My friend sent me an article today about how a woman’s physiology changes for motherhood. The brain composition literally changes so that she is able to be more hyper-vigilant of her baby and be more attuned to his needs. While I can’t say that I am surprised to learn of this miraculous evolution that Mother Nature provides her kin, going through the process has not always been as marvelous.
I grew up in a low-income household that was either chronically depressed or escaping it through drugs or alcohol. Many family members had a prison record and few graduated high school. This reality combined with having no mother and father around meant that I figured out a lot of things on my own. Part of that meant “toughening” up so I could accomplish goals. I saw what (I interpreted as) being consumed by emotion did to people and I knew I didn’t want that. So I learned to swallow tears and it worked wonders for me.
Broken by Motherhood
As a kid, I rarely cried. I never got very attached to people and friendships meant hanging out but never showing vulnerability. This coupled with my highly competitive and hard-headed personality enabled me to create opportunities like a full ride to a private boarding school for high school and entrance into my top Ivy League choice for college. Mission accomplished, right?
As I got older, I became more present to the ways that my now very advanced ability to remain disconnected from others and keep emotions in check had created a deep sense of emptiness. Through therapy and my faith, I began to develop those underused muscles. It never felt natural, it made me uncomfortable and given the fact that I had a large social circle and, for all intents and purposes, had a good life, it didn’t feel urgently necessary. But I’m tenacious so just like any of the other lofty goals I had set before, I excitedly took on a new challenge to conquer. I took personal development courses that rocked me to my core, I jumped head first into exploring spirituality and my purpose in the world, I created psychological exercises to be vulnerable with people I didn’t know well. Slowly, I began to chip away at a tough exterior that had caked around me like a cast over the course of twenty years. Mission accomplished again! I’m so good. Yay! I checked it off my list and told lots of people just how gratifying and eye-opening the process was for me.
In comes motherhood.
I remember the first week after I had Oliver and I was watching TV on my living room couch. (My c-section recovery was awful so this was my set up most days.) A commercial came on and as I watched it, my eyes began to well up with tears. They began to stream down my face when I stopped abruptly and gasped. I looked around the room in terror. What the fuck is wrong with me? I literally had never cried while watching television in my entire life. I felt broken. Like my secret power had been taken away. Hopefully, it was only temporary.
After months of random bouts of tears during commercials, comedies, moments alone with my baby, and when my partner hurt my feelings, I started to get that this may just be the way things were now. I had to try on a new lens on emotion.
During my personal development path in my twenties I had made some major breakthroughs in getting to the foundation of where my hard shell had developed and why. While that was immensely helpful, it was not until my brain naturally rewired itself in preparation for motherhood that I was able to truly see how deeply I had buried emotions. Like most hard things I tackled in life, I had tried to work hard and teach myself how to have emotions and after a few solid months, boom, I thought I had fixed everything. Turns out it was a bit more complicated than that.
Taking on these new set of eyes has been… uncomfortable, confusing. My emotions come up in areas of my life that I never thought they belong. It happens more often than ever and the change doesn’t always feel like it’s better. At times it feels impractical: when I was working with clients and felt unappreciated, when I am trying to communicate to my partner specific emotional needs when we are in the middle of bedtime routine, when trying to get a long ass list of to-dos done and the weight of life making me cave and then do nothing.
But then there were new things… The moments when I am overtaken by a split second with my children in the darkness of their bedroom when one is drooling on my shoulder fast asleep while the other holds my hand for just “one more minute.” When I recognize that a friend that is in need of a different conversation than the one she has called to have and so I take an extra 20 minutes to chat with her without remembering how I used to say I hated being on the phone. When, for the first time, I can contribute something to a business meeting that factors in fiscal responsibility, growth strategy, efficiency and emotional impact. And when I experience fully the turmoil and growing pains that come with growing a relationship, nurturing a family and creating a home, and I don’t leave when it gets really-really hard. (That may have been my answer before.) This is when it hits me that this is no longer about checking boxes off a list or a personal development exercise.
Something has very literally been born inside me that enables me to see a new dimension of everyday existence I didn’t even know was there. While it isn’t necessarily better the view does feel wider. I expect that not all mothers have experienced a huge chasm between life before motherhood and life after, and I know my background has colored my experience but this feels insanely foreign. The experience of life has shifted. I see and feel things differently. A physiological metamorphosis.
Now that I’m in the thick of mothering two children and I have fully embraced tears as an ok thing that occasionally happens on my face, I think I am well on my way to figuring out how to live life with this new brain. Truthfully, I sometimes yearn for my old, safe and “effective” way of operating but it is starting to become a distant memory while I get settled into this new journey.
Motherhood has broken me in a way I could never have known to want. While I continue to waver between resistance and surrender, I wish you all uncomfortable, confusing and broken transformation at some point in your life. I am starting to see that there is no fuller way to live.