My friend* Randi Buckley is a coach who has been doing some amazing work with a program she calls Maybe Baby, for women who aren't sure they want to become mothers but are afraid they might regret it if they don't. Her program is designed to help you sort out your conflicting feelings and come to peace with whatever decision you make. She wrote a piece last Friday that just knocked me out, called "Afraid of whom you might become–in motherhood."
In that piece (which you should click through and read) Randi talks about how many of the women she's worked with in Maybe Baby have been afraid of who they'd become when they were mothers. And how all the platitudes of "It's a love like you can't imagine" just didn't help.
I was so struck reading her piece, because we've spent almost seven years here (seven, people!) talking about revisioning ourselves/picking up the pieces/crying through it/becoming more badass after becoming parents. I honestly haven't thought about pre-baby fears about who I'd be since before I had a baby, 10+ years ago, because I've been too busy playing–and helping you all play–the hand we're dealt.
But reading her piece, I got this vivid picture of what it could look like here on this side for people on the other side.Tired, worn out, cranky. No energy for anything creative. Endless posts about potty training and T ball, pictures of first days of school and Halloween costumes. Not sexy, not confident. Not doing anything but react to whatever bodily-fluid-covered problem you step in right then. Bored. Settling.
Keeping your hair dry and styled instead of diving under and swimming to the other side of the pool.
That's not even remotely how I feel about who I am now that I'm a mother, though, and I think it might be useful to think about how this whole truly strange experience can affect you by separating out the experience from who you are. I think of it in terms of 1) the conditions you experience, 2) the state you're in at any given time, and 3) who you are.
The conditions you experience range from fantastically wonderful to brutally disgusting. You will have a sweet little baby sleeping on your chest. You will be the first person to see another human being smile. You will be pooped on and puked on. You will be sleep-deprived for months or years. You will doubt yourself to your very core. You will experience soul-crushing weakness and euphoric strength. All that crap about "a love you've never imagined" and "your heart walking around outside your body" is about the conditions you experience.
While you're going through those conditions you'll be in a state of being. Everything from serene beauty to terror to exhaustion to resentment to adoration. You''ll be the woman pumping on the couch at 3 am feeling like nothing but a milk-making machine. You'll be the flabby unhappy person who wonders what you do with your days. You'll be the strong ecstatic person who helps her kid ride a bicycle.
In other words, becoming and being a parent is like any other intense experience. There are extreme highs and extreme lows and those are going to shape who you are.
The experiences themselves are not who you are. Your state of being while you have the experiences are not who you are. They form who you are, but they aren't you.
So I'd suggest the following questions to think about:
Are you ok with having the experiences of parenting in the first place? (And I don't mean do you WANT to have the experiences of parenting, because who wants a poopsplosion, really.) Because if you aren't even willing to have those experiences in the first place, that is very important to know (and completely valid) and you don't have to go any further.
When you have had intense experiences in the past, have you been happy with the ways you've changed as a result of going through those experiences?
Do you feel like going through something intense has made you stronger, or has weakened you?
Is there anything about the experience of parenting that is different from other intense experiences you'd had that you think could make you change in a different way through parenting?
Are you willing to play the long con? Because the changes in who you are don't always show themselves for what they really are until your children are out of toddlerhood, at least.
And now I'm going to ask for some data points. I'll start: I am stronger, more resiliant, more confident, better at making decisions, more patient, more compassionate, more empathic, more focused, more light-hearted, more loving, and I have released fear in a way I never thought I'd be able to. I've been a parent for 10 years, so I've had time to see these changes. (If you'd asked me 8 years ago the list would have been shorter.)
Readers? What do you have to say about who you've become as a result of becoming a parent?
* We met at summer camp in 1987! Seriously. The same summer camp my older son went to this summer. And then ran into each other again a few years ago on FB, and got to hug each other in person at that camp again this summer. Crazy, no?