Becoming a mother is something that I have always longed for, expected even. To be honest, I feared not being a parent more than I feared being one. So it’s come as a great surprise over these past nine months just how big an adjustment being a parent has been.
That is something I did not expect.
As a woman who loves children, becoming both a step-parent and a new mother in the past year and a half has been a journey of immense proportions. I have spent much of my adult life working with children, so parenting is a challenge and change that I have welcomed. There have been many a question from those who know me along the lines of, “Is parenthood everything you ever expected? Is it perfect? Do you love it?”
Those who ask this of me might be surprised, shocked even, to hear that being a mom has been an overwhelming challenge, a struggle, a major life change, and one that I am certainly not perfect at.
The pressure to be the perfect parent
But why the surprise? Of course the pinterest posts, the magazines, the blogs endlessly spouting the latest mom project, the picture-perfect lunches, the handknit and handsewn clothes, the creative games – all of it builds this pressure to be the perfect parent. And mixed in with the media and social networking pressures of parenting are the more subtle, political divides. Be a stay-at-home parent and completely devoted to your child, or go back to work and be immersed in the adult world? Maternity leave income (as low as it is) ends after one year, full-time daycare is both expensive and at a premium, and there is no in-between, no easy meshing on how to be both a mom and a person.
What none of this takes into consideration is this colossal period of adjustment in my life. Yes, the 41-plus weeks of pregnancy was a period of adjustment. During that time I read endless amounts on breastfeeding, co-sleeping and bedsharing, car seats, babywearing, SIDS, and attachment parenting. The world is ready to assume that pregnancy prepares us for being a parent, when really it is only the beginning of a very long journey of change and discovery.
The ups and downs of the fourth trimester
The postpartum, fourth trimester, has thrown me for such a loop. It has been such an unexpected period of transition, one that I both relish and fear at the same time.
On the one hand, I have fallen in love with a person, who up until less than a year ago did not even exist. With this love comes the most wonderful moments. I am sure that one day in a moment of intoxication induced by my baby’s smell, laughter, or smile, I shall ‘accidentally’ eat off his utterly delicious toes. I am frequently lost to the world, spending afternoons lounging naked in bed with my baby, breastfeeding and making silly faces at one another. I am stunned that after years of being a not very funny person, particularly being a not very funny transplanted mainlander in comparison to innately funny Newfoundlanders, that I am now suddenly the funniest person to my little person, all the time, at any given moment.
On the other hand, I forget so easily that after only nine months of being a mother, I am still postpartum. I am still in transition. It is okay if I have days where I both want to snuggle my baby and weep at the same time. I miss the adult world, miss conversations about adult things. I was a woman who would help organize events, work with large groups of volunteers, conduct trainings, and give speeches. Now, when placed in a room full of people, I struggle to form sentences into any semblance of adult language, and feel myself shy away painfully into the crowd to snuggle my baby instead. I have no room in my already over-filled head right now for conversations about the world at large, for witty banter and so forth. I see the world around me moving forward, and I have no sense of time.
The moms that life forgot
I am still in transition. Yet the world around me, as it is apt to do with new mothers, has forgotten about me. It has relegated me already to the ranks of the forgotten ones – a parent who is solely devoted to their child and as such should not be seen or heard except to talk about their child. The world has assumed that now I am Linus’ mom – the mom of Linus – and have no time to be involved in the rest of life. No time for wine dates with friends, for hikes or berry-picking, for texting, or for giving advice about work environments or projects. Pregnancy did not prepare me for the isolation of becoming a mother. I am expected to hang out entirely with other mothers, as we share the same experience. The world has forgotten about my life prior to being a mom, about my skills, experiences, virtues, and traits. I need you to see that I am still here.
A life in transition. I am now expected to be fully mom-centred. There is no room for middle ground. And nine months in, as my head slowly begins to come out of the clouds, I realize just how much I am still in transition. Nine months in, people begin to ask of me, “When will you return to work?” Of course, in Canada maternity leave is only for a period of one year. Such a short year, so short. A year of transition from an entire life of non-parenting. Too short. And so my partner and I have made the decision together that I will stay home from work for now, and for the foreseeable future. There is no middle ground. There is no option for me to return to work half-time, there is no help for daycare funding and no extension of maternity leave income. I will stay home, I will be with our son, I will be working full-time, and I will be unpaid.
I am going to continue this period of transition, and try not to lose myself entirely, but instead continue to discover this new me: this person who is both Linus’ mother and the funniest person ever, and who is also a passionate writer, baker, forager, feminist, activist, organizer, crafter and advocate. I am all of those things. I’d like for the world to see all these sides of me, to allow me the space to explore this new me, to talk about my never-ending work day the way you may talk about your 9-5 work day. To laugh with me about my adventures with baby, and let me weep when the days are long. To rail with me when the dishes are piled high and supper isn’t on the table until 9 p.m. To open a bottle of wine with me, to tell me about your day, and to let me tell you about mine.