“I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’ll be leaving (the company) soon.” I was on the phone to a colleague based at another site, whom I hadn’t seen in a while.
“Oh? No, I hadn’t heard – where will you be going?” she asked, surprised.
“I’ve got another job coming up,” I told her. “It’s a new role. I’ll be on-call 24/7, the pay’s… well, terrible and scheduled lunch breaks will be a thing of the past. My new boss will be completely dependent on me to get everything done. But you know, new challenges…”
My colleague inhaled slowly, weighing her words, wondering what had possessed me to say yes to this. “Sounds rough… what will you be doing?” she ventured, cautiously.
I couldn’t hide the smile from my voice. “I’m going to have a baby,” I said.
We both laughed. “Sounds about right!” she said, adding her congratulations.
We discussed other details – how far along I was, how much time I was taking off work, whether it was a boy or a girl. But as we hung up, the reality of what I said to her hit home.
Here I was, a career-oriented woman, working in a fulfilling role in a country I had just started over in, three-and-a-half years ago. We’d just bought a house and had grand plans, but news a baby was on the way was welcome. It was what we’d always talked about.
But it didn’t stop me from feeling a mild sense of panic, and even a sense of loss. I enjoyed my work. I had a million worries: How much would taking this time off slow my career progression? How would I cope going from full-time employment to staying at home for 12 months with a baby? We want more than one child – this was just the start. What would happen to my career then? How would I know if I was doing it right?
Since the initial meltdown, I’ve told myself repeatedly that nobody ever gets it 100% right. Sometimes, you have to fake it until you make it.
“A woman is not a mother just because she has had a baby, a mother is not born when a baby is born; a mother is forged, made”, wrote Naomi Wolf in her book Misconceptions: Truth, lies and the unexpected on the journey to motherhood.
Motherhood sounds like a work in progress – chances for research, evaluation and feedback. But it also sounds like hard work – steel is not forged through paperwork and consultation, but extreme heat and mechanical energy – beyond anything one could expect to see in a corporate environment.
And while the idea of traversing the new terrain of parenthood is scary, it’s second only to the idea of emerging an entirely different person because of it. Would I like the new person I become? Would my husband?
Wolf also acknowledged the hidden losses motherhood brings: “we deny the many symbolic deaths a contemporary pregnant woman undergoes: from the end of her solitary self-hood, to the loss of her prematernal shape, to the eclipse of her psychologically carefree identity, to the transformation of her marriage, to the decline in her status as a professional or worker.”
I have come to realise – though it doesn’t fit the socially-accepted narrative of what a ‘good mother’ is – it’s not wrong to feel upset by this loss of self. I don’t think that I am alone in struggling to reconcile the selflessness of being a ‘good mother’ with self-focused goals we have been taught to desire – financial independence, equality in the home, self-improvement and fulfilling friendships, not to mention maintaining one’s health and looks.
I won’t let the guilt of mourning the loss of my former self wear me down, but neither will I pretend to be able to shrug it off as “what happens when you have children”. I’ll miss the old me.
Motherhood will just have to be another role I take on and work hard at – even if I have to fake it until I make it. I may not be able to have it all, and to have it all at once, but I can certainly try.
Faye Song is a city girl finding her feet in regional Victoria, Australia. A former journalist, she works in marketing and communication, but has found that her real passion lies in dolce far niente – the sweetness of doing nothing – while she awaits the arrival of her first child.
Image Credit: Flickr user Mightyboybrian