I feel as though I’ve come upon a fork in the road. Maybe not a fork in the road so much as an impasse where it’s time to, figuratively speaking, shit or get off the pot. I turn thirty-two in a little over one month and for what feels like the first time, my age is carrying with it some metaphorical weight.
Aging has never bothered me. At least not the physical aspects of it, anyway. I was always one of those kids who was dreaming of being another year older before I could even blow my candles out for the age I was turning that day. I’ve always maintained the outlook that the alternative to aging is being dead which makes aging a reasonably more attractive option. It’s only been recently that who I am in relation to my age has began to bother me. Maybe bother isn’t the right word because I’m not bothered by it. A more accurate description might be for me to say that aging and its implications have given me a lot to think about with particular regards to aging and being a mother.
I became pregnant at 24. I welcomed Marlo shortly after I turned 25 and cranked out another two in the five years that followed. It could be argued that while most people are navigating the road of adulthood and self-identity and paying bills and figuring out what you want to do with your life, I was navigating how to keep another human alive. And then another. And then another. And while those humans were surely implicit in shaping me into the woman I now am, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that outside of my role as Marlo, Edie, and Knox’s mama, I’m not entirely sure who the hell I am.
Even before I had children, I never subscribed to the idea of motherhood as the end-all, be-all of womanhood. I never knocked anyone who knew from an early age that having children was their calling and would surely be the pinnacle of their lives but I’ve never personally identified with that outlook. It was never a role I pictured for myself until life happened and motherhood found it’ way into my grand plan whether I was eager or not. The moment I learned I was pregnant I embraced motherhood with open arms and, yet, not a single step along the way has felt natural or without effort for me. I’m almost seven years in and I often find myself just as clueless and ill-equipped and under-stimulated with particular aspects of motherhood as I did before I ever experienced it first hand.
Whether I knew it or not, growing, birthing, and sustaining the lives of my babies became inextricably tied to my self-identity and, subsequently, my self-worth. For the last seven years, my main priority has been to essentially keep them alive. What I’ve found is that while keeping my children alive, moderately happy, and ensuring they don’t become assholes isn’t where my maternal responsibilities end, it most certainly is where the line separating meeting their needs and maintaining a separate but equal sense of self gets blurry.
Which has inevitably lead me to where I am now. The emotional, mental, and physical responsibilities of pregnancy and postpartum and sustaining the lives of young children serve as a successful distraction from your own personal baggage and doing the work to unpack that baggage. But, here I am, for the first time in my true adult life where I am not distracted by the process of growing a human, feeding a human with my body, riding the waves of postpartum hormones, or actively planning on doing any of the above ever again and I’m now facing what I can only liken to an identity crisis. I am no longer blinded by my ever-expanding womb when looking in the mirror; I’m now just stuck looking at the reflection of a woman and facing the brutal truth that there is little I recognize.
The reality is that my purpose is no longer so tightly wound with the process of navigating motherhood or trying to decipher what kind of mother I want to be or what my children need from me. Though I do not claim to be any thing close to an expert on the matter, I feel confident enough to say that, for the most part, I’ve got a good grip on what mothering is currently requiring of me. But everything else? The parts that have nothing to do with my children at all and, shockingly enough, likely existed long before they ever did? Well, I feel a little lost. I feel as though I’ve only known the adult version of who I am in relation to its’ defined and prioritized role as my children’s mother. To be frank, I don’t find that healthy and, even if it were healthy, I’m not so sure that I’m okay with it.
If you know me personally or even just through my writing, you know that I don’t believe I should ever feel the need to preface any of what I’m saying with how much I love my children. Because, of course I love them. I love them so much it’s painful to articulate. And even though I sure as shit didn’t see them coming, I can’t even begin to fathom living a life without them. If you know anything about me, you also know how seriously I take motherhood which I think should be evident seeing that I’m openly admitting that I’ve somehow managed to lose vital parts of myself within it. Which, I suppose, is precisely why I feel so lost. Admittedly, I’m a decisive person and very rarely struggle to know where I stand on any given topic so it feels all the more uncharacteristic to be struggling to distinguish parts of who I am that my three babies haven’t managed to already claim as their own, transforming them into a version of myself I never pictured being and, to this day, don’t always recognize.
Maybe it’s as simple as feeling uncomfortable being so unfamiliar and out-of-touch with the woman I am separate from the mother I’ve become. I’ve come to realize that parenthood is unique in the fact that it’s one of the few roles you take on that embeds itself so profoundly into every single facet of your life that it quickly becomes less of a role and more your identity and who you simply are.
Motherhood isn’t something I do. It makes up the bulk of who I am.
But it’s not all that I am.
And that missing part is the part I want to figure out.