|My own inner child digs into her smash cake|
Let me gaze into the oh so fuzzy omphalos of my giddy little experience.
People often talk about parents - women in particular, because even in judging women being judged, we really like to judge women (you cannot win) - "losing themselves." Or losing their "adult identities" when they become mothers.
If we're not failing through some major lapse of neglect, then of course we're probably caring too much. You don't love your child enough, or you've obviously totally lost yourself in loving your child. Middle ground? You're selfish in focusing too much on yourself. You're selfish in conflating your identity with your child's. You are a selfish martyr who's simultaneously negligent, grandiose, and codependent. Pshaw. I will find a way to judge you whether you be pliant or impervious to the social pressures I also judge.
But, yes, losing oneself in parenting. There is some risk of this, of course. One can lose oneself in nearly anything. We're a society of -oholics, here. Work? Hobby? Nothing partways of course. The parents lose themselves is also a misattribution to a fairly common phenomenon. Whenever you immerse yourself in an intense experience, or even not so intense, you buy into a certain culture and pick up the markers of that culture. You endue yourself with certain totems, acquire an argot, and mores that identify you as part of that group. So, yeah, becoming a mommy is somewhere between joining a clique and a cult. But so are a lot of things.
Ballroom dancers can't imagine dating somebody who doesn't dance. They have praticum shoes and know the difference between rhythm, swing, character, and smooth shoes (yes, they have at least a pair each). They know American versus International styles, and have opinions about various schools' strengths. They have complicated rules about asking others to dance or being asked, and about whose invitations are accepted. They can name drop like an A-Bomb better than even the most proficient Dancing With the Stars afficionado. They wear gauchos, maybe, and have possibly spent more money on a bespangled fringe bikini than their car and a month's rent. They spend shocking fortunes to tan themselves within an inch of their lives, shellack their hair, and drag-queen themselves up in various hotel rooms during competitions.
Tango dancers don't live in Buenos Aires, necessarily, but they know which nights are the hot nights to go to El Beso versus La Viruta versus Canning (or which sequence to attend them in a single night), the fine differences between neotangos and comme il fauts. They wear (or did, I shouldn't predict fashions after a few years of being out of the scene) drop crotch pants and complicated tops. The know every luminary between Singapore and Bangladesh, and strategically drop references to their pilgrammages to Buenos Aires. They have an odd fondness for empanadas and maybe drink mate to keep themselves up into the wheeeeee hours of the morning. They probably own a small silo of shoes, have heated debates about milonguero versus nuevo versus salon. When they travel, they spend hours looking up old partners and renting out gym spaces to practice. They have twenty different versions of the same Di Sarli tune, interpreted by all the other masters and sung by all the major singers. They may speak a pittance of Spanish, but are constantly saying "abrazos" to their friends.
Swing dancers... you get the idea.
Law Students... ok let's not even begin with that whole rollercoaster into attorneydom. Or, heaven forbid, Johnies!
Wherever we go and whatever we do, we eventually simmer ourselves in a stewpot of teeny tiny stringent signals and customs and a certain frame of mind that revises the world in its image.
Just like with anything, there are always subsets of parents. Not exactly the Helicopter versus the Free-Range simplicity, but the preferences and practices of your particular group of surrounding parents. That's age sensitive. It takes parenting philosophies into account. It takes region and cultural backgrounds into account. It's complicated. And you amass this incredible amount of expertise in these areas. I know more about teething, sleeping, pooping, babywearing, and lactating than several bestselling experts. My LCs ask me for input sometimes. And I have passion about that. Being a "low supply mom" (even one who had domperidone) will cast me in a certain group of advocacy and pride similar to how being an infertile woman placed me in a separate spot of perceived-weakness-turned strength.
It's a lot more than baby talk and googoogaaagaas. There's a drive to understand myself and then reach out and help/connect with others. And I get a lot of energy from being able to help new moms and be a part of the reticulate support network of similarly positioned women. Our experiences are vast and varied, but they inform each other's and connect us in ways I wouldn't have anticipated.
