I feel like this post has been brewing in my head since… well, since the day Theo was born. I shared the long and challenging process of my labor in My Birth Story so I won’t be touching upon that journey here at all, but instead what it’s been like, becoming a mother. Growing into the role, the challenges I’ve experienced, the things I’ve learned. The fears, the joy. The unconditional love.
Listen to this post:
Theo was born on May 20th, 2020. When I’m writing this, he’s 7.5 months old (fear not – this is not an old post. I’ve just included something I wrote a long time ago but wasn’t ready to share). He’s also sleeping on my chest, and his slightly sweet milky smelling breath is puffing me in the face rhythmically. I look at him and I see the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
I wasn’t expecting feeling this way. In fact, I was scared I wouldn’t. I feared lacking the motherly instincts, the otherworldly love, the instant connection. I thought what if I’m not cut out to be a mother? What if I’ll want nothing to do with him and a quick return to my old life? What if I’ll be disgusted by poop and spit up and want to look the other way when my child needs me? And the worst thought: what if my lack of ability to love and care for him will damage him for the rest of his life and once and for all prove what I’ve known all along: that I’m a terrible person who should just go hide somewhere? You might crack a smile, think I’m silly, wonder if I’m not being too dramatic. But I assure you: these were my real thoughts and feelings. Some perhaps normal and common among expecting mothers. Some ingrained in someone with a weak self-esteem.
“I feared lacking the motherly instincts, the otherworldly love, the instant connection. I thought what if I’m not cut out to be a mother?”
Thankfully, I needed not to worry. I was practically knocked off my feet by the way he swept in and stole my heart, and he has helped me heal my own emotional wounds in a way I couldn’t ever have hoped for. From the moment he (finally) came out and landed on my chest, I feel as though we’ve been glued together. Me, unable to let go of him because I love him so god damn much. Him, a closeness-seeking, breastfeeding-loving being from the very start.
What was hard for me tough, and what I hadn’t quite anticipated, was that I went from someone wearing so many hats – veggie grower, a somewhat competitive runner, writer, food blogger etc – to “only” being a mother in the blink of an eye. And for someone who has always validated herself based on doing and not being, this was challenging. I obviously say “only” because being a mother is anything but “only”. Still, I had a hard time dealing with the feeling of “not doing anything”.
And that’s where I ended my first attempt at writing a post about motherhood. When I’m picking up the pen – or keyboard – again, Theo has grown into a 17 months old little boy. He’s not a baby anymore. He’s a little boy. A strong-willed, wonderfully happy and cheerful, capable and eager to learn little boy. When I read my words above, I immediately get transported back to that time and place and I feel… gosh, how much I’ve changed, ultimately. It feels a foreign feeling, the frustration of not being able to “do anything”. I feel as if those words almost vibrate from all the things I felt back then… and I’m understanding how much I actually struggled from time to time. What strikes a cord in me more than anything is that sentence of “and for someone who has always validated herself based on doing and not being, this was challenging”. I lived 32 years, 10 months and 3 days trying to do as much as I possibly could so that I wouldn’t ever have to end up in a position where I would “just” be me. And now I’ve lived alongside Theo for 17 months, and I believe that’s exactly what I’m starting to learn.
Now to some, this might sound completely bonkers. Hey, parenthood taught you how to just be? To many, I’m sure the arrival of kids and that complete shift from focusing only on yourself to living and breathing for your children means anything but “being”. It means changing diapers, no sleep, breastfeeding, food everywhere, no alone time, marital challenges etc. and yes – I get that. Our journey has been no different in that regard. But all the layers of performances, perfectionism, achievements, productivity and efficiency that I’ve added to – well – myself and my idea of my worth literally came crashing down when paired with motherhood. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.
Are you confused? I’m almost confusing myself so I can only imagine what it’s like to be at the receiving end. But this is how I view it: in becoming a mother, I had to let go of all of my ideas of what I needed to and should do every given minute of the day – because it was simply no longer possible. And given the overwhelming love I felt (feel) for our son, my first and foremost priority has been his happiness and contentment, as well as creating and maintaining a calm, safe environment for him to thrive in. Piece by piece, my ideas of how things should be and get done have been challenged and completely redesigned. The first step – letting go of said ideas – has by far been the most difficult. Some will be able to relate, others not at all, but the first time more than a week went by since the last time we cleaned the bathroom properly (a natural side effect of having kids), I almost panicked. Add to that list when the garden wasn’t watered properly. When we didn’t harvest vegetables in time and had to throw them on the compost pile. When I forgot to pay a bill and received a reminder note in the mail. When I saw actual dust bunnies on the floor. All of these scenarios (and many more) left me feeling completely out of control and experiencing total turmoil on the inside. But it settled. It truly really settled.
Because very few of the things I’d let my whole being obsess over – keeping everything, including myself, in perfect order – proved to actually matter in the end. When I talked to my mom (who’s been very similar to me earlier in her life) about my experiences, what I heard myself saying was “nothing happened”. Nothing happened when the bathroom didn’t get cleaned. Life went on. And it stayed very much the same.
