While I was pregnant I remember declaring (oh-so righteously) that I would never "lose myself" in motherhood. I would never forget about me because I had been me for the past 30-odd years. The idea that the addition of one little life to this vast world would change who I was didn't make sense to me. It didn't make sense in the way that motherhood doesn't make sense to someone who's never been a mother.
We just can't know.
What I did know was that I had been "me" for so long that I wasn't just going to let that go. I couldn't let that go. But whenever anyone starts walking in a brand new direction with no map or guidebook it's inevitable that we will somehow get lost.
In my early days of motherhood, I remember writing, I've never felt more unlike myself than ever before. Translation: I don't know what I'm doing. This is really hard. How did this become my life?
I thought becoming a "mom" meant that you automatically gained access to information you didn't have access to before. Moms have all the answers. They fix the boo-boos. They help the world spin more smoothly. They know what they're doing, and in that knowing, they know — and feel comfortable with — who they are.
Yes and no.
I think that's why it feels like such a loss. You lose how things were before. How easy and straightforward it was before. How free you were before. How alone you were before.
Once you become a mom, you will never be alone again. It's no longer possible to make choices for you and you alone. Because any choice you make from here on out reverberates to your children — to their lives, and their futures.
In creating life, we alter our own forever. Losing actually means gaining. Becoming intertwined with a life that will be with you until you're no longer.
And the way the rest of the world sees us becomes forever altered as well.
As much as mothers are still adjusting to our new skin and figuring out our new identities, society has already decided who we are. We are mothers. And for some reason, once we're filed away as "mom", that one label changes the expectations and assumptions people make — wrong or right. And it's added to everything we do — working mother, mompreneur, mommy blogger.
Yes, I am a mother. Yes, I work as a full-time employee. But why must I be labeled a "working mother"? Why is that distinction so important to make to the wider world?
There has never been a "working father" in all of history, even though many fathers are also full-time employees. They enjoy the singular label of "CEO," "VP of Human Resources," "dentist" or "math teacher."
And beyond just slapping the "mother" label on all of our other titles, we are generally expected to pick one side of the motherhood spectrum or the other.
Motherhood is largely defined as an either/or proposition.
You are either a stay-at-home mom or a working mom.
You are either a breastfeeding mom or a formula mom.
You are either a cry-it-out mom or a no-cry sleep-training mom.
Society determines your value, your worthiness, through these choices and the labels that come with them. But this reductive way of thinking creates a binary that doesn't exist in reality. The black-and-white picture reality paints is actually large swaths of gray — with shades so light they look white and shades so dark they look black.
I, for instance, was an exclusively pumping, breastfeeding, formula supplementing mom.
When my son was an infant, I was a stay-at-home mom who was a freelance employee and consultant who sometimes worked full-time in an office.
I was a gentle-sleep-training cry-it out-mom, who believed in room sharing and letting my son sleep in his own crib, but would bed-share when I just needed sleep.
These choices don't define me as a mother, just as being a mother doesn't fully define me as a person.
I am wholly myself and wholly a mother but I am neither just a mom nor just myself any longer.
I didn't lose myself in motherhood, after all. I found a new version of me. A hybrid mom/wife/sister/best friend self — who is clumsy-footed, type-A, empathetic, assertive, kind-hearted, and honest in both my superpowers and weaknesses.
No one human can be boiled down to one label, mothers least of all.
We are some of the most complex, intricate, contradictory personalities that exist. We hold multiple roles simultaneously, context-switching quickly from boo-boo-soothing to boardroom presentations to date night to acts of self-care.
We are the and.
We are women and mothers and daughters and lovers and teachers and friends and CEOs and toddler-wranglers and and and and…
So, no, there's no such thing as being just a mom.
This story originally appeared on Apparently.