Photo: Whitney Port
When I got pregnant, one of my biggest fears was losing my identity.
I feared that everyone would look at me and see only someone’s mom. I feared that everything I had accomplished professionally, prior to motherhood, would slowly float away from people’s memories and I’d have only one sole purpose: to raise a child. And not just a child, but a good, decent, well-rounded human-being.
During my first months of motherhood, this fear became reality. I had no time to myself, no time with my husband Timmy, no time to continue building my career. Every thought and waking moment was consumed by Sonny’s next feed or nap or poop. It was glorious and exhausting and rewarding and frustrating all at once.
I’d wonder how I’d ever be able to get my life back when I was consumed with keeping this human being alive. Obviously nothing is more important than his well-being, but selfish as it may sound, I couldn’t shake the thought.
And although Timmy was home for three weeks after Sonny’s birth, and was just as connected to him as I was, these sentiments never crossed his mind, nor did the thought of staying home to raise him. Of course, there were other biological factors in the way: Only I could breastfeed; only I could pump. So whether the issues were emotional or physical, it felt like only I carried the burden.
Luckily, as with most things in life, time worked its wonders and my brain slowly started re-firing. Sonny wasn’t as precious and dainty anymore, and I wasn’t sweating the small stuff. With the passing of time came more experience and more knowledge. (Trust me, new moms: Lose out on precious sleep after spending one night hovering over the crib, and you’ll learn the hard way, too.)
Over time, I began to feel more relaxed and more like myself. The worries were still there, but they ebbed and flowed, as opposed to remaining constant. I was able to simply enjoy being Sonny’s mother, and even relish in it. I was also able to figure out how to fold aspects of my pre-baby life back into my post-baby life.
This of course presented its own set of challenges. Taking on new projects for work or making plans away from my baby led to extreme feelings of guilt. I was trying to dedicate meaningful time to my career, my husband, my newborn, my siblings, my friends and myself. But if I was out to drinks with friends, I wondered if my time was better spent having dinner with Timmy. If I spent hours buried in my laptop for work, I feared that it was time I was missing with Sonny. He was changing so fast and I wanted to be there for all of it. But I also had to provide for my family. Everything felt so jumbled, which made it difficult to focus and truly be present in any given moment.
After battling with my brain to the point of exhaustion over how to do it all, finally I had one of those light-bulb moments: Enough, Whitney. Let it go. I realize this may seem easier said than done, but I finally realized that there truly is no way to do it all, all the time.
We must strive for balance each day, but we have to know that sometimes it can’t be achieved. And you know what? That’s OK. Prioritize your values, then execute them in the way you live your life. If you think you can only have a successful career if you work 50 hours a week, but it takes you away from your family more than you’d like, try to think of ways to make your time—both in the office and at home—more efficient and purposeful.
Every mother’s definition of accomplishment is different. Some mothers are career-driven, others leave their careers to be full-time mothers, and many don’t even have the luxury of having that choice. Focus on your definition, and forget the noise around you.
And when you can, try not to measure how great of a mom you are in terms of time spent with your child. Measure it by the quality of time. Also, it’s OK to ask for help! Especially from your partner. And if you don’t have a partner? Ask a friend, co-worker or family member that you trust. Find a support network and don’t be afraid to lean on it. Giving others the space to be there for your child also enriches your child’s life. Don’t be afraid to surrender full control every now and then.
Motherhood doesn’t have define who we are. Being a parent is a great privilege, but we must stop putting pressure on ourselves to be everything to everyone at every moment—it’s just not reality.
Next time your brain inevitably spirals out as you attempt to determine whether or not you’re doing enough, try to remember: You are.