I came across an emotionally charged piece on Mammia.com a few months ago entitled “I don’t want to be a full-time mother anymore“. It told the story of Japanese American author, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto. In 2001, at the age of 37 and when her boys were 3 and 5, she decided to leave her marriage for six months to pursue her writing career. In that article, and an earlier piece on Salon.com entitled Why I Left My Children, she outlined how that short separation changed her. It made her realise she “never really wanted to be a mother”, that she feared being “swallowed up”, of losing herself. Her newfound sense of independence, eventually led to her divorce her husband and childhood sweetheart of 20 years and leave him as the primary caregiver of her sons.
Suffice to say, the article stirred the emotions of hundreds, maybe thousands, the world over. Some supported her; many didn’t. Some understood her reasons; many couldn’t; some wouldn’t. Some argued we’re used to men doing it, why not a woman?
My immediate reaction was, “How could she? Why have children if she didn’t want them? The poor kids! How emotionally scarring for them? How selfish of her!” Then I thought, “Maybe she just married too young. Maybe she has a warped view on what being a mother really is. Maybe she really is just self-centered.”
However, as I read further into the comments, I found myself a teensy bit softened and a tiny bit swayed by arguments and opinions from both sides. Not swayed in that I could, or would, ever do the same. More swayed to accept that each person’s story is their own and factors we may not understand can come into play. Maybe I should not be so quick to judge.
Having said that, I believe some things stand and that it is better to not have children, if you don’t want them or if you know you value your independence more. I do appreciate that the waters can become muddy, however, if you do want them, or unexpectedly find yourself pregnant, but then realise you can’t cope as a mother or parent.
There are practical solutions to help with some motherhood challenges. For example with chores, you might be able to simplify your lifestyle, get relatives to help or get a cleaner (if affordable). But I believe there is one insidious area that isn’t always easy to manage or sometimes even to identify, at least that was my experience. I’ll come back to that.
Amongst the diverse comments, one person related her own story and it specifically resonated with me. In it she describes being asked by a friend who was already a parent, “Are you lost yet?”. She answered, “Yes, how do I get back to me?” Her friend replied, “I have no idea – I’m still lost.”
For about the initial three months of my first child’s life, I went through the motions of motherhood. I wasn’t unhappy but I was definitely weary, sleep-deprived and overwhelmed trying to understand how to look after this totally dependent little person. It was the onset of winter, days were getting shorter and colder and I was indoors a lot. I was struggling to get some sort of routine or at least pattern to my days whilst struggling with a catnapper who was cranky when tired but wouldn’t sleep long enough to awake refreshed. I remember starting to feel a little low, a little claustrophobic even, especially as darkness fell. Hubby was working late and I was alone.
By nature, I’m an introvert and more of a thoughtful, pensive person. I’m can get a little more moody, or grumpy as hubby would say. I’m a “glass-is-half-empty” kind of person (though not as bad as I used to be). Initially I didn’t reflect much on how I was feeling. As the days rolled by and the feelings lingered, I started to get worried, but I dared not admit it to anyone, especially not to other mothers. Was I exhibiting some signs of post-natal depression (PND)? One day I was worried enough to say to my hubby, “I hope I’m okay.”
Not long after that, my mum called one afternoon and told me Oprah was airing an episode about mothers. I turned on the TV. The episode was entitled The Truth About Motherhood. For the first time, I saw real mothers talking about their “guilty secrets”; the things we normally daren’t say publicly for fear of being judged; the triggers for mummy guilt. This was all new to me. I’d never heard mothers talk like that before. I was riveted.
The most poignant part for me was when actress, Cheryl Hines said her “biggest adjustment” was to “accept the loss of her old self”.
Immediately I had a revelation. I was feeling lost! I was struggling to adjust to the loss of me, the loss of self, the loss of independence. No one had mentioned any of these concepts before I became a mum. It was all about the labour, breastfeeding and practical odds and ends. What about the emotional adjustment?
I’d have to say that moment was a turning point. I suddenly felt I understood. I understood myself.
Since that day, I’ve shared that experience and the website on numerous occasions, in the hope that if it can help another mother feel understood and not alone with her emotions, then it might help her be reassured that feeling a degree of loss as a new mother is normal, that it’s “okay”.*
For me now, my personal journey is about creating a new version of me, and living a “new normal” that has motherhood weaved into the fabric of my being. It’s no longer a loss of self but an enrichment of self driven by the fact that I want to be a better person for my girls. And I’m not doing it begrudgingly just for them or hubby, I’m doing it willingly for me too.
Was I lost? Yes! Have I found me? I’d like to think I’m well on my way.
* Note: If you are experiencing negative feelings that you cannot shake, that are debilitating and you feel you might be bordering on post-natal depression, please seek help immediately by contacting your local GP or calling:
PANDA - Post and Ante Natal Depression Inc.
Beyond Blue – The National Depression Initiative
Veronica blogs about treasured tidbits of life at Mixed Gems, which include her thoughts and experiences of life, motherhood, parenting, infertility, being “mixed” and a whole range of related and unrelated discoveries, musings, inspirations and the odd recipe thrown in for good measure. She’s also a photo challenge addict and loves creating and being inspired by images. (In her dreams, she’s a world famous photographer - shhhh!). You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and occasionally lurking about Twitter and Pinterest.