I once had a friend tell me, “When I became a mother, it felt like a door closed behind me.”

For many new mothers, this probably instantly strikes a chord. Walking through the doorway of motherhood is like entering an entirely new world, one that can seem equal parts overwhelming and claustrophobic. The realm--and the room--of motherhood.

To call motherhood a “room” makes sense considering the tendency to compartmentalize the experience. Though we are often a mom and something else, motherhood can be all-encompassing and touches every corner of our beings. To be sure, mothering warrants recognition. It is a sacrificial and rewarding career. So we step aside ourselves and footnote our other endeavors, little closets and hallways off of the main space in which we are “mom.”

Then we imagine the doors to those closets or hallways are closed. Locked even. We feel cut off from other facets of life while inside “motherhood,” a room like a nursery that’s full of diapers and squeaky toys and breast pumps. Maybe society told you to do this, that that’s what being a good mom is. Perhaps you’ve just been swept away in it all and found yourself here, in the middle of unending piles of dirty laundry. It could very easily have been your own, beautiful choice, to walk into the room and lock the door behind you, to be in every single moment while you have it.

Regardless of how you wound up in the place, chances are, you’ve faced your breaking point at some time or another. There’s been a day where something snapped and you ran around the room, desperate, jiggling all the knobs of all the doors just trying to get out. Just crack a window even! Let a little light and air in. Peeking through keyholes, trying to get a glimpse of just what exactly you shut out when that door closed.

I remember before my first daughter was born, being pregnant and working feverishly on her new nursery. I remember the way the afternoon light shone through the big windows, casting shadows over new creamy-colored sheets and through the tiny bird mobile that dangled over the crib. I remember moments passed in the glider, practicing my rock, imagining when the nursery would be full. I spent hours folding all of those cloth diapers and sorting teethers and rings and blocks into separate bins.

There was a peace in there.

Soon enough, there was a baby in that space. I had entered the realm of motherhood, and there certainly were days that seemed unending, like that realm was all I would ever know. Sometimes I would catch my breath though. I’d remember when that room was barren of cries and squeaks and giggles, when I’d been preparing the place and feeling so peaceful. Those feelings commanded, “Sit.”

Maybe the door is closed for a time or during certain parts of the day. There will certainly be minutes or even hours that seem unbearable and inescapable. You might lunge for the handle and bang on the door for someone to let you out. But in the midst of all that, take time to sit in the room. Study the way the light brightens it up and the shadow friends it makes. Note the intricacies and the quirks, the ways the nooks and crannies are filled. Soak up the peace of this realm, which, for all its small and trapped feelings, is actually a brief, fleeting space.

Because though motherhood doesn’t mean the end of life, it does mark a milestone after which you’ll never be the same. Choose to see the good in that, the peace in that: Where once there was not, now there is. And instead of longing for what is behind the closed door, bask in the restfulness and the joy of the room you’re in.

And know that you have permission to drop the burp cloths for a little while and step outside the room. You can keep that closet full of your stilettos and pretty dresses. You’ll still need them once and awhile. It is a beautiful thing to be a mother and something else. It is good and right to dash down one of those hallways every once in awhile, to connect to some other part of you. Just as there are other rooms in the house, there are other pieces of you that deserve to be nurtured. In the long run, if you’re a better, richer person, you’ll raise better, richer kids.