I remember in the 1990s I would often catch episodes of the Oprah Show and was always struck by how many women revealed that they feel as if they've lost themselves. Most of these women were mothers, and I listened as they painfully admitted that they no longer knew who they were, or what happened to their old vibrant selves.
I was single at the time, with no 'potential sperm donor' in sight, and never fully understood the extent of what those mothers were talking about. I just remember telling myself that I can easily avoid this 'lost Self phenomenon' now that I know better, as if watching Oprah gave me immunity to this apparent epidemic.
Now that I have a child, I stare at my face in the mirror and wonder about the person staring back. Do I still know her? How much has she changed, apart from the added wrinkles, strands of gray hair and weight gain? I can still see parts of the old me somewhere deep down, but it has become faint and something else seems to have surfaced. I suppose the best way I can put it is to say that it's just been dominated by that part that needed to take over the reins. There is now this new awareness that feels more adept at this important role and identity called Motherhood.
It's true that you lose your Self to motherhood, in so many different ways, over and over...
When you become a mother, your body ceases to be solely yours. Going through assisted reproduction, this realization hit me early on. With all the hormones and medication I needed to pump my body with, there was a clarity that it's no longer just about me—not my schedule, not what I feel like doing, not how I want to look like. And as the pregnancy progresses, the womb comes to outweigh all else as it's treated like a sacred vessel, helplessly dependent on you and yet holds power over you. Its needs cry out louder than any physical pain or discomfort you may suffer from such that taking pain medication you've relied on through the years is now thought twice about, or worse, banned for at least nine months.
When you become a mother, your time is no longer yours. Forget about scheduling your days. Give up the illusion that you can block off time for your favorite shows. Don't even think for a second you will have total control of your basic bodily functions such as sleep or needing to use the bathroom. "At my own pace", "When I'm available", or "When I need to", are phrases that need to be stricken out of your consciousness for approximately four years, per child, at least. My son is almost ten and yet I still feel this way at times, especially when he is sick. Every parent knows that a child’s illness does not respect any level of maturity. A sick child regresses and only knows one thing: I need Mama.
When you become a mother, your thoughts will never again be solely about you—not your hopes, dreams, prayers. You will be hijacked and held hostage by fears you've never known before. You will wonder what happened to the calm version of you and ask why your brain can’t seem to stop worrying and imagining every possible scenario that pushes you to the depths of paranoia. Conversely, motherhood also forces you to learn to grasp at Faith with strength you never thought you had in you.
When you become a mother, your desires, even when they cry out, pale in comparison to the sense of urgency that leaps out of you when it comes to giving in to what is best for your child. Living near the fun part of town is no longer as enticing as living within the best school district. Your need for white linen tablecloth at a quiet restaurant that serves to-die-for duck confit and escargot is quieted by the need for crayons at the table and kid-friendly servers who will always know when to serve drinks in lidded cups.
To say that motherhood demands immeasurable sacrifice is an understatement. Accept that you will miss out on a lot of experiences. Things will drastically change, and at some point, you will ask what happened to the 'You' you've always recognized. Having a child enter your life will mean the exit of all that is familiar and taken for granted. It is a death within you that creates grief you can't put a limit on. It may ebb and flow, but if you embrace it and make friends with it, it will not drown you.
But just as much as you find a part of you slipping away or even dying, the experience of motherhood also demands that you birth a purer version of your Self. Don't expect the old version of you to remain or be resurrected in its exact form. That’s impossible. Deep love never leaves any soul unchanged.
Yes, there are days when I still reminisce about my old Self. But you know what? I still end up always smiling and feeling content. My life now is a never-ending stream of stress. Most days I feel sore and tired to the core. But I smile because I know that there is no experience on earth that could have brought out the most altruistic, most evolved version of myself other than motherhood. This is how it happened for me and though I'm certain there's a different path for every person, I'm eternally grateful that mine came in a cute package, with sweet kisses and warm hugs that make the grieving process for the old Me so bearable.
I stare at the mirror, smile and always end up whispering, "Thank you. This person that stares back is who she needs to be."
*This post was originally published on March 31, 2016 on Catharsis, and has been edited and updated. It remains to resonate with so much truth and is definitely one of my favorite pieces.