The other morning, I posted the following status update on Facebook: “I was sincerely committed to not letting parenthood change me, but now that I see ‘buy photo paper’ on my to-do list, resistance just seems futile.” I know. Funny, right? I live to amuse myself.
Soon after, a friend very sweetly and genuinely commented about the joy he felt in the way his son has changed everything about the way he thinks and feels. My immediate reaction was to jokingly reply, “Yeah, but I was already awesome before having a kid.” I didn’t, partly because I didn’t want to imply that he wasn’t (he was!), but mostly because of another reason the joke might not land: It’s a little too close to how I really feel about myself.
It happened when I got married. It’s happening now that I’m a new parent. In both cases, I have become adamant, hawkish even, about not allowing my change in demographics change me. It took me by surprise the first time, this visceral reaction, causing an unnecessary amount of philosophizing and legal action regarding changing my name. After a bunch of hullabaloo, I managed to reclaim the name on my birth certificate just in time for it to be printed on my daughter’s eight weeks ago.
Perhaps that’s why I was prepared this time. Even from the point at which my husband and I first decided it was baby time, I felt myself straight-arming mommy culture wherever I saw it. I would not be a part of that. I would be me, but with a baby. Let it be known. I would not accept any of the plethora of free parenting magazine offers that somehow found their way to me, nor would I read mommy blogs or books. In fact, when I was pregnant and was told again and again how I would definitely be blogging about mommyhood, I joked that I already had a mommy blog in the works called MomsArentThatSpecial.com.
Okay, it was sort of a joke; I may have purchased the URL for funsies. The pretend site became my fantasy dumping ground for my mommy culture anxieties, all tied together under the following theme: More than 80% of American women become mothers by the time they’re 40. That’s actually down from 90% 40 years ago. I clung to this fact as validation that motherhood is an ordinary thing that happens to ordinary people who then just get on with their lives.
Now, of course, I am left to wonder why I’ve been so consumed by remaining as unchanged by motherhood as possible, minus the sleeping less and the lactating. Narcissism, obviously, is a pretty big contender. I can live with that. But there are a few other factors as well: For one, I find mommy culture problematic, for a variety of reasons. Also, while I do believe I feel all the right feelings and love to all the right depths as a new mom should, I’m not surprised by it. I’m close to many moms. I’m well-read. I feel deeply connected to my own mom and in touch with how has she always loved me. So while all of the mommy feels are big and all-encompassing, I can’t say they were surprising, nor did I need to crack open a new chamber in my soul to feel them. I can’t, nor do I understand the impulse to, look at a woman without children and say, “You can’t even understand how this feels.” I assume many can.
But mostly, I believe it’s because I’m 33 (and I definitely just took out a calculator to confirm that). I’m not still finding myself. I wasn’t still finding myself when I got married. I found myself some time ago, I like what I found, and I didn’t need to be a wife or a mom to do it. More saliently, before I found myself, I’d lost myself. Like many people in their 20s do, I really lost myself. I became a person I didn’t recognize nor like. For a host of reasons I shudder to recall and have not the inclination nor time to explore here, I gave up on the person I’d always believed I could be. When I think of how easily I could have simply remained that person, I am terrified. I can, incredibly clearly, see the alternative life I could have had play out in my mind. It’s an awful life. And I almost lived it.
It’s no easy process, reclaiming yourself after being so far adrift. Well, let’s preface that by saying, it’s not like struggling against violence or chronic hunger or systemic social injustice. But as far as First World problems go, it’s an internal struggle not soon forgotten. It’s not one I want to repeat.
I don’t think this makes me unique. I think a lot of women–a lot people–get to these life changes and wrestle with the way we are told we’re supposed to be transformed by them. Yes, we will continue to grow and change, but on our own terms, in our own time, and however incrementally the change comes naturally to us. It is perfectly acceptable to be bowled over, to feel entirely changed, by marriage or the birth of children or any other significant life shift. But it’s also okay to not be. It’s okay to feel the way we feel, love the way we love and simply be the way we are. Particularly if we feel a hard-won sense of peace with who that person already is.