It took me a long time to become a mother. Well, I guess it depends on the moment that you want to start that clock. Perhaps it only took a matter of seconds at the moment of conception when two cells become one. Perhaps we become mothers when the baby actually arrives, in which case, it took me ~ 9 hours. For me, motherhood has felt like more like a slow metamorphosis. Skins have been shed. New life has occurred.
A few days after my first was born, my mother-in-law came to help. That first evening, after he had been fed and she was blissfully holding him, she suggested I go out for a walk, “just around the block,” she said, “it will do you good.” By myself? I thought. It seemed impossible to leave him for even a minute. But she convinced me and when I stepped outside I knew she was right. The chilly San Francisco air awakened my senses and I started to walk around our block. We lived in a commercial area, so three quarters of the way around the block, I walked by one of my favorite card shops. I remembered that my first wedding anniversary was in just a couple of days. I had brought my purse because, of course, I had my phone with me, and I was pleased that I was going to have a card for the occasion. I went in and before I knew it got lost in the shop, finding just the right one. As I neared the exit of the store, my phone rang. It was my mother-in-law and Max was wailing in the background. I was mortified when I realized that I had not had phone service in the store and I had been gone for 25 minutes! A part of me couldn’t believe that I let the time get away with a brand new baby at home. Another part of me was in shock that 25 minutes were no longer my own. There began my first struggle with motherhood: the loss of independence. This struggle seemed at odds with the perfect mother I had planned to be.
I slowly adjusted, but I also went back to work, albeit from home and part-time, when he was 3 months old. I hired my first babysitter. I loved my time to myself as much as I loved the work. It was something I needed, though I felt too guilty to admit that at the time. My in-laws continued to be very involved, so that provided another avenue of freedom. When Max was 10 months old, I had a 6-day trip to Germany for work, so they gladly flew in to take care of him. I fretted like any mother would…but the fact that I was even going was controversial amongst my new-mom friends. “I couldn’t do it” some said. But I was doing it. I was even looking forward to it in a fretful sort of way– I have always loved to travel. From the airport I called my own mother. I broke down on the phone, wondering if I wasn’t the worst mother on the planet. Once I got onto the plane, however, I was fine for the rest of the trip. My independent-self still stood strong.
When Max was 2 1/2, his baby sister was born. I wanted to have two children, but it wasn’t that I was “ready” to have the second; it was more that I was 36 and knew the clock was ticking. I was worried. I didn’t understand how life, already hectic with a 2 year old, was going to work adding a newborn into the mix. As it turns out, I had reason to be nervous. After the initial stage when she slept most of the time, things got crazy. Then when we tried to introduce the bottle, she wouldn’t take it. That began a 6-month adventure of trying every tactic you can find on the internet and every bottle on the market to get her to use one. She never did. So the universe sent me, Miss Independent, a child that would not allow me to leave for more than 3-4 hours at a time for a year. Perfect.
By the time she was 9 months old I felt myself often wondering why I had ever decided to become a mother. And the guilt I had for ever feeling that way was killing me. It was either clarity or desperation that led me to my therapist. Therapist and parent-coach, she provided me a non-judging ear and some words that were the sweetest I had ever heard. She confirmed that it really was hard; it wasn’t just hard for me. We narrowed a lot of our work on one notion that I was struggling with: being the perfect mother. I felt very far from that with regular crying and temper-tantrums of my own. I worked with her for the next year and as my children grew, so did I.
I recently turned 40 and have been doing a lot of self-reflection. My kids are now 6 and 3 and one thing that struck me is how much I finally feel like a mother. Something has become clear. For a long time I was trying to make me into the perfect mom instead of realizing that who I am is already the perfect mom for my kids.
My son has recently internalized the idea (whether from school or from us) that “nothing is perfect.” I threw him for a loop recently when I told him that we are all, in fact, perfect. “But nothing is perfect” he reiterated to me, getting increasingly annoyed. “I know,” I said, “and that IS perfect. Everything is perfect, imperfections and all.” I don’t think he was convinced, but maybe for the first time, I was.