My mother was one of the first women in her family to go to college. She'd eventually become one of the first to work outside the home and, perhaps most radically of all, to not always be home from work before the school bus dropped off her children. The definition of "motherhood" she'd been taught by her own Colombian mama and tías and abuela was one rooted in sacrifice. A mother's job was to be available to her children 24/7, she learned: to run the home, stay up all night with the babies, pack the sandwiches, get everyone dressed, and limit her interactions with the outside world in order to do so. Being a mom meant giving up career aspirations, friendships, hobbies, and the kind of joie de vivre that makes things like dancing, drinking, or traveling seem remotely appealing.
I never imagined I would be that kind of mom. Although I don't believe the 24/7 approach is inherently flawed, the imposition of it certainly is. My mother broke the mold in our family, though, and I knew that I would continue in those footsteps. Maybe even more so.
At 25, I'm not prepared to give up my friends, or my nights out, or my bath bomb-laden soaks combined with literature, or the occasional spliff, or my work-related goals, or my passion for clothes and makeup just because I am a mother now. I've also been lucky enough to be immersed in feminist rhetoric for years: Something that has left me confident in the knowledge that not giving up every element of myself will not correlate to being a bad mother.
So imagine my surprise when two months into motherhood, I had not taken a solitary "me" moment. I'd become a 24/7 parent despite my wishes, practically living in my bedroom with my daughter. I was going on very little sleep; I was barely taking time to shower; I had not seen a single friend since giving birth, and the last thing I'd read was an article on what to pack in your hospital bag over two months before. A copy of Gabby Rivera's Juliet Takes A Breath remained untouched on my nightstand, a vibrantly-covered metaphor for the vibrancy slowly dissipating from me.
Despite every belief of motherhood I'd maintained prior to labor — the progressive, feminist beliefs I was proud of — the toxic, internalized ones found a way to the surface anyway.
Shortly before my daughter was born, a midwife at the hospital told me that the reason maternity leaves tend to be a minimum of three months (for those lucky enough to live in countries or work in jobs that offer maternity leave in the first place) is largely because that's how long it takes for mothers to begin to feel human again. She advised me not to be surprised if I found myself in a hole of postpartum depression; to not worry if I had no energy or interest in doing anything but care for the baby and sleep when the rare opportunity presented itself. She even said that I shouldn't be surprised if these feelings lasted longer than three months: If suddenly I found myself crying in front of the mirror a year later, wondering when and where I had lost myself.
It wasn't the best pep talk, but she wasn't wrong. Despite every belief of motherhood I'd maintained prior to labor — the progressive, feminist beliefs I was proud of — the toxic, internalized ones found a way to the surface anyway.
I could feel all the long-deceased matriarchs of my family looking down upon me, chastising my character if ever I even contemplated heading into the city to see my best friend. Whenever I thought about asking my parents-in-law for babysitting help so my partner and I could go to the cinema, the guilt washed over me. When the house was a complete wreck — the smell of dirty diapers and of a mother who hasn't had a bath in almost a week permeating everything — I wondered why I couldn't do it all when I knew they had.
And when I finally went on my first night out to dance with some friends, half of the outing was spent feeling like I was causing harm unto my kid, even if she was safe at home with plenty of milk and plenty of cuddles from her loving father.
In her StyleLikeU video for the "What's Underneath Project," actor Jemima Kirke opened up about her insecurities regarding parenting:
I was still going through my 20s with [my daughter] as a toddler, and there was something that felt unfair about that to her. Because I wasn't ready to stay home every night. And I didn't have the patience, because I still had a lot of self-centeredness. When you have a baby, you're limited in what you're able to do in your life. So I trapped myself in a way that made me comfortable.
The video was released five weeks after I'd given birth and I found myself relating entirely, while simultaneously wanting to push for more. The idea that my desire to go out, be it for work or pleasure, could be somehow "unfair" to my daughter was one that had been crossing my mind a lot. My way to atone was to stay home constantly; to eschew help in looking after her so that I could give everything to the baby; to do it all, because that's what moms are "supposed" to do.
I know, deep in my core, that I am not selfish for wanting to still feel like "me." But it's still frightening to think of how much I forgot as much in those early weeks.
Unlike Kirke, however, the version of me not riddled with postpartum depression or socially constructed guilt doesn't want to attribute my desire to preserve elements of my life outside of motherhood to self-centeredness. Calling independence or multi-faceted-ness "self-centeredness" feels like a product of mom stigma, the kind with the power to make anyone believe that a mother-child relationship whose prime component is not absolute sacrifice is unacceptable and broken. I know, deep in my core, that I am not selfish for wanting to still feel like "me." But it's still frightening to think of how much I forgot as much in those early weeks.
Believe it or not, a prime reason I want to maintain my interests, hobbies, and aspirations outside of parenting is actually for my daughter. I won't pretend that I don't love dancing until 6 a.m. surrounded by friends, or drinking Old Fashioned's at old-school pubs, or taking the train to London on a whim to meet a fellow blogger or online friend. I do these things because they bring me joy, absolutely, but I'll continue to do them in order to help teach my daughter that she doesn't have to be just one thing. She doesn't have to choose between "mother" and "career-person." She doesn't have to pick between "club-kid" or "bookworm." She doesn't have to eschew "fashionista" in favor of "good parent." She doesn't have to dye her hair a "natural" color if she has a baby in tow.
If becoming a parent is something that's of interest to her in 20 or 30 or 40 years, I want her to know that it's not "irresponsible" to make time for herself. It's not "selfish" to set aside a night or two a month away from parenting to see the sun rise outside the club (provided your baby is being looked after, of course). It's not "shameful" to wear clothing that makes her smile, even if it doesn't fit in with someone else's idea of "what a mom looks like."
And above all, I want her to know that it's not "wrong" to have multiple layers to her identity.