A few months ago, I was asked if I was able to keep “my sense of self” in motherhood. This was asked earnestly by a female coworker contemplating her own journey of entering motherhood.
I was taken back a bit – partially because I was so focused on filling out my Girl Scout cookie order that I wasn’t fully ready for a serious question. Also, partially because I just never considered the idea of “losing my sense of self” until that moment.
I’ve always been guilty of making big decisions quickly, going with my gut and trying to not over-analyze (over-thinking seems to lead to nothing getting done in my personal world, so it tends to be avoided), therefore I never overthought motherhood.
She wasn’t asking if I still enjoyed my hobbies or if I was able to meet friends for Happy Hour as much. She knows that parts of my life are now scheduled in when they can fit. No, she was more asking if my core self – the part that made me...well, me – was still in its original form. I answered vaguely – “yes, but no” with an anecdote about “me, but grown-up-me – a 2.0 version of self.”
Here is what I know to be true about a sense of self after motherhood.
Like most life experiences, those affected will be forever changed. I had a close friend live abroad for a few months and when he returned, he looked exactly the same – dressed the same and had the same great sense of humor – but he was frustrated with his return. He noted that, although he might not have shifted on the outside, internally no one will ever see the great shift he felt within himself, and can never fully be expected to remain the same. His experience was too great and it changed him forever. He decided to move away from home once again – although staying in the states this time – because going back to his old life would never feel right to him. He was on to a new chapter.
That is the sense of self in motherhood. An experience so great that those affected are internally shifted forever. Yes, the outside CAN and WILL look different. I’m devoted to maternity jeans still – seven months post-partum – but my internal self is changed drastically.
My love is deeper. I always had a will to love. But now, in motherhood, the love is stronger and bigger than I ever expected. My care is wider. All babies of the world are now my babies. I care deeply about the children around us. My morals are more calculated. I now have to think and believe more honestly on what is right and wrong now that I have an audience – aka my children. My skin is thicker. Any sense of criticism or worry about the way I am by others is on the wayside.
So, back to what I should have said while tallying up 12-plus boxes of Girl Scout cookies in the break room all those weeks ago. What I should have said was this: “My sense of self is still there – although it is more beautiful and stronger than I could have ever anticipated.”
Kristine Rohwer resides in Elkhorn, Nebraska, with her husband, step-son, daughter, son and two neurotic dogs.