HAVING A CHILD CHANGES YOUR LIFE
Your reality is transformed the moment your child arrives.
Welcome to motherhood: the single most profound and transformative rite of passage a woman can experience. Of course, there are other major turning points throughout our lives--puberty, graduations, career achievements, marriage--but none can really compare to the experience of welcoming a child into this world and being responsible for its care. Motherhood is the most precious gift as well as the ultimate responsibility . . . and the doorway to the most extraordinary love you have ever known. It stretches you beyond what you ever imagined you were capable of. It can be a source of supreme fulfillment and, at times, a source of some of the deepest heartbreak.
To say that motherhood transforms your life forever is something of an understatement. The moment your child is born, your life undergoes seismic changes; however things were before this tiny creature arrived, they certainly are no longer that way. It turns your life, your schedule, your perspective, and your relationships inside out, backward, and upside down. You feel a love that is different from anything you've ever felt before. What mattered before seems less significant as a whole new set of priorities arise, and you experience life in a totally new way. When you assume the new identity of "mother," within an instant your world is never quite the same again.
It's difficult to anticipate what will be on the other side of the changes, or what your life will look like after a baby arrives. You can plan, prepare, speculate, and imagine, but what it comes down to is this: no one knows exactly how their life will change when they become a parent. They only know for certain that it will.
So many women I've counseled over the years express real fear at the magnitude of the changes a baby can bring. While most of them were thrilled at the idea of becoming a mother--something many of them had dreamt about for years--there were still twinges of fear or even panic when they thought about how much their lives were about to change. One client described it as "nine months on the diving board, not quite knowing what you're about to plunge into."
On the flip side of fear lies excitement--even exhilaration. There is the spiritual sense that you are making a contribution to the eternal circle of life, that you are joining the ranks of an honored sisterhood. You are crossing a threshold in your life, and you will now be able to give all you know to another living being. There is anticipation of the rewards: the sweet kisses, the warmth of a grateful hug, precious finger paintings and the glitter Mother's Day cards, the pride of seeing them make strides both big and small. My friend Laura swears she could make millions if she could just bottle and sell the expression of pure delight on her three-year-old's face when she searches and finds her mother among all the other moms waiting outside nursery school. That moment alone makes all the upheaval and change worth it.
Motherhood opens the door to a whole new range of experiences. Whether you approach it with trepidation or excitement, it will change your life in more ways than you can imagine.
The Rhythm of Your Life
When a child enters the world through you, it alters everything on a psychic, psychological, and purely practical level.
Each of us has a rhythm to our lives. It's the framework we set for the notes we play out each and every day. Whether you are conscious of it or not, you have a specific rhythm to the way you presently live your life. It's what makes you comfortable, and it comprises all the patterns to which you and your mate have become accustomed. You know when and how you take your coffee or tea, what you will do on Saturday night, which movies you plan to see, how much time it takes you to complete your workout. Hopefully, your life runs smoothly most of the time as all the parts flow together in harmony. Then along comes baby, and suddenly none of them flow quite the same way anymore.
It's hard to describe how radically life changes when you bring a new baby into the mix. Amy was among the first in her group of friends to have a baby, and whenever she was with her friends she was keenly aware of how different her life was from before. She and her husband, Phil, used to go out at least once every weekend with their friends to dinner or a movie, yet once Zach was born, it wasn't quite so easy. There were baby-sitting arrangements to be made, cellular phones to be left on in case of an emergency, and they got tired much earlier in the evening (due to the fact that they had been up the whole night before with Zach). Their friends would order a few drinks with dinner, but Amy refrained because she was nursing. Amy's friends would talk about going to a spa for a girls' weekend, and she knew she wouldn't feel comfortable leaving Zach until he was a little older. Amy and Phil began to notice more and more that they had entered a new life phase, and that the way they had run their lives before would need to evolve.
The first few months with a newborn are when the changes are most apparent. That time can be something akin to spiritual ecstasy and logistical chaos. There is nursing and/or bottles to be made, cries to calm, diapers to be changed, lullabies to sing in hopes of putting the little one back to sleep at 3 a.m. There is an endless array of stuff: blankets, strollers, pacifiers, and toys everywhere. As your child grows, suddenly your schedule is filled with play dates, doctor appointments, and swim and tumbling classes, as you and your partner try to juggle all this new baby activity with all the grown-up parts of your life. Where before your bag may have held your lipstick, keys, credit card, and Palm Pilot, now it is bulging with diapers, wipes, pacifiers, and bottles. The Practice is replaced by Sesame Street; sushi is eclipsed by mashed bananas; "dry clean only" is traded in for wash-and-wear. You can't even name the latest movie, let alone see it, and you probably haven't thought about sex or romance in ages. You may not even recognize the life you are presently living, and you're not sure how things changed so radically so fast.
Almost every mother I've spoken to has had an experience that somewhat resembles this scenario. I had a newborn almost twenty years ago, and although some specific elements have changed, the general idea is still basically the same. Although some fortunate mothers experience a very smooth transition from being childless to having their firstborn, the majority of women I know experience significant upheaval. No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that we are different, it's impossible for our lives to go on as usual right after the baby is born.
