By Emily Artz French
I spent most of my adult life believing parenthood would be a death sentence for my dreams. Five months into motherhood, I never could have imagined all the things I would actually give up.
Recently, my husband and I were visiting with a few friends who had come to meet our daughter, then two months old. After sharing a few requisite stories about getting intimate with our daughter’s poop, the conversation inevitably turned to a more sobering discussion on parenthood.
One of them half-jokingly refer to having children as giving up. A thoughtless thing to say in front of new parents? Maybe. But I wasn’t offended. I understood exactly how he felt.
For much of my adulthood, fear permeated my thoughts around motherhood. As a self-proclaimed creative, I worried that I wouldn’t have achieved everything I had dreamed for myself before becoming a mother. I knew (in my heart, if not my mind) that I wanted children. But this fear surrounding my own freedom overwhelmed me — and persisted well into my pregnancy.
After becoming a mother, many of the things I had been told would happen, have, invariably, happened: my life has been turned upside down. I’ve given up countless personal freedoms. I’ve lost sleep. I’ve spent more money on one tiny person than I ever have on myself.
I’ve given up a world in which I am the center. Lazy days don’t exist anymore (or at least, not in the way I once knew them). Dropping everything and just going doesn’t happen anymore. And it’s true what they say: there is no right time to have a child. Even when it’s planned, doubts persist: do we make enough money? Will I know how to be a mother? Are we ready for this?
Parenthood is not easy. And yes, you give things up you wish you didn’t have to. But for me, that was only half the story.
Before I go further, however, I should give a disclaimer. This article is not meant to convince people who are happy not having children to suddenly question their life plan. For those people, having a child probably isn’t going to make them happier. I’m well aware of the current debate being waged around this topic. In my opinion, it’s a pointless argument. If you know you want children, then having them will probably make you happier. If you know you don’t, then not having them will probably make you happier. It’s an intensely personal choice. I don’t prescribe to the notion that we should all have children and live happier ever after.
Rather, this article is for that subset of people — women in particular — who look toward motherhood longingly, but are fearful of what they’ll have to give up to do so. And let me be clear: you’ll have to give up a lot. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For me, giving certain things up for motherhood meant finally accepting freedoms into my life that I hadn’t expected. And I realize that my experience won’t be the same as anyone else’s. My goal is simply to tell my story, in hope that it may help others release their fears. Here, then, is my experience:
I gave up questioning my value to the world.
This is not to say that I didn’t value myself before having my daughter. It’s to say I now value myself in a new way — one that is utterly intrinsic. I stopped feeling like I needed to prove something. In an instant, everything I had been striving for was validated. For my fellow empowered females out there, I hesitate even writing this (let alone, listing it first), for fear that it sounds like I’m suggesting that a woman’s only purpose is to have children. No.
Here’s my point: I realize now that everything I’ve been working for in my adult life — independence, freedom, self-sufficiency, self-worth — was a form of preparation. I had been practicing, so that I could teach her these same things and could pass on to the next generation this radical idea of the unmitigated power of a woman. The idea that yes, as a female, my daughter can do whatever she wants and that her value is inherent. And that, as a mother, I will lead by example. My value as a woman has existed since the day I was born, and for the past 32 years, the world has done it’s best to try to rob me of it. Now, as far as I’m concerned, the world can stop trying, because it doesn’t have a chance.
I gave up feeling insecure about my body.
As someone who spent almost 10 years of her life in the throws of a serious eating disorder, this is another one I write with both relief and trepidation. But I remind myself that it’s just one way the world has tried to steal my self-worth — along with the billions of other women who are told daily that the path to success and happiness is through a number on the scale, or a reflection in a mirror.
So who would have thought that having a child would lead to feeling the strongest, sexiest, most beautiful and most productive that I ever felt in my life? Because I do. I love my fleshy curves. I’ve earned every one of them. The extra 15 pounds I’m carrying around is a plush layer of confidence. I eat to nourish myself and to produce nourishment for my child. It’s a revolutionary feeling — but it shouldn’t be. I’m elated that I finally feel pleasure living in my own skin, but I’m sad that it’s taken 32 years to feel it.
I gave up drama.
Friends not being able to get their you-know-what together; colleagues bringing me down with bad habits; overly needy clients. The Real Housewives (yeah, I know). Drama, in it’s many forms, has no place in my life anymore. More important (and enjoyable) things occupy my time these days.
I gave up self-destructive behaviors.
