Most parents lashed out at Rahna Reiko Rizzuto when she confessed that she left her children in order to pursue her own dreams and find herself after five years of motherhood. Readers practically flayed her on the stake, condemning her for choosing herself over her children. Was it really necessary to accuse her of being “worse than Hitler“? Does being a good mother really mean we have to give up being ourselves, sacrificing our identities at all costs?
Before children, I had always been somebody, whoever that somebody might have been: the ugly duckling (towering two feet above my still-prepubescent second grade classmates with startling B-cups, braces, coke-bottle glasses, and a hideous Dorothy Hamil do), the funny one (to compensate for the unattractiveness), the pretty one (the universe works in mysterious ways), the brain (until being out-nerded a hundred fold at an academic college), the flirt (*ahem* the slut), the trusty best friend (except that one time I was a boyfriend-stealing backstabber) and the ambitious career woman (temporarily on hold).
At every stage, regardless whether I hated it or milked every second, I knew who I was and I was free to be “me.”
But after my first, Jane, was born, I stopped being anyone or anything that I used to know. For three months, I was what can only be described as a giant udder of liquid sustenance, good for nothing more than a sleepless shoulder to spit up on and an all-night eardrum to wail into. Any semblance of my former selves were gone.
Pretty? Sure – if you consider 30 pounds of mushy mom weight, blood-shot eyes and blotchy, sleep-deprived skin attractive. Brainy? Definitely – if you’re talking a “mom brain” that boasts a two-second maximum short term recall and makes me put bananas in the freezer, socks in the microwave and the kettle in the fridge. Funny? Well, at most, maybe funny-looking.
But I thought to myself,
“Okay, this is motherhood. I’m a mom, and I’ll take that any day over a shiny blowout, skinny jeans without a muffin top, and alone time for myself.”
Then just as I had gotten used to the idea of being a mother: *poof* it vanished. A stranger came to my house every day to be a surrogate mother to my little girl while I dragged my zombie-self to work.
My colleagues (all men) had bets going on whether I would return after maternity leave and if I would continue working full-time. Desperately hanging on to my old workaholic self, I set out to prove them wrong and to prove to myself that I hadn’t become any “less” of a lawyer or a “worthless” mom in the workplace. Even after getting knocked up three months back to work, suffering through six months of morning sickness and taking care of Jane – not yet even a year old, I kept grinding day and night and telling myself, “I’m a lawyer dammit; it’s what I do; it’s who I am.”
But when Sam was born and the sleeplessness and stress multiplied exponentially, I realized: something had to give. I couldn’t be the old career only-focused “me” anymore. I was a mom now, too – whatever that meant.
So I scaled back to a part-time schedule and gave up my hard-driving professional identity to focus more on my new emerging self: a combination of part mom, part lawyer and random parts of my pre-children identities. (No; none of the interesting ones like the backstabbing slut have made a reappearance!).
I still struggle to figure out how to be the best mom, the best attorney and the best “me,” after Jane and Sam blew my vision of who “I” was to smithereens. There are days I wholeheartedly embrace my motherhood and would give anything to be a SAHM. And then there are days I wish I could do exactly what Rizzuto did – reclaim my pre-babies life or be “that 1950s mother we idealize who was waiting in an apron with fresh cookies when we got off the school bus and wasn’t too busy for anything we needed until we went to bed,” like the part-time mom whom Rizzuto describes.