“How did you manage not to lose yourself when you had your babies? How did you do it?”
My answer is complicated and multi faceted, but the TL;DR answer is… you do. You do lose yourself to a certain extent, but it is less of a loss and more of an exchange, really.
Of course, I can say this now because I am not neck deep in diapers, burping cloths, nipple cream and sleepless nights. I have the gift of perspective now that I am nearly 8 years out. However, my journey into motherhood was so jarring and abrupt that it left an impression, and it only takes a moment of seriously thinking of those early days to conjure all of it up again along with every feeling attached to that season of life.
My body was a squishy mess that I didn’t recognize when I looked in the mirror, my boobs constantly hurt and no longer belonged to me, I never slept, I hardly showered, post partum depression piled on top of my ever present regular depression, there was immense pressure – both external and internal- to be the perfect mother and wife and it was crushing me.
Let’s stop and talk about the depression thing for a minute. First of all, I cried constantly, so there’s that. One night, in a panic, I realized deep in my soul that I just could not do this. I. Could. Not. Do. It. So, I did super a rational thing…I called my friends and family and with the utmost sincerity, I tearfully asked them to adopt my children. I cried when they said no. Then, when I realized how insane that was, how much I loved my babies, how I would never let Courtney and Ashley adopt them…cried because of how horrible of a mother I was. Post partum was rough guys, not to mention, my friends dropped like flies once they realized that holding a crying baby wasn’t fun, let alone hanging out with the crying mom holding the crying baby. Yikes. So on top of everything else, I was extremely lonely. Like, cry-in-the-shower-clutching-your-knees-to-your-chest and asking-yourself-out-loud “why doesn’t anyone like me” -lonely. As if i needed any more help finding reasons to cry at this point in my life.
I remember these days like they were yesterday. Did I lose myself? Absolutely. Did I lose myself? Absolutely not. I was afraid that I would though, so you aren’t alone there. I was so afraid that I would never have friends again, that the place that I was at that moment was going to be the place I always was. I would never paint again, I would never go to school and get my degree, I would never get the time to fall in love with being a wife to my new husband, I would never get to put myself first ever again, and I would always smell like diaper cream. These were legitimate fears that circled in my head during the first years, if not longer.
My kids are 8 and 9 now and if I could go back in time and sit next to the blubbering blob I once thought myself to be, I would be so kind to her. This is what I would tell her:
Hey there sweet mama, I know your pain and I know it well. This phase ends and you come out the other side. Different than you were before, yes, but better in my opinion. You will paint again, you will fall in love and figure things out with being married, you will make a lot of mistakes but none of them make you a bad person or a bad mom. You will find times that you can put yourself first and restructure your priorities, find new hobbies and gain new, fantastic friendships that make all of this pain worth bearing. All of these sleepless nights end, their tiny feet grow big and smelly, your waist shrinks again, but even if it didn’t you are still gorgeous. You are, even if you don’t feel like it, gorgeous and powerful. You are way cooler of a person now. You learned and grew, you found humor in the heartaches, you found lessons in the loneliness. You know your worth now more than you ever have before, you know what you are capable of, you know what you bring to the table, and it is a feast. AND now you know how to swaddle a baby in less than 15 seconds. You became a stronger woman as most women do when they are faced with challenges. They did not defeat you, you found your way. Did you lose who you were? Yes, pieces of yourself stay behind, but you bring more forward with you as you continue to stay alive every day. It all evens out. The days are so long, but the years are short, and those babies won’t be in your arms forever. Try your best to enjoy where you are and do not worry about losing yourself, you will and you won’t. You will be amazing no matter what.
I read somewhere once that you should prepare to be married to 6 different people in the span of a marriage. So, how many people will we all be and become in a lifetime? My advice there? Prepare for change. It is coming, it is always coming. It is not always pleasant, but you will see it through. I personally, cannot wait to meet the rest of the people I will become. Good or bad, I am excited to embrace her each time with a fresh excitement and a heart full of memories and pieces I may leave behind. Moving forward is a gift I am happy to receive.
Also, in case you are wondering, I now smell like rose water.
Last but not least, my mama friend Autumn is selling a collaborative design (by me) in her shop Matriarch Handmade and if you’d like to buy one and help support two working mamas, DM her on Instagram or email me and let me know and I will get it going for you. See shirt below