A friend asked me a while back to explain the difference motherhood has made in my life.
“I just don’t know if I want to give up the life I have right now to start a family,” she said. “My husband and I are happy. We love our life, the freedom we have to pick up and go whenever, wherever, without being tied down. Motherhood would change everything and I don’t know if we would still be happy.”
I don’t remember exactly what I said at the time, but I’m sure it was something cliché like, “Yes, motherhood changes everything, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
The truth is, I don’t understand motherhood. At least, I don’t understand the change that has happened to me, in me, and through me as a result of becoming a mother. I don’t know how to explain a kind of love that can simultaneously rip your heart open and mend it all in the same breath. I struggle to find words that encompass the reality of a life turned upside down but made whole in the midst of crazy, confusing, contradicting thoughts, feelings and actions. Motherhood doesn’t make sense; but something about the irony and the confusion of it all makes life feel complete.
What I wish I could have said to my friend at the time is this:
You will never feel ready to become a mother. Motherhood changes everything and sometimes you won’t like the change. There will be times when you wish it all away. You will miss the simplicity and spontaneity of your life, as it used to be, before having kids. You will question everything your life has become and wonder if it was all worth it. It they were worth it. You won’t always be happy.
Some days you will be filled with regret. You might even feel like you hate your life. There will be nights you cry yourself to sleep knowing that sleep is the only escape from a life that feels utterly disastrous and overwhelming. A good night’s sleep might be enough of a relief or you might wake up with tears still dripping off your face, unable to stop crying for hours to come. Your eyes will sink beneath a thick layer of puffy skin and your breathing we be shallow. Eventually, there will be no more tears available to shed, so you’ll stop.
You will make your way to the kitchen, pour a glass of water and chug it down; your body unable to quench the relentless thirst of dehydration. As you reach for an Aspirin to take the edge off a pulsating headache, you fantasize about running away. Every ounce of your body will ache for you to leave but you’ll stay because you know that it’s the right thing to do. Even though your life feels entirely hopeless at the moment, you stay because you love your children with a love you will never fully comprehend. You stay because you know that the very people who make your life a living hell some days are the only ones who can extinguish the flames and make your life worth living.
And you will be so glad you stayed, because inevitably, moments after you had considered leaving it all behind, your child will approach you with a mesmerizing look and magic pouring from his lips.
Make no mistake, motherhood will radically change you. You’ll wake up one day, look in the mirror, and not recognize the person you’ve become. Most days, you will love the change. You will embrace the growth as your life shifts from a self-centric to a self-sacrificing one. You will be proud of the selfless, teachable, open-minded, and flexible person motherhood has morphed you into — but you will also laugh at the ease of a transformation mandated simply by survival instincts. You’ll be baffled at the way you handle difficult situations with grace, dignity and poise that can only come from a mother’s intuition. But some days, you’ll break.
There will be times when you will despise yourself for the choices you have made or the things you have done. You’ll replay scenes with your children over and over in your head, crippled with self-doubt and remorse. You will regret the way you reacted instead of responded and you’ll beat yourself up for losing your cool. You might even go as far as to tell yourself you’re a bad mom and you were never cut out for this job. “Who in their right mind would let me take care of a child?” you’ll wonder. “I can barely take care of myself.”
But the doubt will fade as soon as the child you screamed at walks up to you with his puppy dog eyes, wraps his arms around you, and tells you he loves you. Your children will be your greatest teachers. They will show you how to forgive with an unconditional love that only a mind untouched by the weight of the world can comprehend.
Motherhood is hard, but most days, you will wake up grateful for a life beyond anything you could have imagined for yourself. Your children will complete you in a way no one else ever can or will. They will ground you when your head is in the clouds. They will remind you what life is all about and you will look to them for guidance, love, and fulfillment.
Motherhood is an adventure that will blow your mind, open your heart, and crush every idea you’ve ever had of what life was “supposed to look like” — all while revealing a strength, dignity, and perseverance that you never thought possible. Motherhood will push every limit, show you exactly who you are, what you are made of, and everything that you are capable of. But best of all, motherhood is an exhausting, exhilarating ride that will always, against any reason or logic, keep you coming back for more.
Will motherhood change everything? Of course it will. But it will also give you everything your heart never knew it desired.
That is motherhood.