When you’re in the middle of bringing a new life into the world, there is no way to avoid the epiphany. For some women, it’s the realization that they are about to give up their freedom. For others, it’s taking stock of the depth of responsibility that is upon them as they are thrown unabashedly into real adulthood.
Ten years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, a friend of mine handed me my epiphany. I just didn’t know it then.
She told me about the profound change in my life that was about to happen. A change that was far deeper than just becoming a mom. In one sentence she told me that everything I’ve have known, and everything I was up to that point was about to change deeply and forever.
I have often thought about the source of this truth about motherhood. She was an irreverent, southern woman, being awesome and taking names when the need arose. Picture Ouiser Boudreaux, from Steel Magnolias.
Her own story of motherhood was a sad one. Her daughter took her own life, years before. Why? She didn’t know, but I doubt that knowing would have done anything to assuage the pain. Even when her daughter slipped from her own grasp, she shared a fundamental truth about motherhood with me.
Standing in the lingerie department of the store where we worked: we hung bras and talked about my daughter’s arrival. After hanging the last bra from her pile, she leaned into me and whispered: “You know, from now on you’re not going to be known as Sharon. You’re going to be known as her mom.”
At that moment I didn’t quite understand the gravity and the weight of that statement. I didn’t stop to think about its implications for my life when my babies were no longer babies.
I waited for my daughter for so long. I descended into the abyss for an entire year thinking I would never be her mom. I didn’t understand how I could feel anything less than complete when I held her for the first time or any of the thousands of times after that. I wanted to be her mom.
Then one day I was, and it was everything. I stayed home with my babies so I didn’t miss a moment or a milestone, or even worse hear about it from someone else. For six years I wiped every tear and changed every diaper. I was the fixer of boo-boos and the finder of lost sippy cups. So happy to be caught up in the beautiful minutiae of our lives. And at the end of every day, I rocked my babies to sleep. The list of my powers was long, and I bet if you asked them, my girls would have said that I even hung the moon.
But time was in a hurry as it usually is. Eventually, the days came where I waved goodbye at bus stops and I sent my babies off into the world—without me. They were on their own, and for the first time in a long time, so was I.
While my girls didn’t need me every second, they still needed me. I continued to busy myself with school drop-offs, homework and the usual suspects of homemaking. So often I would stop to think there has to be something more than catching vomit in my hands and having dinner on the table by five. Certainly, my importance could not be boiled down to whether or not we have the “good” cookies and scotch tape in the house. (At ages 8 and 10 scotch tape seems to be very important).
As these thoughts crept in with increasing frequency, I realized what was happening. The very thing I was warned about was coming to fruition. My identity was wrapped up in motherhood. I wasn’t known as Sharon, I was my daughters’ mom.
I began to struggle with my own identity in the face of my children’s developing independence and expanding worldview. Who am I without a little person clinging to my legs in front of strangers? When I think about it, as moms, we even introduce ourselves in a child-centric way: “Hi, I’m her mom, Sharon.” Child first, me second.
For a short time, I thought about going back to work. It didn’t take long to learn that in some ways the world was someone else’s oyster. I also learned that white space on a mom blog is great and white space on a resume is not. And my new epiphany was: A daily punch of a clock is not the “stuff” that legacies are made of.
After a considerable amount of soul searching, researching, big ideas and false starts, I eventually figured out what I am and what I love to do. I figured out how to be for me and be an example for my girls.
I followed my passion to become a writer. I’m proud of my writing, and I feel accomplished when I see my name on a byline. If the universe is listening, one day it will be on a book cover.
The truth is that motherhood changes all of us. Somewhere in the midst of 2 AM feedings and play dates our identities begin to slip away. Having the courage to reclaim it and understanding its alchemy is what counts.
I am neither scared nor sad about starting over at 42. I did the important stuff first and I can only think that this is the way it’s supposed to be. My children have made me a better person. They have breathed life, love, and joy into every part of my being. They have given purpose and meaning to every word I write.
Being their mom is the greatest thing I have ever done, but there’s more, and I’m ready for it. …