“I feel easy going in a way I’ve never quite felt easy going before – more spontaneous and more up for fun.”
How does this all translate into motherhood? First, I want to believe that I’m a nicer, more relaxed person now. I can let go of things that don’t matter and wholeheartedly embrace those that do. I attempt to double task a lot less and feel more present in my time spent with T. I worry significantly less about mess and happily invite T to cook, bake and do all sorts of things that could cause disorder without any hesitation. (Although I also invite him to clean with me, which he loves just as much.) I feel easy going in a way I’ve never quite felt easy going before – more spontaneous and more up for fun. All in all, becoming a mother helped me sort out my priorities. Big time.
It also opened up my heart. I think I’ve lived most of my life thinking I’ve been an open, vulnerable type of person – not afraid to share what’s going on in my head and be transparent with my emotions. Until I had T. Then I realized I’ve had protective walls the size of Himalayan mountains around me and worked so hard at maintaining an image of “I’m tough and capable”. And sure, I still belong to team tough and capable. Probably always will, too. But there’s room for vulnerability in there as well, I’ve learned. So much room. And perhaps the greatest piece of learning has come in that department, because I’ve finally gotten to see that when you show your own vulnerability, those around you do too. And feel much less of a desire to point out your faults and flaws. Be vulnerable and those around you turn humble. That’s my experience.
When I’m writing this, I’m at a very good point in my role as a mother. I’m thriving alongside a toddler who’s now able to move around on his own and want to explore things together. I loved having a little baby, don’t get me wrong, but things are really just getting more and more fun from where I’m standing. The two way communication that is advancing by the day blows my mind. The love, enthusiasm, eagerness to learn, humor and comedy that T bring us every minute of every day is beyond priceless. There’s absolutely nothing in this world that beats being his mom and watching him take on the world. And I feel so very content in this phase, where we can go do stuff together, come up with fun activities, read books, goof around, bake bread, cook and go about our days as a happy team. It’s joyful, to say the least.
Can I say all those things without feeling the pressure to add a paragraph about how it’s also hard at times? Clearly not. Because of course it is! Personally, my biggest challenge is that I’m not getting nearly enough sleep. We co-sleep and have since the start, and I (we) have no plans on stopping until T says I’m done with you guys, grabs his pillow and heads into another room. But sleeping next to a wild, human propeller with a thing for breastfeeding many times a night doesn’t exactly mean a restful sleep. I don’t even know what that feels like anymore, to be honest. But it’s like the sleep gods have it figured out because after a certain number of bad nights where I’m losing it completely and put a half eaten apple in the utensils drawer and forget what month it is, there’s a good one. And I bounce back.
“Sleeping next to a wild, human propeller with a thing for breastfeeding many times a night doesn’t exactly mean a restful sleep.”
Another thing that I find a bit challenging (or I more envy other parents here, maybe) is that T is a notoriously quick napper unless he naps on top of me. So to get that midday break and a chance to catch up and also do some work, I need to sit with him in my arms…. only then it’s really tricky to do all that catching up and working. (Although you all would probably not believe me if I told you every single blog and Instagram post published since T was born was written in Notes on my phone while holding him in my arms – but it’s true.) I can absolutely daydream of a reality of him taking a 1-2 hr “unassisted” nap every day. He naps in the stroller when we run, absolutely, and that’s great – but sometimes, that break at home would be quite nice.
And one more thing before I let you go: the routines of a life with kids has been helpful on a personal level, too. I used to take pride in missing lunch. I used to have such a hard time going for a snack in between meals. It used to be difficult to say “hey I need to pee before we leave” because I felt I was a burden. In short: it’s been really hard for me to listen to and act upon my basic physical needs (why is a different story). Now, I get into the flow of how we care for T and it’s freaking amazing for me too. Love the mid-morning snack and feel so much happier throughout the day when my blood sugar gets a chance to stay in check. Love having a proper cooked lunch every day. Love making sure we’ve all gone to the bathroom, put all the right clothes on and are ready to head outside when we do. I know many other parents will say the opposite. That since they had kids, they never have a moment to themselves, a chance to care for themselves. And in my world, becoming a parent has helped me do just that. I think it’s part wanting to set a good example (I can’t tell T his needs are important if I ignore my own, can I?), part the routines you create for your child and part… being a bit more chill about stuff. Not so… particular. “A snack at 10 o’clock? Sure!” instead of “Oh no, it’s not lunch time yet”.
Mike has said to me many times, when I’ve expressed concern, worry or stress over something that wasn’t done at all or not up to my normal standards, that “hey, we’re småbarnsföräldrar (parents with small kids), everything is a bonus”. What he means is that as parents of a young child, we have reasons to lower the bar, to let go and to not waste precious energy on things that aren’t crucial. What matters is that we have each other, are present minded with our child and make sure he’s safe and content. A clean bathroom is just a bonus.
I could go on forever but someone’s nap is coming to an end… and I should probably stop anyway before it gets too long. Thank you so much for reading, everyone. It’s a pleasure sharing my thoughts and reflections with such an open minded, kind and insightful audience as the one you make up here, and I appreciate each and every one of you immensely. Be well and be kind.
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