The 'Non-Mommy' Mommy
In the very beginning, I was thrilled. Excited. Happy beyond measure. Then, my emotions melted into anxiety. Worry. Stress. Is everything going to be ok? You can't be too sure until you are out of the first trimester….
Fast forward to the bundle of joy arriving. A new set of concerns. Breastfeeding. I knew I wouldn't like it, before I even really grasped what it entailed. People focus so much on the delivery, that this is often ignored. Besides, it's supposed to be a natural instinct for any mother. The process is supposed to be natural. No! My baby used me like a pacifier in the hospital. I was in so much pain by the time I saw the lactation nurse, that I was mentally done. However, I pushed myself to do it because "they" say it's what's best for your child. Never mind how you feel about it or if you are even capable of it. And so the self-sacrificing mindset in motherhood began.
I wanted to be the perfect mother. Mom guilt wasted no time to hit, as a result of this desire. I was stressed about not producing enough milk, but how could I, when my mind was not into it? I believe this set off a psychological block that manifested itself physically. Plus, what kind of mother doesn't like breastfeeding? And so the self-judgment began.
After a few months, I wanted to hit the gym. It wasn't so much losing the weight that was my concern, but I didn't feel like myself and I wanted to. I love working out and so I thought this was a good fix. Nope. Turns out, it was bad for my milk supply. I decided to wait until after breastfeeding was done. Told myself, I am not in a rush. I can wait to 'get back to me', besides, I'm a mother now and my baby comes first. The descent into sacrificing my needs continued.
I felt like a stranger in my own body. Although, you can't really admit these things because you just had a baby, and after all that I went through, I was supposed to smile and simply be elated that I gave life. And I was. Believe me, I was beyond content and joyful, but when I went beyond the happiness, I still felt like a stranger in my own body.
The first time I went out after my baby. I was still breastfeeding. I squeezed myself into a red pencil dress that always made me feel good, pre-baby. Went to a wine tasting. Felt a little bit of guilt. I shouldn't be out tasting wines. My self-chiding began. I should be home with my new baby. But the feeling of fresh air, the joy of seeing adults. The elation of people complimenting me. I soaked it up. I felt more like me.
How do I balance this? This mom thing? This me thing? This "us" and "we" thing? How do I reconcile all parts of myself without losing the me, I had come to know and believed myself to be?
By the end of the night, in the cab ride home, I was hurting. Truth be told, I was hurting before, but I just said 'yolo'. Besides, there's nothing I could do in this wine tasting. I forgot about my time limit. The amount of time I had before I had to rush home so I wouldn't start leaking. I got home and threw out the liquid gold (breastmilk) because of my wine tasting. I felt guilty. Is this how I will feel for the next 21 years every single time 'I do me'?
By the time I had to go back to work, I was completely dry. I felt guilty for my baby, but secretly happy for myself. Thank God I don't have to do that anymore! But I knew I couldn't actually say that to people. Eventually, I got to a place when asked about it, I felt comfortable saying, I did what I could and stopped feigning regret.
Society pressures mothers. Mothers pressure other mothers. Men pressure mothers. You are supposed to be a certain kind of woman when you become a mother. A woman who forgoes her own needs and desires for those of her child. If you are not self-sacrificing, you are selfish and implicitly "not a good" mother.
I could not shop for me without shopping for my child, but this started to add up. So I started to take out a few items for me. More for him. Until I eventually started getting to a point where I never really shopped for myself anymore. I always thought of any personal items I wanted, in terms of tuition for him, clothing for him, enrichment classes for him. My beautiful shoes could buy him X. This outfit could get him Y and on and on.
Clearly, as I write this, I understand that there is not one monolithic "mom experience" and I am acutely aware that as mothers, goals are widespread and collectively diverse. However, in this day and age, when self-care is constantly promoted and toted as critically important to mental health, why do we still have a different expectation from the group of people who have THE most demanding jobs there is? The basic tenant of motherhood is self-sacrifice and always has been, but I have personally come to realize that when I take care of myself, I am a better mother to my son, triple fold. When I am more personally fulfilled, I function infinitely better as a mother. When I feel more connected to my identity outside of my role as mother, this is pertinent to my sense of self-worth and health. I no longer view making my own needs a priority as being a "bad mother". I need to be happy and well-taken care of to vibrate at the highest level and perform my maternal role exceptionally.
What are your thoughts? Is it fair to think of yourself before your child(ren)?