What Losing My Job Taught Me About Motherhood
When I was pregnant, people would ask me what I was most nervous about. And without missing a beat, I would say losing my independence. It was my number one fear. Not how the labor and delivery would go. Not whether I would be a good mom. Not sleepless nights with a newborn crying for hours. None of that. I was absolutely the most terrified when I thought that being a mom would be the thing that defines me. The thought of someone - anyone - a passerby on the street, even - looking at me and seeing me ONLY as a mom and not as a woman with intelligence and interests and a career and goals and accomplishments…that was a huge fear of mine. And, by the way, I am not saying a woman cannot be all of those things at once. In fact, plenty of women are all of those things and more! I am saying that in becoming a mother I was scared I would lose myself.
I’ve always thought life is like a puzzle. There is a piece for your health. A piece for your relationship. A piece for family. A piece for your work. The pieces will look different for each person, but it all makes up the whole puzzle. That puzzle is your life. And if one piece is missing, you might feel like the puzzle is incomplete. I didn’t understand quite how the baby would fit into my puzzle. Which pieces would have to be sacrificed to make room? Would it be my relationship with my husband? My friends? My hobbies? Something had to give.
But between all of those scary thoughts about losing myself, I was also very excited to become a mom. My husband and I had built this life we were pretty proud of and we were ready to share it with a baby of our own. So I pushed those nervous feelings aside and planned for the baby. We decorated the nursery just so. We attended the birthing classes. We had gorgeous baby showers with friends and family. We were over the moon! And for awhile, it felt like I just might pull this mom-thing off!
And then I got laid off.**
Yep, seven months pregnant me, terrified of losing her identity. Terrified of being labeled as just a mom. I now had a baby on the way and no career to go back to. I had no direction and no plan. I felt terrible. A major identifier in my life has always been my career. I love everything that comes with working - the energy, the sense of purpose, all of it. I also love bringing in my own money. But there I was, jobless. The career piece of my puzzle had gone missing and I definitely felt incomplete.
**Don’t worry. They took care of me and basically gave me an extended maternity leave plus benefits. It all worked out and there are no hard feelings. But at the time - yikes!**
So, staring at the end of my current job and starting the new chapter of becoming a mom, I took to planning out - aka obsessing over - my maternity leave. What would I accomplish? How would I manage my time? Look, I know. Maternity leave is supposed to be about taking care of your newborn, healing your body, and getting as much sleep as possible. But I couldn’t stand the thought of “doing nothing”. I’m a goal setter. A busy body. This was my way of maintaining my identity while taking care of the baby.
So the baby came - little Remy - and oh gosh, he was so cute and so sweet. And the first few days were hard. And then we got into a rhythm. When he was up, he ate and we “played” and then he slept again. He slept a lot. So we went on walks to get exercise and to get out of the house. But when we returned every day, I started checking things off of my list.
In between feedings a few photo albums were ordered. I blogged during nap time. I read books while the baby sat in the chair swing. I painted our bathroom when my husband worked late. I cleaned out my closet. I planned family trips to Puerto Rico and Florida and Oregon. I needed to prove to myself I could do it all. A balancing act between what I wanted to accomplish personally and being a mom.
As I got comfortable with the baby, I started applying for jobs. As luck would have it, I interviewed and landed a job of my dreams. I signed Remy up for daycare and started the countdown to the end of my extended maternity leave. I finally had a plan. I had survived! And while I loved the time I spent with the baby at home, I kept thinking about getting back to work and back to my old self. I just wanted to feel like me again.
That brings me to today. Three days before my maternity leave is over. I’ve just picked Remy up from his first few hours at daycare. He did great! He’s lying on the floor, kicking away, cooing and smiling up at me. I can’t believe how fast the last four months have gone. My husband asked me this morning if I accomplished everything I set out to at the start of my maternity leave. And all I can think is how stupid I was. Sure, I completed some projects and checked some things off of my list. But the joy was in the moments that seemed like nothing at all. A bunch of tiny moments from sun up to sun down and then just like that it’s time to do it all again. But those little moments are big for me and baby. We are learning. We are spending time. We are bonding. In those moments I became a mom. And that was my biggest accomplishment.
I started to notice those little moments a week or so ago. There are these funny sounds I make when I change his diaper and Remy laughs and laughs. I sing him songs all day long and he coos and tries to sing them too. We know when he gets fussy, it’s time for a walk outside. As soon as he sees the trees above his head, he’s happy again. He can hold his bottle now. He sees it coming and sticks his chubby hands out. When did that happen? Seems like just yesterday I was nursing him every hour and watching his little eyes get droopy while we cuddled.
I just truly didn’t get it. I didn’t think this stuff - these little moments that are seemingly nothing - would matter. But they do. It’s all meant so much more to me than I ever thought it would.
I was so busy worrying about what I might lose when I became a mom, I never even thought about what I would gain. I know that sounds horrible. But it’s true! I didn’t understand motherhood. I kept thinking of the baby as taking away from other parts of my puzzle. Taking away parts of me that I would no longer have time for.
But it wasn’t like that at all. It was like the baby was the surprise extension pack to the puzzle. A part of the puzzle, a part of me, that I never even knew existed. Remy added something to my life that I didn’t know I had room for. Being a mom and taking care of your own child is a completely new experience and it makes you feel whole. Even if some of your other puzzles pieces are out of whack.
Here I am, three days before I start my new job, and now I am wondering how I can make more room for the baby. I want to take time away from every other piece of the puzzle and give it to him. How ironic, right? But of course, if you’re a mother, you already knew it would be this way. You all warned me. I just didn’t think it would be that way for me. Don’t get me wrong. I am so excited to start down my new career path. That’s something I’ve felt before. But I am also very excited to come home at the end of the day and spend time with my son. That’s something I’ve never felt before.
Motherhood adds this color to life that makes every day meaningful. It’s the reward after a long day’s work. It’s the dessert. It’s someone to come home to. It’s a special place where you belong. And after all of the worrying. Through all of the fear. That piece of the puzzle - that piece of my life - is the one I cherish most.