How To Be A Mother, A Wife—And Yourself

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mother and daughter sitting at the beach
Does becoming a mother change the essence of who you are?

For a long time before I had children, I had no reason to consider my identity—not whether I was true to it, and not even, really, what it was. I'd always wanted to be a writer and, at 31, by the time my daughter was born, I had one novel published and another one on the way. I'd been with my husband for eleven years, so any adjustments to that relationship had long been taken care of. I had friends and hobbies and a regular yoga class. I'd recently earned a black belt in tae kwon do, which I was proud of, though I admit it makes me sound considerably more badass than I actually am. Mostly I was what I'd always been—what they call in the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer an "indoor kid." I never came home from school and headed out the door with a bike or a ball. I liked to read. I liked to watch TV. I liked to think about what I was reading and watching on TV.

The thing about those pursuits—and the thing about being a writer—is that they involve mental departure from your actual life, losing yourself in a story that is not your own. As it turns out, babies and small children don't consider such departure acceptable. They want you there, and they want you there right now. If you don't oblige, they scream, and it's awfully hard to think when they're screaming. When you're a writer, you spend a lot of time alone, by necessity, and also, I've come to think, by inclination. When you're the stay-at-home mother of an infant, you spend almost no time alone, and thinking goes out the window, unless you count anxious fretting over when to start solid foods and how to persuade the baby to go down for a nap. It's unclear to me now why I imagined that this wouldn't be a difficult adjustment. 

In my first year of motherhood, I didn't write a word of fiction. For years, I'd measured the worth of a day by how many pages I'd managed to produce. Now, I produced nothing. I stayed home with my daughter while my husband worked, and I fed her and rocked her and sang to her. I took her for walks. I photographed her in all her outfits. I went a little bit crazy. Career And Family: Can We Really Have Both?

Among the many factors I'd failed to consider while planning my year of stay-at-home motherhood,was what happens to your identity when it's based largely on doing something you no longer have the time or the energy to do. You're left wondering: Who am I without this? Who am I at the core? Among the parents I know, there's a general consensus that having kids is life's big before and after. But what is it that changes so dramatically? Is it just your circumstances, or is it your essential self? Of course, that's a philosophical question that would be difficult enough to ponder even if no one in the room was screaming.

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