Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Old Me

For just a few hours, I was myself again. I was showered and clean, with hair nicely styled and makeup fully applied. My nails were even manicured. I wore a dress that made me feel beautiful and was accessorized completely, including dangly earrings that had been packed away for months. I sipped wine and talked to strangers-turned-friends about my life and the things I love. I ate a delicious meal, free from the normal concerns that come with dining with a toddler, and I drank wine and beer and smoked a cigar and stayed out past "bedtime." I was me.

Jeff's wedding reception was the most like my old self that I have felt in years. The cocktail hour in particular sent me back to my former self, to that woman I once knew, confident and stylish and self-assured, casually having drinks with new friends and talking about life. I told stories of New York, of my work, of me. Ellie and Eric came up, of course, because their lives are so intertwined with mine that I feel that anymore, they are probably actually physically a part of me, and so they are always at the front of my mind and on the tip of my tongue. But for the most part, it was just me in that room at the beach resort, making conversation with people I didn't know.

It was exhilarating.

I love Ellie with my entire heart and soul. Being a mother is the most beautiful, life-changing, humbling, momentous, perfect thing that has ever happened to me. Motherhood was something I dreamed of for as long as I could remember and a day does not pass that I do not praise God for this gift, this perfect little being that has been entrusted to me.

But now, 18 months after her birth and well over two years since I learned she was coming, I still struggle with who I really am in all of this.

My friend Jess recently shared an article on Facebook that resonated with me, about this very phenomenon. Of all the words of that piece that spoke to me, these spoke the loudest:

What I'm saying is that it seems to me that every woman who becomes a mother, no matter how much she loves her kid or wants to be a mom, will most likely, at some point, mourn the loss of her previous identity. 
And it will hurt.

For any of my fellow mothers who are feeling this way, I encourage you to read the full article. It is very eloquently written and I cannot summarize her feelings quite as well as she put them forth the first time around, although I can give an emphatic, understanding nod as I reflect on my own experience.

Figuring out who I am in the wake of new motherhood has been one of my heaviest struggles since becoming a mother 18 months ago, and it has been particularly striking as of late. Sometimes, I look at myself in the mirror or at my life as a whole and I feel like I don't even recognize myself. Who am I?

I once was confident in my body and my style, taking pride in my appearance and my attire. I "felt cute," to put it simply. I lived in New York and spent my days sightseeing, shopping, dining out and running into celebrities at the grocery store. I stayed up late and was able to run out for any spontaneous new experience that crossed my path. My mind was filled with travel, fashion, love, passion and adventure and my life felt like it was a whirlwind of one exciting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity after another.

Yet something was missing, and I yearned for motherhood. And then I was blessed with it, that thing which the article above refers to as a "beautiful catastrophe."

Now, I am constantly hyper-aware of my body and what I perceive to be its many flaws. I own very few articles of clothing that make me "feel cute." My hair is rarely done and if I put on more makeup than a little powder and quick coat of mascara, it must be a really special occasion. I spend my days primarily in the company of only a toddler, sometimes a toddler-tyrant, and I spend my time protecting her from certain death, preparing her meals (which she may or may not even eat), overanalyzing her sleep habits and trying to avoid plopping her in front of Elmo every time I just need a break (an endeavor that is not always quite successful). The needs of another person now trump mine, every moment of every day, and suddenly all the things that once seemed important to me no longer are. My confidence is a far cry from what it was. My spontaneity is all but gone and I find myself often feeling isolated, alone and starved for stimulating adult conversation. Or a good book, with time to read it. Or a quiet moment. Or a really hot pair of heels and an occasion to wear them. Yes, sometimes I even long for that ache in my feet that comes from running around the city in too-high heels for too long.

On top of all this, the great changes we've put ourselves through recently have challenged my former identity even more. My life right now is wholly different from what it was two years ago, in every conceivable way. My city has changed. Our income has changed. My lifestyle has changed. I drive instead of taking the subway. We cook food at home instead of ordering in. Eric's hours (for right now) are worse than they were before. I feel out of my element in an unfamiliar place. And, I'm a mother now, too.

As harsh as it sounds, that self-assured, experience-hungry New Yorker is gone. That girl is no more. If I choose to soften that statement instead of accepting it, I can say that I suppose it's possible she's really just buried deep inside me somewhere. But even if that is true, will I ever find her again?

I felt a flash of her at that cocktail hour. I felt invigorated because I felt like me. But no matter how I felt, that's not me anymore.

And my struggle is finding out who I am now, exactly. I haven't yet created a new identity for myself, not as a mother and certainly not in our new life circumstance. It has been an ongoing adjustment for 18 months that has taken another substantial hit in recent months. I feel like my world has been turned upside down and I'm having a hard time getting right-side up again. And, as the author above promised, it hurts.

I know I'll get there. When it comes down to it, I love that my new identity includes being Ellie's mother and, for that matter, the wife of a teacher instead of a lawyer. I'm so proud and honored to be both those things. But the problem I'm having is with finding my own identity, not my identity as it relates to someone else (someone's wife and someone's mother). Who am I?

It's a work in progress for now, and I just keep reassuring myself that someday, I'll have that confidence back. I'll know who I am and I'll love her just as much as I loved that New York city girl of my former life. And in the meantime, I am so thankful for friends like Jess who share things like the article above, to let me know that I'm not alone in this. This is not abnormal. It's perfectly natural to grieve your former self while simultaneously celebrating a new life. Motherhood is a rebirth, one that has brought me so much fulfillment and joy, and yet I suppose I'm still trying to find my footing. But I'll get there.

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