So The Old You Has Died. Now What?
They are everywhere, especially in Brooklyn. You’ll see them in droves, charging along leafy streets shoulder to shoulder, gripping their chariots fiercely or individually, well fuelled on fair trade coffee and well heeled in expensive sneakers. This is the new vanguard: young enough so their boobs haven’t started sagging and old enough to have reached one of life’s all important milestones. Motherhood.
I was having coffee with my friend, Lilly the other day when one of these lovely creatures and her fair offspring crossed our path. “Oh my God, remember that?” she said. “That time was so hard for me, all my hair fell out and I felt like a shell. I had never been lower”.
Shit yes, I remember that.
It was only a few years ago, but the trauma of that time has built a house in my body. I shuddered.
Let’s just start off by saying babies are pretty rad and although everyone says this, it is true: it gets better… way better. But that is like saying puppies are cute, of course they are, and they turn out kinda being your best friend, but you have to pick up a lot of warm turd on the way. The thing is, it’s not the poop you have to worry about, it’s you - the mom. And that is definitely what you are now - mom with a lowercase “m”. The woman who has not showered in three days, the on-demand food source and night shift worker. The one who has damp baby clothes and wraps hanging all over her living room, the one who goes to parties and has little to contribute to conversations about work or career or passion projects because she has been “looking after the baby”.
If I were a more community-minded type I would hold unlicensed group therapy sessions, drawing in wayward souls with quippy phrases like, “So the Old You Has Died, Now What?” or “Lost Someone Important? It’s You!” and help guide them through the process of watching their old selves disintegrate only to be replaced with something that has very little value in our society, motherhood. We’d take out our rage and disappointment by making macrame fringed wall hangings or terrariums. But who am I kidding? It will take more than a succulent in a jar to hold this down.
Motherhood identity loss has not gone unnoticed. For hundreds of years, women have made grand attempts to engender the role of motherhood with real status to make up for the fact that mothers have become near invisible in western culture. Second and third wave feminism has been tackling gender, family and work for decades and our mothers will always tell us how vital it is to be a mother. One friend of mine even calls herself a “Domestic CEO” on all paperwork. So why does motherhood still feel crappy? It may have something to do with short or non-existent maternity leave, lack of subsidized childcare, poor work-life balance and the gender pay gap (still!). In many ways, we have been locked out of our own house.
Yet, we keep having babies and women do find ways to reiterate their value and “get over it” in the best sense. On the other side of loss, mothers give themselves a very potent gift: self worth which is individually determined. We have value and an identity because we say so, not because we are given permission or recognized by an external system that doesn’t represent us. Just another reason why women are strong in their own way.
Lilly turned to me and said “It’s so much better now, right?”
Yes. Yes it is.
Written by Naomi Williamson
Naomi is a writer and editor specializing in relationships, sex and women’s issues. She has written for Women’s Day, Musee and Berkeley Health. A single mom residing in Brooklyn, New York, she keeps a blog, Why Are They Here, dealing with the comical ups and downs of raising two forgiving boys in an unforgiving city.