The Reconstruction of Self

A study by a UK-based company of first-time moms came up with a slew of details of new moms feeling overwhelmed, suffering from sleep deprivation, struggling to figure out how to handle the day-to-day tasks while also caring for a baby, and over half felt they missed their pre-baby social life. Generally, a good number of them felt the negative aspects outweighed the positive. 

I read this article and was nodding along the entire time. Everything was like hitting a nail on the head and I felt it all so deeply. But this isn’t a blog post about pregnancy or early motherhood. Just the lead up, so bear with me.

I read the details of the article to my husband and expressed what I agreed with and if I still felt it true. For many of the fears and concerns, I had moved past it all, but I still found myself struggling to balance everything from day to day (“It’s hard when I have to start making dinner, so dinner is ready in time for all of us to eat before Ryland has to go to bed, and he’s being grumpy and fussy and I can’t actively play with him and also prep raw meat, you know? I struggle with balance then, even now”). And I also felt that I missed my pre-baby social life and work deeply. I felt that in becoming a mother, I had lost my sense of self.

But then I paused. “Actually, no, I mean… it’s just that it was a lot of change, you know? I went from working every single day to suddenly not working at job with a career I loved. I miss that aspect, I miss editing, but I don’t particularly miss work if that makes sense.”

When my son was born it was a few months after my long-reigning job as a senior editor had come to an end due to the loss of a contract. I had been suffering for a few months, feeling like I had drifted to sea and had no way of getting to shore. I was stuck in a job I had no interest in and was essentially passing the time until my son arrived. When he did, it was simple: I’d leave work and become a full time stay at home mother until we moved and got settled, then I would begin working again.

See, there was always an end in sight. I was never intending to stay out of the workforce for long, but now it’s been a year since my son’s birth and I am still without an out-of-house job*.

*I use the term out-of-house job to differentiate with being a stay at home mother. Stay at home mothers are working a hard job in itself! What I mean by out-of-house is a job where my skills are given to an outside source, and not within the home. So teleworking or a physically present job.

Over the course of the year I went through a whirlwind of emotional changes and deep reflection of myself. I felt lost without my job, like I had lost a limb. I missed the independence of not being a mother and also just having a job, where for 8 hours in a day I could have lunch with coworkers or by myself. Hell, I could spend the lunch break sleeping if I felt like it and I could take my lunch whenever I pleased. With motherhood, alone time was if the baby took a nap—whenever that would be and only if I wasn’t spending that time doing normal human functions like taking a shower or washing clothing. 

But I realized in speaking to my husband that in many ways, I don’t feel that I’ve completely lost my sense of self. In fact, I feel the last year has allowed me the chance to regain a better grip on my sense of self than I have had in years.

When I moved to Virginia, I was escaping the place of my wounding, to be figurative. Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania I lived in after graduating from college, was a place of festering wounds. I had my deepest depression there, had suicidal thoughts, was sexually assaulted, discovered I had precancerous cells in the same place as my aunt who had died from the very same thing when it became cancer. I lost my sense of self worth, I had graduated into a broken economy, I couldn’t put my skills to use or even find entry-level work, I had bills piled up, I had no out. I was in my early 20s and went home and sat alone in my bedroom every single day because I knew no one nor had any money to go out and even attempt to meet anyone. 

I was broken.

And I found that in leaving Pennsylvania, I was finally able to begin healing. But at that point I was deeply in a state of survival. I had $300 to my name, no job, no furniture, barely any work clothing, no car, and no leads. I worked from the bottom up, struggling and fumbling along the way but finally getting onto my feet. 

Virginia will always hold such a special place in my heart. It is the place that I made a career in, where I had the confidence and focus to return to school, where I met many wonderful people and gained many wonderful friends. It’s where I met my husband, where I got married, where I had my son, and it gave me opportunities to try new things and see new places. But it wasn’t really where I was.

