I turned the corner with Ollie in his carriage several blocks from my house, and the jungle’s humidity forced sweat to drip down my postpartum thighs and back, and soaked my supersized nursing bra under my atomic, exploding breasts.
It had been six weeks since I had given birth to my son, Oliver.
“I will not be a stay-at-home or work-from-home mom, Mom!” I raised my voice into my cell phone speaker, emphasizing the rebuking that came from an aching place in my heart. “I have worked too hard to just give it all up.” Boy was that was the truth.
“But it’s a noble job, Emily. There is nothing wrong with staying at home and raising your son. It’s hard work and not for the faint of heart. I’m telling you, it’s a noble profession and I respect women who can do it.” My Mom responded calmly to my hormonal rollercoaster. I’ve worked too hard to give it all up,I thought angrily.
For years, my body desired this child more than anything in the world, and just six weeks after performing the largest ceremony of my life where I experienced not only my child’s birth but also my own personal birth as a mama, I was grasping for the memory of a braver Emily.
“Who am I?” I wondered. Actually, sometimes, I still wonder. Other times, I’m so sure of myself. When did I become so indecisive? Have I forgotten who I am? Am I no longer who I was?
I am not mad that everything now revolves around my child. In fact, I love it, because it feels authentic. I am, however, confused that somehow I’ve lost my old self, and truthfully, a bit scared or hesitant to commit to anything other than motherhood right now. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t and won’t keep stretching myself into safe environments that encourage me to be a tad braver than before. I just mean that the act of weaning out of an identity that is solely based on motherhood is complicated. Messy. Difficult (to say the least!). And also, slightly exciting.
I love writing and developing relationships with you all, and that does take some time away from motherhood. But it’s a brave step that replenishes my soul. I need the connection and excite when I get the opportunity to think and write about things other than feedings, diapers and naptime (though I do still love writing and sharing about parenting). The chance that I might miss one of Ollie’s firsts in the pursuit of my career fulfillment can easily dampen my motivation and the pursuit of my own personal bravery and goals.
After many conversations with Matt, Ollie will likely be our only child. We love family and children and believe there are so many in our world that have been treated unfairly and need our help and resources. We believe if our heart is full (okay, exploding!) with one child, we can help those other families and children with our extra resources. (We’ll see, though! Everyone says things change!) Knowing these moments with Ollie could be the last I ever experience, the thought of missing anything he does debilitates me from moving forward with my own career interests.
In the same hand, the thought of not using my mind for my career goals also seems to debilitate me. Needless to say, I can now say that I know what sacrifice truly means and feels like to so many working parents. The definition has so much more color to it now and in my mind, no longer belongs to high achieving athletes.
For several months after Ollie was born, I looked like an exhausted, leaking, and balding reflection of the Emily I once knew, and yet, I was not her. I’m not over exaggerating when I say, the old Emily was as good as dead to me. Matt watched the woman he once knew destroy everything she knew about herself to usher in two new lives to this world: his son and his new wife. (Good thing she’s still awesome.)
In my new life, I knew of the old Emily that once existed, as if she was a good book I’ve read in the past, or a collection of favorite poems, but she was surely gone. Nothing of her was left in me. Was she ever me? Sometimes I wonder who that brave, fearless woman was. I wish I could shake myself off like cobwebs from a dusty old ball glove and return back to my younger, more certain and wise self.
During a long, tiresome, bleary-eyed night of nursing Ollie, I laid in bed trying to go back to sleep and thought about why God makes birth so dangerous, difficult and sacred. The only thing I could land on was that birthing a child also involves a death. A death that is irreversible. The mother cannot go back. The mother must incinerate all of her beliefs about her past life and bravely move forward into her new life with no expectations. And I believe, having no expectations is the only way we can make space for the fullness of what’s to come on this new path.
Matt and I had coffee together the morning after I had this thought and as I reached for my favorite mug, I said, “I’ve been thinking about life.”
