On Motherhood, Selfhood, and Purpose
Today the brilliantly thoughtful Rachel Cargle posed this question on her Instagram feed:
“Question for mothers. Did any of you grieve the shift from existing in the world as your own woman and moving into your role as mother?”
I typed up my thoughtful comment, grateful for the space she made for this conversation, then as I was correcting a typo, Instagram did that thing it does, and ate my comment. Normally when this happens, I take it as a sign that that reflection was meant just for me to have personally explored, or maybe this isn’t a space where I need to be taking up space, so I take the universal hint and don’t bother re-writing it (but also because re-typing something from scratch that you just put a lot of thought and effort into sucks badly.)
But in this instance, I decided that it was maybe because I needed to take more time on this question, so I took to my expressive writing document on my computer.
A quick glance through the 1800 comments on the post told me two things – clearly this is a topic parents who identify as mother REALLY appreciated the space to speak on (thank you, Rachel,) and I also noticed that the majority of the comments were full of resounding “absolutely!”s. Which I understand. I frequently daydream about how I never fully appreciated the lightness of pre-parenthood while I was in it – but that’s exactly what my pre-parenthood self is/was – a daydream.
I can’t grieve for my previous self because in my particular case, parenthood is where I have found my own worldly knowledge and experience to expand and deepen exponentially. It is where I have honed my skills of digging deeper and questioning everything. My experiencing a miscarriage, my swiftly subsequent pregnancy, the experience of researching and preparing for birth, the experience of birth, the experience of learning and re-learning every day I parent Kahlo – all of that lead me to my particular calling to reproductive justice advocacy, doula work, birth photography, postpartum care, etc. All of that research was a thread I kept insatiably tugging at – not just birthing justice, but social justice; not just reproductive health, but human health, period. Everything I thought I knew and took for granted unraveled along with that thread I kept tugging at, and I’ve discovered that what that thread once wove was the white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy. And what has been revealed to me now that I tugged at the thread long enough for it to unravel, is a depth of work by Black and Brown femmes. I’ll spend the rest of my life exploring all that has yet to be revealed in those depths of in the mysteries and magic of pregnancy, birth, and child rearing, and the mothers who have incessantly fought behind that farce of a tapestry to preserve and protect the power of birth. But without the pregnancy stimulus, I personally would definitely still be walking this earth, unchecked, unbothered, and thinking I’ve got it all figured out.
I don’t like to speak on this aspect of my experience often because I in NO way want to imply that it requires co-creating a human in order for uterus-having people to experience their richest, fullest, most enlightened lives possible. (I firmly reject this culturally accepted notion that motherhood is the pinnacle for all us uterus-having folk, and I most definitely am not saying that the inability to or the lack of desire to have children will inhibit the achievement of one’s highest possible education and fulfillment.) There are about as many different paths and choices that lead to purpose and fulfillment as there are humans dwelling on this planet. This turn of events in my story and who I thought I was and what I thought I wanted took me entirely by surprise, but I’d be lying if I said that this wasn’t the case for me – for my particular place of duty and service in this particular world, it required an initiation into motherhood to reveal itself to me. Anybody ever read “The Giver”? For me, to say that I mourn the loss of my previous self, would be to say that I wish I could go back to seeing in black & white, after having seen in color. The world in color may be far messier, more confusing, and a complete upside down version of everything I thought I knew to be right and true, everything I thought I knew about myself and the world - but not in a million years would I wish to go back to the simplicity (read: lie) of black & white. Yes, sometimes I long for a time when I was “my own woman,” when I didn’t have the weight of making decisions for another human perpetually on my back, back when my decisions only affected me – but therein lies the fantasy of my “previous self.” Because my decisions have always affected more than just me, it just took me growing a human inside of me to see that for myself.