In life, there are a few milestones where you really question identity. Adolescence, of course. Marriage. Parenthood. Retirement. For those who aren’t living the traditional linear expectation model, it may be a particular birthdate or promotion that creates this existential crisis of “Who am I?”
When I had my first son, I tried my damnedest not to let motherhood change me. I wanted to be the woman who was still herself, but also had a child. I tried to add on the responsibilities of parenthood and marriage without personal sacrifice, and was so fooled. Over time I gave up being a color guard director, I stopped staying for after school tutorials with my students, I stopped trying to do adult activities with my friends. More and more of my free time was spent as a family, and we were happy. There was nothing wrong with the transition in the moments it was happening. I adopted the identity of mother and wife and embraced them.
However, very innocently, about 5 months ago my husband made the passing comment, “Before you met me you were just an English teacher.”
Was I JUST an English teacher?
Compound this statement with giving up my career and village in Texas to relocate to California. Compound it with a 50 day hospital stay in antepartum. Then compound it with a 59 day wait for my son in the NICU. Needless to say, I’m working through some shit.
Now that my son is home, my family is together, and I’m “fun”employed or on maternity leave, however you want to perceive it, I can feel myself longing for the person who was ‘just’ an English teacher. There is something about the label of ‘mother’ and ‘wife’ that just aren’t enough for me right now. I need to be able to point to an accomplishment that is solely my own and say “LOOK! I DID THAT! ITS MINEEEeeee.”
From my perspective, I wasn’t JUST an English teacher. I was more than that. I was passionate, I was political, I was environmental, I was a dancer, I was a photographer. I loved live music and craft Texas beer with my friends. I was drawn to artists and musicians and creatives; other liberal arts junkies who spent too much money on a degree to never have the career to it pay off. We sat around on old couches in indie coffee shops and solved the world’s problems. I was interesting, and outgoing, and fun, and positive.
Now I stand at preschool functions making random small talk in hopes another mom will befriend me. Now I send mom memes to the women who used to watch live music and go dancing with me to try and keep a hold of whatever connection we have left. Now I use the portrait mode on my iPhone and pretend that it validates the art and photography classes I took in community college.
I feel boring sometimes. It feels like postpartum anxiety making me hate the idea of socializing because somehow I know I’m not going to be good enough. I feel bitter because I miss that person I used to be.
Can you be both? Can you be the person you were before parenthood and a good parent? Or do you have to lose yourself in your children?
This transition is temporary. I know that as time goes on, and I process the past 6 months, I will find a balance between who I used to be and who I am becoming. The mother of two. The Californian.
I think the most important thing to remember is that non of us are written in stone. The only constant in life is change.
I do love the happy moments with my family. I love the dinners on the back patio free of humidity and mosquitoes. I love living down the street from my in laws. I love watching my older son love on my newborn so beautifully unconditionally. But the next time I pour one out (to be honest it’ll probably just be me accidentally spilling breastmilk on the counter) it will be for the women we were before we were mothers.