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I Spent My 20s Having Babies — Now What?

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

As my big 30th birthday approached, I was sucked into reading article after article about “What I Wish I Would Have Known Before Turning 30” or “Things You Should Do By the Age of 30.” The articles included suggestions such as “live abroad” and “volunteer,” both noble pursuits and oddly enough, both things I have actually done.

But in reading them all, I realized I was feeling a little left out because not one of the articles mentioned anything that resembled my real life. If they did, they would read:

Spend your 20s popping out babies.

I fully realize that not everyone spends their post-grad years having children, but a good majority of us have. And in a world that perpetuates the never-ending myth that our 20s are the golden decade of our lives, meant for backpacking across Europe and “finding ourselves,” that’s just not the reality for a lot of moms like myself.

As of 2013, the highest rate of pregnancies occurred in women aged 25-29, followed very closely by moms having kids in their early 20s, from 20-24. In other words, we may act like the 20s are a carefree time in women’s lives, but a lot of us are anything but carefree during that time. And that leads us to an interesting place, when we come out of the trenches of early parenthood and wonder, what the heck comes next?

When I think of the past decade of my life, I always picture myself like one of those birds who stick their heads in the ground when they’re scared. It’s like I’ve been hiding away for 10 years, just hoping I make it through alive.

And now, with my youngest about to turn 2 and my oldest who just turned 8, I’m slowly sticking my head up again, peering around suspiciously with narrowed eyes. Is it safe out there? Should I enter the world again? Am I still relevant at all, even though my body looks like hell and I can no longer rely on my looks? 

Having kids “young” — and I use that as a relative term because frankly, I don’t feel like having a baby at 22 should have been considered that young — does shape and define you.

Motherhood is a very physical, visceral, and bone-wearying phase of getting through and getting the job done, with not a whole lot of downtime for introspection.
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It’s challenging in some ways and a blessing in others. I’m grateful, for example, that should I accomplish nothing else in my life, I know I have my kids. I have loved a lifetime in those little people.

In other ways, however, “young” motherhood is challenging, because you skip right over any sort of self-exploration phase. Motherhood is a very physical, visceral, and bone-wearying phase of getting through and getting the job done, with not a whole lot of downtime for introspection.

And I’ve been OK with that. I’ve been OK with growing myself in short spurts in-between meeting the demands of my kids. I’ve been OK with pioneering a new path as a millennial parent who doesn’t have a good role model of navigating modern-day parenthood to look towards.

But now that I’m rounding the corner on 30, I’m taking pause. It feels so weird to realize that my 20s are gone forever. I can never be that carefree, clichéd young woman depicted in every movie of all time. I can never be the world traveler wandering without a tie. I can never be the college graduate holding the world in my hand. I can never be the wide-eyed newlywed or the ambitious new employee, ready to change the company.

I am here. At 30 years old. With four kids, a lot of stretch marks, one boob significantly smaller than the other, some strangely thinning hair, and I feel like I’m looking around and realizing that holy crap I am a completely different person now.

I’ve hit 30 and suddenly my eyes are opened to the fact that once again, I have to move forward in a new life. My marriage is different because frankly, we are not the same people who said “I do” nine years ago when I walked down the aisle with our daughter in my belly. My parenting is different, my goals are different, and my general approach to life is different because for the first time ever I am wondering, what comes next?

For a long time, it was all mapped out for me: the college graduation, the baby, the next baby, the new job, the next baby, another job, a move, the house, another baby, and now it’s like I hit the “pause” button, because there is no next major milestone. Except maybe death. So that’s cheering.

But seriously, there is a tectonic shift that is happening in my life. It feels like a birth happening in reverse — like I’m shedding everything I once knew about my life and myself — and it scares me.

I’m scared that I didn’t build up a solid enough foundation to be comfortable with myself in my 30s. I’m scared that I still haven’t learned to love myself, and I still avoid mirrors and people taking my picture. I’m worried that I’m not wise enough to parent “big” kids and find myself wishing I could go back to the days when parenting just meant holding a sleeping baby on my chest.

There’s a lot that I don’t know about this next phase in my life, and there’s a lot that could change as I move forward. But one thing is for sure about my greatest hope for turning 30 —

May it involve significantly more sleep than my 20s did.

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