I became a mother at 4:33 p.m. on a Tuesday.
It was a short delivery, via cesarean. Our little one flipped in the last week of pregnancy and was breeched. This was far from the natural, unmedicated birth with dim lighting and classical music that I had envisioned, but it was our safest option. I was in the operating room less than 20 minutes, with my husband by my side saying sweet things that neither of us remember now, when the doctor, short of breath, said, “There she is. There she is.”
I’ve been a mother for nearly seven weeks, and yet that word when assigned to me feels like an awkward fit, like trying on a pair of poorly shaped pants. It could be that I am still unseasoned in this role. My mothering so far has consisted mostly of feeding, diapering, bouncing, and shushing with intermittent times of staring into each other’s faces, trying to figure one another out. I live in three-hour chunks, and it’s only when I look at a calendar that I have a concept of how much time has passed since our daughter arrived. Sometimes calling myself mom helps me understand who I am now, because I am not the same person I was 40-some days ago. Honestly, though, I am not sure who I am anymore.
I often envisioned motherhood to be just another cap one puts on, like painter or cook. It seemed like an eventual stop on my life path, and despite brief moments in my late 20s and early 30s, I had every intention of deboarding there. When pregnancy didn’t come quickly, I became frantic about it. Anytime a woman with a stroller came into the running shoe store where I worked, my heart pulled. Dear friends around me advanced into motherhood, while I stayed behind in a different life phase. Motherhood seemed elusive, like some mystical place I would only read about but could not experience. It was a threshold I wasn’t allowed to pass into. My husband and I had many talks about how being parents may not happen for us, and how we would have to learn to be OK with it. I told him that I could be, as I racked my brain with hobbies and vacations to make up the deficit, but I wasn’t sure that I would be. I had known that I would be a mother for so long that letting go of that identity would be to kill a piece of me.
Then, after a great deal of time, money, and heartbreak, I finally got my positive pregnancy test. I loved being pregnant. I enjoyed moving through the world as an expecting mother. It was comforting to me that I could walk through a store or a restaurant and strangers wouldn’t know anything about my background or my personality, but they knew I was growing life. Pregnancy felt like my superpower. It held the excitement of transition the way an airport does, as you linger between destination A and destination B. I was transforming, passing through one phase of life to another.
Now that I am here, I do not know how to make sense of motherhood. Everything is polar. I love this new role while also longing for my old life. I feel confident in my ability to care for her, but also breakdown in fear that I might screw her up. My body is unfamiliar and now in service to someone else. I miss her when she is on the other side of the room, and yet I need a break. I am content and terrified. When she smiles at me, I fall into an abyss of love that’s so deep its petrifying, and yet I feel lonely. I knew being a mom would be hard, but I didn’t know how categorically different it would be from all the other experiences in my life. It is absolutely unlike anything else, making it unpredictable and outside of what I can control.
As a mother to a newborn, taking care of her is my entire life. It’s a draining existence. I miss long runs on Saturday mornings followed by brunch, planning vacations to faraway countries, and slow mornings with coffee and a good book. But, then she smiles at me, as if to say, “I know who you are. I know that you are my mother. I know this love between us is the purest of any in the world.” I don’t care then about the life I could be living; I only want this one with her in it.
In a few short weeks (quick mention of how a country without paid paternal leave is everything but pro-family), I will return to work and will have to somehow make room for my career, which is itself still in the infant stages. I hope that eventually I can also reclaim other identities, like runner and writer, but it may be a while before I do. There are certain pieces of me that are just gone now, and that’s a price I willingly paid. (Those friends who moved into motherhood before me have been incredibly kind to check in frequently and offer reassuring words that it does get better).
Bringing this little girl into the world unearthed emotions in me that I did not know I had. While I will always miss who I was before I had a child, a better version of me now exists in the world. I am still figuring out my role as a mother, and it will shift and expand as she grows, but being her mom is the greatest thing I have ever done.