I had fallen into the blind focus of my work. I loved to edit, but I was in a field where competition was the name of the game. Office politics were everywhere, and only partially because I was working in Washington, DC. There was always competition so you always had to be on your toes. Be careful of the jokes you say, don’t accidentally offend anyone. Be careful to ever have a bad day or make a human error, you can’t have your abilities brought into question. Each year there was always that hesitation, that moment of holding our breath, as we waited to see if our contract would continue. What if it didn’t? What then?

I found out prior to becoming a mother. What happened was that I was placed in whatever job they had available, even if I didn’t have the experience or interest. It was miserable and I quickly became jaded.

And during these many years of work–over five to be exact–I lost myself.

While I was in graduate school we often had introductory assignments the first week of class where we would talk about ourselves and what we liked. I spoke, primarily, about my work life. “I’m a senior editor for a communications team in the government. I work in Washington, DC.”

It certainly sounded important and I loved, loved editing and still do. But what happened to describing myself as a creative? As a writer and a reader?

I didn’t realize how much I had faded until this week when I sat down and scrolled through all of my thousand Instagram photos to the very start of it all. Those dreaded, filtered and bordered first photos of Instagram. Oh how poor the quality of photos were then. Oh how bad I was at editing. Oh how awful my photos were in terms of concept.

At that time, I used my Instagram as something closer to a status update. This is a bird I saw at the park and I’ve decided it is my friend, this is a cookie I am eating, look at this cool cloud. The posts weren’t much and lacked a lot of thought. They were simplistic peeks of my day to day and yet now as I read them, I find them sweet and also familiar. As the time progresses on my Instagram (I began using the account the same month I moved to Virginia) my feed began to change. I saw more posts about stress and bad days at work, going home to drink my sorrows away, but also the photos of my weekends were ones filled with joy.

This is the craft project I’m making.

This is the book I am reading.

This is the new recipe I am trying.

This is the walk I am taking.

Those posts eventually began to fade out of the picture as well as I began offering more curated photos. Many were items I still found joy in, such as traveling, but those little things that built me up to make me the person I have always been were lacking.

It’s like the artistic imagery that floats around the internet, or the jokes, that ask what would the recipe be to make you. A dash of this, one part that, etc. I had lost all the parts that made me myself.

It wasn’t until I had emerged from the fog of new motherhood that I began to search for what made me feel like my true self. Motherhood, new motherhood, is such a raw and naked thing. It strips you down to nothing and you have to rebuild yourself from the remains. Your entire world is turned over and remade and everything is unfamiliar. I wanted, desperately, to find comfort. Like an old blanket, like my mother sitting by my bed and stroking my forehead when I was sick. I wanted to find comfort and that comfort was what had once made me feel fulfilled.

It was like diving into an attic and blowing the dust off old storage boxes. I new art used to make me feel happy, but how would I go about it now? I was rusty and uncomfortable with it all. I was so used to striving for perfectionism, to always be focused on success, that I at first didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of trying these once loved pastimes.

Since my son was about five months old, I’ve been striving hard to create each day in some way or another. Whether it’s working on a crochet project, painting, drawing, writing or reading–I’ve looked to all the things I never had the time for while I was in the hustle of my previous work life. I looked for those items I would use to describe myself in graduate classes if I could go back now and redo them.

What are your interests, what do you do? The question always asked.

So much of the suffering new mothers go through is made all the more with the stripping of themselves. How can anyone be expected to figure out all the details of a newborn life when they aren’t familiar with themselves anymore? But for me, I suspect I hadn’t truly known who I was for some time and now I’m becoming all the more certain of my true self.

Over the summer I was piecing together the answer and now I feel it’s secure. I am a stay at home mother. I raise my son and care for our home. I edit the written word and I love it, and I’d like to get back to it someday but perhaps not in a competitive setting. But I also am a creative. I write, I read, I make things with my hands. I also like to travel when I have the money, and if I don’t, I travel with my feet up steep gorges, past falling water, and beneath the shaded pine. I take photos of things that I think are beautiful and a moment in my present time and then I write thoughtful captions, most of the time. Other times I’ll take pictures of simplistic things, like a bird that I feel I made friends with. I’m always evolving, always changing, and perhaps finally, after many years, I have found myself.

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