Nothing can really prepare you for becoming a parent. During my first pregnancy, I knew that on an intellectual level—that despite reading All The Books and doing All The Research, there would be plenty of learning on the job, and plenty of difficult days. Boy oh boy, was that true. Still, I was in for a big surprise: that the hardest part would not be learning by trial-and-error the skills of caring for of a baby, but rather the growth it demanded of me on a personal level.
New motherhood is OVERWHELMING. My pregnancy was planned, hoped-for, and welcomed with joy—and yet, once that baby was born, I found myself sitting sobbing on the edge of our bed one day, wondering to myself if this had all been a big mistake. I didn’t feel ready after all. It turns out that despite a newborn’s inability to do much more than lie around, sleep, eat, and cry, their demands are intense and constant! I honestly wasn’t sure I could handle it. And looking back, I am sure I didn’t have post-partum depression or anything—I was just completely overcome by the reality of caring for an infant.
It is a hard, hard transition from being an independent adult who can determine her own schedule and choose moment-by-moment what activities to pursue, to a mom who must suddenly be available nearly every minute of the day to a baby who needs to nurse, or who won’t sleep anywhere but in your arms, or who seems to only be happy while you hold him and bounce on a large blue exercise ball. Oh, and if you don’t comply with those plans, you’ll be punished with heartbreaking screams and about three tons of guilt. (I don’t really begrudge this of little babies—they thrive best when able to stay close to mom, and that’s biologically normal and totally okay. But it does take some serious lifestyle adjustment.)
Pre-baby, I had grand plans for my maternity leave. My son was due in early June, so I thought I’d have the summer to garden and read and pursue all sorts of neglected hobbies. Ha! I quickly figured out that all of my plans would have to take a backseat to my child’s needs.
But for many women, that raises a very hard question: how do I maintain my sense of “me” without any “me time”? If all my time (at least for now) is spent on baby, laundry, and desperately hoping for a chance to sleep—what does that say about me? Who am I anymore? Have I lost my identity to the deep demands of motherhood?
We’re out of the chaotic newborn stage at this point (temporarily, as I’m 7 months pregnant with baby boy #2), and back into a more manageable routine where I can and do leave the house for reasons other than my job. But even with this return of some small amount of leisure, the truth is, I don’t feel like the same “me” I was before my son was born. Some will suggest this is a bad thing—how repressive, to lose part of my identity to motherhood! Yes, indeed I have changed.
I don’t regret it for a second. The change has been all for the better. I have grown.
Yes, I am different, but actually I don’t feel less myself; on the contrary, I feel like I have become a better version of myself. I am much more the “me” I’m supposed to be. Because after all, I was always more than just a list of hobbies or interests or career pursuits. Society may like to define us by “what we do,” but every human person is much more than that. Our value and our identity is intrinsic in our being—each one of us is a unique individual made in the image of God.
Parenthood makes you re-evaluate all of your priorities. What is truly important? What are my goals? How hard am I willing to work? How much do I have to give? What does my family need? What do I need? How can I best serve these people I love, and let them serve me back?
Marriage and parenthood are a vocation: a grand calling, but also a refining fire. They ask us to stretch ourselves to our limits of effort and endurance, and burn our laziness and self-centeredness away. This is hard. It hurts. But we willingly accept the pain, over and over again, when we get up off the couch to hold a fussy baby, or wake up in the middle of the night for yet another nursing session (I’m so tired–why won’t you sleep a little longer?! So tired…. but here you go, baby), or tell our exhausted spouse to take an hour to himself to rest or go get a drink with friends he hasn’t seen in months. We find the strength to do these hard things in the love we have for our families. It’s hard, and it hurts, but we do it anyway—how could we not?—because we love the people we are serving. And then after a while, we find we have a little more strength, and can do things a little more easily. And then a little more, and a little more after that.
That’s what vocation is all about. It’s a calling to live our everyday lives in such a way that we are able to willingly, generously pour ourselves out for others—to pick up the small but difficult crosses of everyday life and unite our suffering with Christ’s, who also suffered willingly out of love for others, so that we can slowly, arduously be transformed into the holy people we are meant to be. This family experience is our road to Heaven.
So yes: I am different from who I was. Maybe not every change is for the better, but certainly I can feel my selfishness and sloth be painstakingly burned away, bringing me closer to who I am supposed to be minute by minute. Those things were never what make me “me” anyway. Our sins obscure who we are created to be—they do not define us. When we can reduce their hold on us, we unearth our more authentic selves.
Being a mother has involved plenty of self-sacrifice, but it has made me more myself, not less.
With our second child arriving in just a couple of months, I know I’ve got more challenges and stretching and suffering ahead of me, but I also know those things will be rewarded with more growth and love and joy. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be worth it.
Bring it on.