible to love anything, or anybody, at all. You would literally die for this child. I know that. I’ve been there (and in fact, as a grandmother, I have those same strong feelings for my grandchildren. If we are lucky, we get to do this more than once. I wasn’t prepared for that, either!)
At the same time, you are bewildered. Whatever happened to you? You know, the vibrant, sexy, ambitious young person you were before you were blindsided by motherhood? To be clear, I don’t think “blindsided” is an inappropriate word—there is no way to adequately prepare for the enormous love, and the enormous responsibility, that having a child brings.
I’m here to tell you, most of all, that “you” are still there. I need to tell you, though, that you may not know it for a few years. Okay, perhaps many years, depending on how many children you have and how many years you spend raising them. Because, young mother, you will be very, very busy. And you will be focused on meeting the needs of others for quite a while. That doesn’t change if you hire a nanny or other help for the kids….you are still going to feel the ultimate responsibility for their care and for their well-being and even for their happiness. Or perhaps, especially for their happiness. Because you cannot imagine how important it will be to you that they are happy, and how much it will hurt when they are not. There’s just no way to prepare for that.
So here you are, isolated for much of the day now with a small human being that you love with an intensity you couldn’t imagine, but one with whom you really can’t have much of a conversation, and whose needs trump yours, every time. It’s a very lonely time for you. You know you are lucky to get to stay home with your child, but you are not accustomed to spending so much time alone with your own thoughts, or just plain alone, isolated from the life you once knew. You don’t want to complain—you know this is the most important thing you could possibly be doing. But you’re lonely. You don’t have a biological family nearby, or perhaps you don’t have one at all. You have a few friends who have infants, and your time with them is a sanity-saver, as you can all relate. But their lives are disrupted as well, and they are not always there when you most need them. And you are back to relying on you again. The problem is, you’re not sure who you are any more. Being a new mother changes everything in your life; there is more than a new baby in the house….there is a new woman, too. Whatever happened to the you who existed before there was a child to love?
She’s still there. She may emerge slowly as your children grow, and she will be on full display when they are grown. She will not be the same person….I can guarantee that. But here’s the thing….you, young mother? You never left. You tucked away pieces of yourself as you fended off life’s challenges and you bear the shrapnel of some painful life experiences. But you were always still there. You were there when you basked in life’s rewards, too. The ups and the downs of being a parent forcibly shaped you into the person you are today. That person is who you once were and who you became when you became a parent. That person shows up with more clarity when the children are gone, and she shows up with a conviction that couldn’t always be there when the uncertainty of parenthood was a daily plague.
Most of all, that person shows up in her children. Because, young mother, some day you will find that no matter how lonely you were, no matter how much you didn’t think you knew what you were doing, no matter how many times you questioned yourself and wept with anguish over decisions that didn’t get a “do over,” you passed along to that child sleeping in the stroller the thing that mattered most: your deeply-held values.
So when you wonder where you have gone…when you wonder if you are still there….trust me, you are. And you are doing the most important work in the universe: raising a decent, kind, and loving human being.
You’ll be back. You’ll see yourself in your children, and it will be like looking in a mirror. You really never left.