December 13, 2019: I wrote the following shortly after giving birth to my eldest little gem. Looking back, I can definitely relate to my new-mother self. After the birth of my second, there is a whole new set of struggles and "road blocks" (to keep with the city planning metaphor) but there is also less anxiety about issues I used to worry about. It gets easier and it gets harder but it is still unique and beautiful.
I imagine parenthood to be like an actual neighborhood. This 'hood has several different manifestations in different cities, suburbs, towns and villages. It evolves through time. The rules change as the HOA develops new policies to protect the safety and sanity of its citizens. The HOA? The AAP (American Association of Pediatrics), individual pediatricians, scientists and Jenny McCarthy. The citizens? Parents and offspring. The liaison between the two? Google. Although you don't have to significantly alter your latitude and longitude to visit the 'hood of parent, you do still physically go there. However, more significant than the physical journey, perhaps, is the inner journey of the self, psyche and soul.
The physical transition is the one most often related in social media, in real society and in family advice circles. "Oh, you'll never sleep again!" wails Aunt Martha, "I hope you don't like sleep!" laments cousin Sue. Yeah, you get less sleep. You also get less sleep when you stay up all night drinking sangria and watching Sex and the City reruns. The latter you have a little more control over, that is true, but being a DINK (Dual Income No Kids) couple and being a parent couple are both lifestyle choices. You trade in a little physical independence for some physical interdependence (I know there is more to deciding whether or not to have children than the physical demands. I am in no way trying to simplify a decision like that to something so basic.). The physical demands for a mom are especially intense, even more so if she is breastfeeding. Growing a human is no joke. I mean, it is actually kind of comical. Humans grow inside of women. Our bodies make bones, hearts, blood vessels. OK, maybe when I said comical I meant amazing. During a recent conversation with a friend whose baby turned one a few months ago, I asked when/if she was planning to try for a second child. She responded by saying something along the lines of "I'd like to have some time when my body isn't doing anything for a baby." I hadn't really thought of that but after carrying around a tiny human for basically 10 months and then breast feeding for about a year her body had been helping grow another body for almost 2 years. Seriously. That is intense. The physical stuff is intense. And although partners (if you're in a committed relationship) often try to ease the physical burden placed upon the mother, it is one trail in parenthood that the mother has to largely travel alone.
Not to get too analytic or "hippie dippie" but the inner journey or changes that occur along the path to parenthood are also irreversibly significant. I was very worried about losing my "self" when I had a child. During my pregnancy, I frequently fretted about this idea of "loss of self" that I would read in other mother's testimonials. Their lives became all about their children and they correlated this with a loss of self. I was terrified of that. I now realize that I was actually bemoaning the loss of my lifestyle, not my self. Before Ruby, I had a hard time separating the two, I think. I didn't want to lose spontaneous nights out or staying up late in deep conversation with my friends. I still don't want to lose those things but I have a different perspective now. My lifestyle might change some but I still 'have a life.' The part I was not expecting is this type of opening. Opening is the best word I can think of to describe it because it really is a whole new realm of emotions that were previously closed off to me. Emotionally, becoming a parent is like learning a new language. When you learn vocabulary in a different language which is embedded in a different culture, you learn words and expressions that are unique to that language and cultural combination. You learn a new way of thinking and describing something for which you had, perhaps, previously prescribed a word and thought you fully understood. You realize your word or words were insufficient. You didn't really understand until this new language showed you a different perspective. That is what it feels like to be a parent. I've learned a new language. I have experienced sensations and emotions that had never before been revealed to me. This is something new. This is a path I have never travelled. And it has only been 11 weeks. I am what they would call an early learner of the language. Donde esta el bano? Donde esta, indeed.