I didn’t expect to change when I had kids.
In my blissful ignorance of being 26 and pregnant, with a perfect round and stretch-mark-free belly, I was sure that a baby would just incorporate into my already formed paradigm and things would stay as they always were, with the addition of a baby sidekick.
Honestly I was afraid of changing, afraid of how my marriage might shift, afraid of the uncharted waters that lay before me, and it was easier to convince myself that nothing would, or could, change.
I remember the morning, at 37 weeks, that I woke up to find that the fibers of my skin had stretched and torn across my belly, just like a piece of fabric, revealing large purple shiny marks. With the heavy sorrow of a 20-something realizing that their body was beginning to age, I inspected them in the mirror, knowing with these small tears that things couldn’t stay the same, waking up to the undeniable realization that I was in for a transformation.
My eldest turned four last week. Four whole rotations round the sun, four years of gazing into his blue eyes, of blond hair and sticky fingers and knobby knees, and that determined, inquisitive, pragmatic personality. Four years of learning about myself, about my resistance mechanisms and my harsh judgments and my points of failure. Also learning of the deep and enveloping joy that can hijack me without any prior warning, of the warm way that love creeps up my spine and into my swelling heart when I see eyelashes fanned across sleeping pink cheeks or a true moment of compassion between two young brothers.
Motherhood does change you, but it’s a gift that unwraps slowly, like a caramel melting in your mouth, or like extracting a shard of glass from the bottom of your foot.
The thing is, celebrating my first child’s birthday feels a lot like celebrating my own birthday, because the person who entered the birthing center on that frigid Friday evening after laboring up and over Killington mountain in a snowstorm was not the same person who left on Sunday, carrying an infant car seat in the crook of her arm. It took me years to recover from the initial shock of motherhood; the extreme anxiety, the crying, the never-ending need to give of myself, the intense streak of protectiveness, the new shape of my body. In some ways motherhood seemed to stretch out before me for miles, a dismal gray tundra with no foreseeable joy or reprieve on the horizon.
But joy has a way of finding us in the oddest places, doesn’t it?
While you’re curled up on the couch with a little pool of sunshine splashed across your feet, in the moments when no one needs you, however fleeting. At the first sip of a hot cup of coffee, little tendrils of steam rising up against a snowy window. The warm, heavy, sleep-twitchy body of a four year old dreaming on your chest. In nature – in nature when I’m journeying solo, surveying the layers of ice over a frozen river, or the wonky tracks of a wild turkey weaving through the woods, or trees slowly swaying back and forth, reaching upwards with their naked arms towards a blue bird sky, or the sharp intake of cold air that both stings my lungs and invigorates my body. I’ve found throughout the years that the dismal moments are slowly being replaced with peaceful moments, with pockets of joy. The moments of anger and frustration are slowly (slowly) being traded in for moments of self-control.
I’m a mother to the very fibers of my being, but that’s not all that I am. I’m also a student and a teacher, a lover, a fighter, a wanderer, an active agent. The longer I’m a mother, the more comfortable I become with giving of myself and also giving TO myself, the more clearly I see my role in the world as a person, as a mother, and at the same time as an entity separate from my role as mother.
Becoming a mother changed everything for me. It launched me into a transformation that I neither expected nor asked for, and now I find myself in that ever-changing, ever-challenging, ever-rewarding, never-ending state of becoming.
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