That can reshuffle friendships and priorities, which may be the root of the complaint about parents losing themselves. People who don't have kids - people who aren't moms - don't understand that any more than most moms understand what it is like to be unable to become a mom. Or any more than a non-dancer gets the obsession with the elusive "tango high" in a sweet abrazo. Or anyone who didn't go to lawschool understands why suddenly your old friend is a total wanker with a drinking habit and forty extra pounds of contentious argumentation. There's a regrouping. It happens naturally, but it's important to remember that parenting isn't the only thing that's changed. Time passed. People are constantly evolving towards and away from each other. It's one of very few constants in this world. The best friendships endure and hibernate through the extremes.
But sometimes the intensity can leave one a little lost. And naturally you do give up parts of yourself while sorting out the new self that is to come. I certainly had those struggles.
I had no idea how weak I'd be after being so fit through pregnancy. Or how little activity constituted "overdoing it." I stubbornly railed against my helplessness, exacerbating said helplessness in the process.
Andrew was home and really wanted to help out, but he's not the thaumaturge who seamlessly intuits what needs to be done and fills the cracks. He needs direction, and I just wasn't in a headspace to give that. Sometimes it feels easier to do things yourself than to try to explain when you're tired. But in this case, it was probably not the right approach. If I'd any idea how wrecked I was, I would have tried more to let go, to stay in bed, and to just stop already. He was so great with Chaya. He loved her so much, but all she did was nurse and sleep. It shut him out quite a bit at first.
It was a tough beginning in a way where I didn't even realize it was tough. Andrew and I had more "difficult conversations" in the first few weeks than six to twelve months of normal talk-it-out-edness. We both felt totally sotten with love, but also completely restless and at loose ends. I wasn't depressed, but I think I may have had postpartum anxiety. I remember feeling such adrenaline and stress at a certain point during a family visit that I was shaking and short of breath when everyone left to grab a meal.
It was just a day or two later that Chaya started losing weight and my milk started drying up. Perhaps that was a wake-up call in its way. Andrew encouraged me to seek help while dealing with the complex emotional labyrinth of lactation failure. But at that point I had so much help. Perhaps it was before that point that I really needed the help. The next few months of pumping and bottle feeding was intense, but so much more manageable: I was back at work with my mom; I had the Bellingham Center for Healthy Motherhood helping and Facebook support groups; I had a distinct grief and anxiety to name and address, and an action plan to do so; and Andrew was really present as I stepped back and made space for him. I felt less like an exhausted-walking-boob and more like a mother.
There were milestones that corresponded with Chaya's. When I stopped working, I again felt like more of a mom. At times, I was panicked to be left alone with Chaya for too long. Even if my mom was working in the other office, being "at home" was terrifying. Driving. Going out. But the more we got into a groove, the more human I felt. The more I forced myself to extend outwards and immerse myself in the parenting schtick, the less isolated and flailing I became. Playdates and group events evolved. I slowly felt less isolated and dependent. More in control, as Chaya became more her own little creature.
And although I admit that my life is still dictated by baby poop, leaking boobs, and the ever shifting NAP (not my own), I feel like me again. Not lost or adrift. Perhaps still seeking a balance when it comes to putting myself out there. Still the introvert who can talk herself into staying home with the slightest provocation (because I'm not going to blame being a parent for being lame - I've always been kind of lame in those ways). But me. And part of me is Mommy of course. More so than ever. And part of being mommy is not being the same entity as my child, because mommy is an externally defined outside influence. Mommy is being a home base that allows these little lives to grow further away every day; it's encouraging our children to have their own heartaches and defeats without taking them onto ourselves; it's modelling skills, but also staying out of the way as they develop in their idiosyncratic ways. And that's a role that takes skill, support, and ever evolving groundedness. It's something to be proud of in its own right. It's a daily challenge of self-regulation and constant openness. And it is very, mother-friggin' grown up. It's takes a big woman to crawl around on the floor singing Pollywaddle-Doodle all day while secretly listening to the 538 Podcast and googling "childhood developmental markers in Botswana" on my cell phone.
But don't worry. Mentally I'm still a five year old. I haven't lost that part of myself. It's going to be awkward when Miss Chaya outgrows me so early in her life. But she's a clever one. She'll handle it just fine.
Happy thirty four years to me and one whole year to mommy-me!
I don't always get it right, but I most often get it (W)right enough.