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A Time Before Mama

by | Apr 11, 2019 | Journal | 0 comments

Once upon a time I was not Mama.

I remembered this on a recent solo trip to New York City, the place I lived during the height of my maiden years. There I was, walking at a rapid pace to the subway, headphones filling my ears with the songs of my own personal soundtrack. I hurried through my old neighborhood in Brooklyn, old things now mixed with new things. And though I have now been away for more time than I was there, I suddenly felt a deep longing for the past.

The Maiden

I had left her there, the maiden me. She was childless, walking very quickly, filled with possibility. Free to set her own schedule. Free to stay out late at night. Free to have hours-long conversations with other adults without being interrupted once (except maybe by a waiter slipping the bill on the table).

I missed her softer skin, her body that had never known the pain of recovering from birth. I remembered her lightness and innocence. She was a beautiful creature, indeed.

How to Prepare for Motherhood

I took a birthing class a few months before Leonie came. We practiced overcoming pain by sticking our hands in ice water for 90 seconds (the length of the average contraction). I laugh now at the thought that there was anything I could have done to prepare me for my birth experience or anything that came after. There is nothing in the world that can show us what will come when we make that passage. We simply have to move, allowing the new scenery to appear to teach us what is.

But in this passage from maiden to mother, a lot gets left behind. It is a shocking journey that ends with double the responsibility and half the support. Most of us go into mamahood ignorant of its hard truths; few voices share the truth that giving up everything leaves us open to more. Blind to that, we suffer what we lost.

I never get to listen to music of my own choosing for hours anymore. I never get to give myself or another person my undivided attention for hours. For the past three years, everything I wear has been motivated either by how easy it is to remove for breastfeeding or how likely it is to not get ruined by my daughter’s loving hands. This journey is isolating, unkempt, and covered with sticky fingerprints.

Yet, I have found this: My life now as a mama is a million times richer because I no longer get to be selfish. But there are these flashes of times when I miss having my life to myself. This is the paradox of mamahood. In this grey area between loss and bliss, I have become a new kind of beautiful creature.

If I’m Being Honest

My journey to get pregnant was long. At one turn, a doctor told me that it wouldn’t happen without IVF (she was wrong). I wailed at this news, feeling the loss of something I had never had. I saw a flash-forward vision of myself at 70, childless, and without any sort of tether grounding my reason for being alive. It was emptier than anything else I have ever known.

Seeing this emptiness woke me up. I tossed kerosene on my life and burnt down just about everything that kept me from experiencing the magic of mamahood. I cherish my daughter, the seed that grew from the fertile earth I laid with all that destruction. Still, I must be honest about how it feels to have left so much behind.

Women are so used to the confines of dishonesty that to lie often feels like the most comfortable option. We swear that we are okay when we are either mixed in our emotions or hopelessly lost in them. We rush to close old wounds before they have healed. We say “yes” to bosses, sexual partners, our kids, and our parents because we choose not to burden others with the details of our pain. When they ask us how we are doing, we say, “I’m fine,” when what we mean to say is, “I am an unfathomable ball of gas soaring through the solar system at light speed and am about to crash into some distant object growing closer by the minute and I have no idea what’s coming next.”

It is possible to feel both inexhaustible joy and deep loss all at once. This is the dance of life, and certainly a part of the journey from maiden to mama. But if we ignore the honesty of our feelings about either side of the passage, we miss out on the incredible richness that defines the experience. That richness, birthed in the grey areas of our emotions, is what brings mama wisdom to the forefront.

I Do Not Feel Guilty

I don’t feel guilty in saying that I miss the freedom of being only responsible for me. Because once I acknowledge it, I no longer yearn for it. I stop imagining that what I had then is better than what I have now. When I give a gentle, honest nod to that emotion, I no longer have the need to act upon it.

The Mama

It crosses my mind that one day my daughter will read these words and think that her mama has said she wishes her sweet, beautiful daughter, were not here. But if I have done my job as her guide with any sort of integrity, it will be clear that I am wishing nothing of the sort. I am simply seeing an old reflection of me that once roamed without the soft touch of a little girl’s palm. And I must acknowledge this old me so that she can be cross over into what is me now.

My daughter has taught me to walk more slowly now. I would miss every single train if she were with me in New York. I sing “The Wheels on the Bus” once a day. But with this loss of personal freedom, I have gained truth. I am more honest, more open to the wholeness of life in all its ups and downs. I am a perfectly seasoned dish, created and served by me.

I see a few new silver hairs every day. I practice acceptance every time I gaze at my changed reflection. And when I accept that I am in this place, I see a wisdom shining through my pores. Mine is a beauty that my old self could never have carried. I can hold the weight of it because of my daughter’s place in my arms.

I am grateful for the innocence of my past self. I am happy to see her when she shows her face. She reminds me of where I once was. But I like the way I see the world now, and I wouldn’t trade it to be on time for all the trains in New York City.

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“On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure.”

The Bhagavad Gita 2:40