Motherly Collective

My 11-week-old baby woke me around 5 am. While bleary-eyed and breastfeeding, I heard my phone chime. I reached to grab it in the dark, and checked my email. The bright light shined in my face, making me squint to read the gut-wrenching, impersonal note that had just come through: I was laid off. 

I had been at my company for 5 years. I had just gotten a promotion a year earlier. I loved my job. My work had meaning. My career fueled me. It is incredibly hard, but I loved being a working mom. My job made me feel connected to the world. Working gave me a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose. More than anything, work gave me an identity that was uniquely owned and created by me, that was outside of my marriage, outside of my home, outside of motherhood. 

For me, every fiber of my being feels different now that I’m a mom. My identity, my understanding of who I am—not only personally and within my own body, but to the world—feels forever impacted. My sense of self has changed completely. I have always prided myself on my independence… and yet, the moment I had my first daughter, that independence left me. I became forever tethered to my baby girl. What an incredibly beautiful and fortunate gift that tethering is. I am grateful every second of every day. 

But as a parent, we often aren’t given space to acknowledge or share what a challenging and unrelenting mental and physical pull the gift of motherhood brings. 

Caroline Stone Peters working at home with baby
Courtesy of the author

On those days when I felt the most nostalgia for my old self and when the hours of the day would be mine again, I knew my job was waiting for me. I daydreamed about putting on real clothes, kissing my babies goodbye for the day, and turning on my adult brain. I fantasized about talking to other grown ups, discussing business plans and strategies, building and creating, communicating concepts beyond sharing toys or cleaning up. The idea of wearing my hair styled and down without getting ripped off of my head by a sticky baby hand, or putting on a shirt and knowing it wouldn’t be covered in spit up minutes after wearing it? These felt like ideas out of a fairytale. Work would bring me back to me

And then work was gone. What I once held as precious and solely mine… was no longer. 

It’s not often acknowledged that when you’re laid off while on maternity leave, you do not wake up on a Monday morning with hours in the day to start looking for a new job. You still have a full-time obligation: to care for an infant while healing your own body and recovering from childbirth. 

Resume building, interviewing, networking, job hunting? It’s exhausting for a well-rested mind and body. Add in middle-of-the-night wakings, add in round-the-clock pumping, add in on-demand breastfeeding, cluster feeding, latching issues, colic, postpartum anxiety, postpartum depression, postpartum anything. The idea of looking for a job, or of perfecting your elevator pitch, or practicing interview questions when you’re still recovering from a C-section, and/or bleeding, or figuring out how to shower while your baby sleeps is unconscionable. Also, it’s nearly impossible. 

Caroline Stone Peters working at home with baby
Courtesy of the author

Since becoming a mom, I have found myself wondering what parts of my former self remain. The months that have followed the layoff have been frustratingly confronting. Who do I want to be? If I could do anything (What a luxury! What a concept!), what would I do? And most importantly, why have I placed so much value on work when there is so much more to value outside of it? That’s a conversation for my therapist. 

This season of unknowing has forced me to reassess what matters most, and what “being me” means. And the truth is, I don’t know. I know that I cherish my children, and that being a mom is the most all-consuming, divine, delicious love. My world is brighter, more glitter-filled, and more purposeful than it ever was. And yet, I am not a woman who feels like her purpose is to be a mom. Thank god for those women. The world needs more of you. I ache to find my purpose. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t know what I’m passionate about anymore, my baby girls are my world… yet I need more. I’m ashamed to say that out loud, but somehow, I feel lighter in that honesty. 

For now, all I can give myself is grace and pep-talks in between bottle washing and cover-letter writing, reminding myself of the one truth for all stages of motherhood: the hard times do pass, so hang in there, mama.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother's journey is unique. By amplifying each mother's experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you're interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.