“Oh boy. What now?” He joked. “You have everything you could ever want. What were you thinking about?”
“When I birthed Ollie, everything changed. My heart took the wheel. I became a mother.” I never understood the gravitational pull of the “mother” identity until I held my tiny son in my arms with tears dripping down my cheeks, breathing in his sweet smell. “And in a way, I have become scared that any other decision I make for myself would take away from our son. I’m having a hard time being brave.” I admitted.
Matt is so simple and he’s great at it. He said, “When I started a hot dog shop in Harlem, did I ever have the perfect path charted to where we are today? No way.” He emphasized. “I just did it and kept going and let opportunities unfold as they came. You just have to get started again, and if it doesn’t work out, think of it as a great learning lesson.”
I am a work-from-home mama (this also applies to papas). I nurse my child, then I feed him solids for practice, I take care of the entire family at home, run to doctor’s appointments, wipe the baby down, put him down for a nap, and try to run into the office upstairs for a quick burst of work (how long will the baby sleep before I have to run downstairs and rock him back to sleep?). Does the baby still have a fever? Is his rash going away? I wonder which who gave it to him (probably me, but isn’t always more fun to think it was someone else)? Is the third load of laundry done? Oh, I need to rewash everything because the old detergent is scented? Okay. We just do it. All. Pretty much.
So, who am I, who are we, to believe we aren’t being our bravest selves? Look at what we’ve done. We can go on. We can move forward, with our families in tow. We can have our own identities and our own work goals, as well as being mamas (or papas). It will take time–likely much longer than it would have before–and test our patience, but the climb, sacrifice and dedication makes the reward even sweeter. Bird by bird, we can build our new lives without expectation, and we will reach our goals. (I’m talking about publishing my damn book!)
If you find yourself needing some direction or a brave, encouraging push, here is an excellent challenge my friend Amy Jo Martin shared (I love this exercise):
Sticky note challenge:
You need 4 different colors of sticky notes.
Step 1: Choose one sticky note (color 1) and write your Goal, Opportunity or Idea. (Note: It could be disguised as a current Problem.)
Step 2: Directly below the first sticky note, write (on color 1) WHY you want to pursue the Goal, Opportunity, or Idea.
Step 3: Still using color 1, directly to the right of the Step 2 sticky note, write down what happens if you don’t pursue this Goal, Opportunity or Idea. Specifically, what will happen? This is the top of your pyramid.
Step 4: Below Step 2 and 3, and to the left, using color 2, write the VERY first micro action you need to do in order to make progress toward your Goal, Opportunity or Idea. Add a deadline of when this must happen. Ideally the deadline is today.
Step 5: Below Step 4, using color 2, write down what your 2nd action needs to be, place it under action 1. Each step gets its own sticky note and has a deadline. Action 2 goes under Action 1. Action 3 goes under Action 2, etc. Write down a total of 5 actions.
Step 6: Using Color 3, write 1 person who can help you with accomplishing your Goal, Opportunity, or Idea. Place this to the right of Step 4 (your first action step). Below this person’s name, using Color 3, write the name of another person who can help you. List at least 3 different people in total.
Step 7: Using Color 4, write down one thing that has to be true for the Goal, Opportunity, or Idea to be completed? (Prompt Qs: What does it look like completed? How do I feel when it’s completed?) Using Color 4, under the sticky note you just wrote on, write another thing that must be true when this is done. List at least 5 things in total.
Talk yourself through what you just wrote down, starting with Color 1 through 4. Add or shift sticky notes. Take a photo of your strategy. Take action on micro-action 1 right then and there. Reach out to the 3 people who you’d like to help you, right then and there. (Text, email, etc)
Get started, gain momentum, identify help and visualize outcome.
I’d love for you to join me in this exercise, and you can tag me (@iamemilynolan) and @AmyJoMartin in a picture of your results on Instagram or Facebook! I’d love hear if this helped and see what you all come up with!
Photo Kayla Mendez Photography