In your thirties, self-preservation becomes paramount. For me, the visible signs of aging began. When I got pregnant, I had to take a deeper look into my habits and ask, ‘what can I do better?’. I was bringing a life to the world and I needed to take care of myself, so I could take care of her. It’s not to say that things like eating better and exercising got easier — they haven’t. And I’m far from perfect. But, what goes into me, goes into her. And that is a very persuasive motivator.
I gave up self-destructive thoughts.
Another work in progress, but like behaviors, the thoughts we have about ourselves do not begin and end with oneself. The thoughts that pass through me, pass through her too — and in some cases, they stick there. I’d like for positive ones to mark their territory in that spongy little brain of hers — and with the tightest grip they’ve got.
I gave up urgent for important.
That hundred item to-do list that just had to get done? In the trash. Suddenly, I adopted a ‘slow-living’ lifestyle. One catering to the natural cycle of things, rather than the rat’s nest of ‘gotta-dos’ in my head. There’s nothing like having an infant that forces you to live moment-by-moment. Want to know a phenomenal form of meditation? Lie down beside your five month old and just watch her play and coo, happily comforted by your presence, and perfectly content in that single moment. Soak it in. Submerge yourself in it’s purity. For me, the world begins and ends in that moment.
I gave up the need for control.
If there’s anything having a baby teaches you, it’s that you aren’t in control. And for a self-proclaimed control freak, this was actually the break I needed. I’ve always struggled to delegate. In business and in life, I used to try to do it all myself and the only thing that’s ever given me is bitterness and burn out. Becoming a mother has taught me how to ask for help. I can’t do it all and, finally, that’s ok.
I gave up doing stuff I didn’t really want to do in the first place.
Having a baby gives you a great excuse to bow out of things you feel peer pressured into doing. I waffled on this one, in an attempt not to offend anyone in my life, but my friends know I love each of them and support their dreams. That said… if I don’t really feel like going to my friend’s up-and-coming band’s show tonight? No problem. Can’t make that destination wedding in Tahiti this month…oops. The truth is, I do not feel badly about using my child as an excuse to stay home and cuddle with her over going to your poetry reading. To my friends and loved ones: I miss you dearly, and I adore and treasure each of you. But, at least for awhile, time with my daughter will take precedence over time with you.
So…what does all of this giving up mean?
It means I’ve created a lot of space in my life. Enough space for catering to a new little person and for achieving my dreams. Yes, that’s right: achieving my dreams.
Since having a child, I have gained focus for the work I truly want and love to do. I don’t have time to fuss with the stuff that isn’t pushing my ultimate vision forward. That little smile has ignited in me a purpose and drive I never would have experienced had she not existed. I want to be an example to her. I want her to be proud of me and to learn to be proud of herself.
I’ve gained creative inspiration. I see the world countless new ways every day, right alongside her. I wonder, like a child, with my child.
I’ve gained a very deep understanding of my own parents love. I thank them everyday for everything they have given me.
I’ve gained a new appreciation and insight into what my body was made for and is capable of. It’s astounding.
I’ve gained copious amounts of laughter and delight. Try not being excited about every squeal and giggle emanating from a tiny little body. It’s intoxicating.
I’m attracted to my husband in ways I never expected. Seeing him cuddle with our daughter is an unbelievable turn on.
I’ve gained perspective. I have a much greater tolerance for other parents and families. I feel deep empathy for those who want children, but can’t have them. I’ve been humbled and grounded by motherhood.
And finally, I’ve gained a indescribable amount of love. The kind that squeezes your heart until you’re breathless. The kind that pushes your stomach into your throat and the kind that lies down dead, just to give someone else a chance to live. And if that kind of love doesn’t inspire you to go after what you want in life, I’m not sure what would.
Even if motherhood had meant giving up a dream or two, not doing so would have left me blind to an infinite number of new possibilities. Dreams that never would have had a chance to be realized. The day I became a mother is the day I realized that these dreams of mine — the ones I was so afraid of giving up (but not really going after like I should have been) — are now a must, not a maybe. I’m committed to proving to myself, and her, that it can be done. And if I don’t succeed? Well, I’m not worrying about that — it takes up too much space in my life. Space I need to conserve for other things.
So what about you? For the mothers and fathers out there… what has been your experience? For mothers and fathers yet-to-be, what are some of your fears? Let’s keep this conversation going in the comments.
Originally published at emilyartzfrench.com on February 23, 2014.