Staring into the mirror, I wonder who I am. Beneath the layer of wife, I peel further, beneath the layer of mother. There she is. There is the little girl who loved to catch baby snapping turtles and put locust shells on her Rugrats shirt. How I miss her. It was so easy to lose her.
If I think back hard enough, I can almost pinpoint the moment I lost sight of her. Perhaps it was in the aisles of Buy Buy Baby, wondering which baby bathtub was the most aesthetically pleasing. Or maybe it was that night I stayed up too late reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and learned that my body would soon be the vehicle for sustenance and immunity along with love.
But I think, really, it was sometime after cleaning off the sticky dining room table for the millionth time, messy bun hanging recklessly to the side. I remember wondering if a shower was possible before my husband got home from work but shoved down any semblance of pride or vanity as soon as my toddler cried for milkies. I’ll shower later.
And like that, layers of identity other than my own personhood built up. Not that they were bad identities, but each layer resulted in a distance between the curious little girl and the woman I am today. Homemaker. Milk maker. Car driver. Food tester. Grocery shopper. Bottom bouncing, burping savior of my children. I became their sun, and they became my identity.
It’s so easy though, to make our identity our children. Society today almost forces it on us, but I think it’s a dangerous path. Would I have ended up with such severe postpartum depression if someone would have taken me aside and said, “Honey, don’t make your kids your idol”? Maybe. Who knows? But they didn’t, and that hard-fought lesson was learned in a way I didn’t anticipate.
Sitting on the floor, next to a sweaty toddler who refuses to sleep without back patting, the epiphany came to me. Divine? Perhaps, most likely. But the fact of the matter was, I needed to reorder my priorities and remember who I was. For the sake of my children, for my husband, and for myself.
I was lost in a world of depression, postpartum anxiety and rage, and general misery. It didn’t have anything to do with what life had given me, but it had everything to do with what I was choosing to make my identity. Martyring myself on the altar of motherhood, thinking it was the only way to be a good mom.
But friends, there are so many ways to be a good mom without losing your sense of self. It’s so hard to hear when you’re in the throes of those early parenting years. But try to remember who you were, what you loved, how you laughed. Remember your hobbies, your passions, your hates, and your loves.
Start journaling again and keep the writings to yourself. Paint a picture just for you. Read a book you loved as a teen. Write a corny poem that has too many rhyming words and not enough alliteration. Sew a quilt befit for a doll. Take up line dancing in your living room at night. We are meant to create, and in creation, I firmly believe you will find your way home.
I encourage you, mama, to keep that flame burning. The flame inside you that the little girl you once were has been protecting, curving her chubby hand around to keep the world from blowing it out. She remembers, do you?