I was just fifteen days away from meeting my daughter – although at the time I didn’t know that – and the end-of-pregnancy expanse stretched infinitely before me. I was waiting to kiss ten little toes, and to inhale that special scent that only newborns have. Most of all I was waiting to assume the identity I had been looking forward to taking on for my whole life – mother.
Now that baby bump is toddling around the house, causing a remarkable amount of chaos for an 18-pound being. My daughter has been constantly transforming over the last year – from a docile infant into cooing baby, and now into a headstrong toddler who knows just what she wants.
Mother is such a strong role in our culture; moms are praised for being giving and selfless, the backbones of our families. Last year, I couldn’t wait to become enmeshed in that role, learning from my mom and my grandmothers. I was waiting for a magical change to wash over me, and yet when I finally emerged from the sleepless nights and relentless nursing sessions I was surprised to realize I was still myself.
“Oh my god, you’re somebody’s mom,” a friend said when we met for drinks recently. “That’s so weird.”
Weird indeed. This past year has been at once strange and completely natural. I love my daughter, and am amazed how easily she has fit into my life. But at the same time, I’ve realized that I don’t define myself by my relationship to her. I am a mother, yes, but also a writer and a wife, and all the things I was before giving birth. I’ve added a passion, but I haven’t replaced any.
More importantly, I’ve realized that nurturing those passions is just as important as nurturing my little one. In order to be a woman that my daughter is proud of, I devote time to the things that make me feel strong, smart and healthy in mind and body.
This year, I’ve learned that just like any other humans, moms are multifaceted. They have likes and dislikes, hobbies and shortcomings. My new perspective has prompted me to ask the mothers in my life questions that don’t pertain to raising little ones (although they get plenty of those questions, too). I’ve had wonderful conversations, talking to my aunt about death and to my mom about relationships and identity. If anything, being a member of the mom “club” has let me humanize the mothers in my life, and connect with them on an even deeper level because of that.
Last year on Mother’s Day, I was heavily pregnant, suspended between two worlds – things as they were, and things as they would be. Not knowing what to expect, I focused on my hopes for myself:
I hope that I'll have taken time to be present, I wrote at the time. If life does fly by as quickly as they say, then there is no sense wishing any of it away… I hope that I will have been kind to myself… Most of all, I hope that in 25 years I will be surrounded by a loving family, just as I am today.
Looking back on my first year of motherhood, I realize this message was one I got right. During the first year you have little choice but to be present for the good and the bad, because it turns out the infant phase is as tough as they say. But it is also true that one smile from a troublesome baby can leave you feeling overcome with love, and muttering, “You are just too darn cute.” As for kindness – well, without the kindness of others, and the kindness to forgive myself for my shortcomings, the first year would have been impossible.
Today I’ll be celebrating Mother’s Day with my little family of three, and with my extended family, acknowledging aunts, sister and grandmothers. As we celebrate the contributions these moms have made to our family, I’ll also take a moment to appreciate them for their whole selves – real, beautiful, flawed individuals – just like me.
Ed Note: This article first appeared in Foster's Daily Democrat on Mother's Day.