Updated: Dec 24, 2018
So much attention is always given to the birth of the child – but what about the birth of the mother?
In a safe in our house there is a birth certificate stamped with September 6, 2017. According to that slip of paper, the date is my son’s birthday. And it’s true. My son was born that day. He came into this world literally kicking and screaming (and shitting his brains out). But it is also mine. More so mine. My 21 hours of natural labor was excruciating, and with good reason. Two people were born from that pain, delivered from dark obscurity into existence.
When my son was born, I broke. I split open. It was as if the person I was living inside cracked, died, and crumbled away.
When my son was born, I broke. I split open. It was as if the person I was living inside cracked, died, and crumbled away. I shed my skin and the skin of all the women I had tried on before him, choosing identities like costumes, covering the broken seams and ill-fitting personas like wicked stepsisters forcing on the glass slipper. I didn’t need any of it. He gave me the gift of my self, unburdened by the expectations and judgments that previously ruled my interactions, newly burdened by the suffocating love of my son and realization that my life had just begun.
I was prepared to love my son. What I was not prepared for, was to love myself.
This may sound strange, but I was prepared to love my son. The overwhelming joy and love that crashed over me in waves, bigger each second I stared at his face, felt natural. That love, the power to feel that love, had always been there – it had just been waiting for him to open the door. What I was not prepared for, was to love myself. After a lifetime spent chasing who I thought I wanted to be, who I thought others wanted me to be, the perfect job, the perfect body, it was shocking to feel affection and pride for my own mind and body. To look in the mirror and feel gratified, happy. To look down at my body and feel pride, rather than disgust. To look at my possessions and experiences and feel gratitude rather than disappointment or greed. After all of the energy and time – years! – spent agonizing over this cardboard cutout of myself for others to consume, what did I do now with all of that time? All of that mental capacity? It was freeing and terrifying. I was re-meeting myself. Trying to introduce myself to people who had known me for decades. Before my son, I would have been riddled with insecurities – would they get this new me? Could I still be in their lives this way? But those thoughts were gone, dispelled by same force that created me – motherhood. The power and strength that came from giving birth to my son seeped into every area of my life, healing wounds and patching cracks that would surely have led to disaster.
The power and strength that came from giving birth to my son seeped into every area of my life, healing wounds and patching cracks that would surely have led to disaster.
At lunch a few months after his birth, a close friend asked me what my favorite part of motherhood was. In tears, I found myself telling her that it was my capacity to love. I think she assumed I meant for my son, and she was right. But I also meant for me. The capacity to love myself after years of self loathing, the capacity to love my life without qualifiers or “as soon as ____.” I’m still learning how to navigate my new life without my old insecurities and fallbacks, but every day gets easier because I’m operating from a place of love and strength instead of distrust and fear. If I succeed, I praise myself. If I stumble, I allow myself grace. Motherhood has given me the greatest gifts of all – my darling boy and the birth of my best self.
A few months later, that same friend wished me happy birthday. “You’re right where you want to be,” she said. And she was right, I am. She just got my birthday wrong.