Becky was an organized, efficient woman with a demanding job in marketing. She and her husband waited until they were both 36 to have their first baby, so Becky felt she was prepared. Since she was very accustomed to masterminding large projects in her work, she assumed she could handle her new role as a mother in much the same way. Many months after the fact, she admitted she had secretly believed she would be able to give birth and incorporate her baby into her life as it was. She would simply take the baby in stride. During her pregnancy, she organized in advance: made lists, ordered furniture, did all the "required" reading, and made arrangements with her office for how things were to be handled while she was on maternity leave. She prepared well and felt confident that it would all go according to plan.
The problem was that newborns don't tend to fit into preset agendas. (Talk to any woman with a child and she'll confirm that!) It wasn't as easy as she'd imagined to just fold the baby into her schedule. Becky planned to work from home every day from one to three, but her new daughter, Brooke, had no intention of taking a nap when Mom had planned for it. Whenever Becky was on an important phone call, Brooke would start to cry. When she tried to pack up Brooke's things to get the two of them out the door on time to make a lunch appointment, Brooke promptly threw up all over everything, and they had to go back inside and start over. Becky and her husband had agreed in advance that they would take turns going to the gym in the morning, a routine that was important to both of them, but they were both often too exhausted to even consider exercising. Even their plans to continue their Saturday morning ritual of picking up coffee and taking it to the park by the river were interrupted because the only thing that would satisfy their baby in the mornings was watching a video.
"I definitely thought I had it all figured out," Becky told me, laughing. "It was all going to go according to how I planned. I figured that if I was organized enough it would be easy. The strange thing is that the more in control you think you are, the more challenging it is to adapt."
Becky's problem was that she was resisting the new rhythm of her life. She was rigidly clinging to the way things used to be (and the way she envisioned they "should be"), and as a result, was frustrated and depleted most of the time. Her life wasn't running according to plan. The dance had changed, and she was out of step.
I interviewed many women as I was writing this book, and when I asked them what changed about their lives when they became mothers, almost all of them mentioned the loss of absolute control over how they allocated their time and energy. Where before they were accustomed to arranging their lives around what they and their partner wanted, now they were at the mercy of a larger force in a smaller package that required them to yield to its wants and needs.
After my daughter Jennifer was born, I was most surprised by the fact that what I did every day had to change. Before she was born, I organized my days around "what needed to be done and what I wanted to do." Suddenly, the way I spent my time was no longer determined by my wishes and desires. Instead, it was now dictated by Jennifer's timetable and requirements. If she was hungry, it was mealtime, no matter where we were. If she was cranky, it was lullaby time. If she wanted attention, it was playtime. And so it went. It took me awhile to adjust to this shift, since up until that point I hadn't really been accountable to anyone except my mate, my clients, and myself. Of course, the demands changed as Jennifer grew, but those first few months were a real challenge.
There is a popular myth that the maternal instinct will enable you to handle all this with grace and ease--that the bliss of a newborn eclipses all the chaos and fears. Yet talk to any woman who is in the midst of those first few months, and she will tell you it is hard work! You don't just snap your fingers and effortlessly glide into the role of "mother." Beyond all there is to learn and do, there is a tremendous adjustment that must be made. Just like all other life stages that came before, it takes time and patience to learn the new rhythms of this one. Learning to deal with all the changes is the first step.
DEALING WITH THE CHANGES
What I discovered, and what many other women like Becky discovered, was that ultimately, the best way to deal with the sudden changes in your life and your routines when your baby comes along is to simply go with them. You can be in control up to a point, but flexibility is the key to surviving the first few months with a newborn. Preparation is always beneficial, but that's only what happens before the baby arrives; once you're in the thick of it, what's really needed is willingness to surrender to what is.
Motherhood is the ultimate opportunity to learn the lesson of surrender. The more rigid you are, the harder the process is. The more you try to will things to go certain ways, the more frustrated you may become. On the other hand, the more you're willing to go with the flow, the more harmonious your experience will be. When you relax into the situation, you may find new ways of being and coping that are available to you that you haven't considered before. Allowing for spontaneity invites the little miracles to happen. First steps can't be planned. You may miss the cooing sounds of your baby's giggle, or the delicious scent of her clean body after bathtime, or the peaceful look on your angel's face as she lies there fast asleep if you are too busy trying to organize things or make them run according to plan. The moments that matter rarely happen according to anyone's preset agenda.
It may take a little time, but every mother eventually creates new routines that work for her. Making the shift from being on your own or part of a couple to becoming a family isn't easy, but it can be done--and has been done millions of times before. You've transitioned before in your lifetime, and all your skills will come into play here. Trust yourself. Let go of your idea of how it was "supposed to be." Ask for guidance from other mothers whom you respect. Rely on those around you who are willing to help out, especially your partner. Relax, breathe, trust; you'll find your new rhythm in time.
A Shift in Perspective
When people ask me what I do, I always say I am a mother first. Your children represent your thoughts. Your children are a statement.
"Motherhood made me focus on someone else rather than myself," explains Alison, a 33-year-old mother. "It's not that I was necessarily selfish before, just more self-concerned. All decisions I made regarding my life centered around my husband and me, but every decision I make now revolves around our baby."
Alison summed up well the shift in perspective that happens when we become mothers. Whereas before we had been focused on ourselves--which is a normal and healthy way to be--now our focus shifts to a being outside ourselves. This affects everything, from what's important to us to how we spend our money to what we worry about. It can affect our views, our opinions, and even our values.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Gift of Motherhood by Cherie Carter-Scott, Ph.D.. Copyright © 2002 by Cherie Carter-Scott, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Harmony, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.