I was very fortunate to grow up alongside my child, lucky to have him anchor me to make choices that were better than the ones I was making for myself alone.
There's no attribution required for a quote like this. If you were to close your eyes and spin with an outstretched finger in a room full of mothers, you could land on almost any of them and they likely would have felt this statement at one point or another. Many women mourn the woman they were before they had to change diapers, put aside their own needs and focus much of their energy on caring for another.
But not me.
I had my first baby at 19 years old. I was two years out from my first mental breakdown and I was phasing out of the youth-in-care system. I was a high school dropout with no prospects, very little in the form of social supports, and a history of drug use and mental health issues. I was the very epitome of squandered potential. My life derailed by my own poor choices and stubborn insistence on learning things the hard way.
My pregnancy changed everything. I didn't want to be just another teenage parent. I saw my impending motherhood as a chance for redemption, and I turned all my anxieties towards trying to do this thing right. I read the books, tried (and failed) to take up knitting and took a lot of time to look inwards at what I wanted to be.
Prior to this, I had convinced myself that I wasn't worth a normal life, but this baby was different. He deserved everything possible, his tiny body full of limitless potential.
I'm now 35 with three children and I can say with full certainty that I do not miss the person I was before I became a mother. I was very fortunate to grow up alongside my child, lucky to have him anchor me to make choices that were better than the ones I was making for myself alone.
I went back to school because I wanted to show him that education was important. I got a degree to show him the importance of hard work. I worked to improve my circumstances because I wanted him to know me as someone other than the mixed-up girl with a shaved head and an inclination for destruction that I was when he was conceived.
I wasn't always the best mother, but I was certainly a better person than I would have been if I had not become a young parent. People assume that young parents are cool, and my son simply rolls his eyes as he sees me as far from it.
My desire to forge a life that was different than where I was headed has made it so that I value discipline and hard work. I am not one to let my children off the hook, as I believe in taking responsibility for your actions. I try and maintain close bonds with them in an attempt to know what is going on in their worlds. I tend to be overprotective. I try my best to learn from my mistakes. I fail often, but I like to think that as we matured together, we were patient with each other.
The person I was before I became a parent was lost and confused. She had no self-esteem and felt that she was not worth much in life. Although some of these issues required work after his birth, I can say that now 16 years later I feel more confident and wiser than I ever could have imagined.
My role as a mother has made me prioritize my mental health, my self-image and resilience. I am keenly aware that there are young ones watching me, and that I have a responsibility to communicate to them the best possible messages, which starts with how I treat me. It took me a long time to get here, but I did so with the weight of motherhood to tether me and keep me grounded.
I don't mourn the woman that I was before I became a mother. I wouldn't even recognize her now. I much prefer the self-assured and confident person that I became with age and the experience of struggling and growing up alongside my child.
Becoming a parent at such a young age protected me from missing the painfully damaged person that I was on track to become. In motherhood, I found an interruption on a path to nowhere and was rerouted to a future that has been characterized by confidence and hope.