Eight weeks after my daughter was born, I was visiting my friend, Jenny. We had been pregnant at the same time, and together entered the tribe of motherhood. In the early days of parenting, we were each other's confidantes for everything related to our new journeys. We compared notes about our birth experiences, sleep deprivation, breastfeeding and nap times. During our visit that afternoon, she shared the "best" advice that a neighborhood mom had given her:
"Whatever you do in motherhood, never let yourself go."
After months of barely showering and having little time for self-care, Jenny attached to these words like they were the keys to maternal happiness. She went out and bought new makeup and lip gloss. She began cooking gourmet meals and traded in her yoga pants for a new pair of J Brand jeans.
"I want to get my pre-baby life back," she said.
I related with how Jenny felt. For me, like so many women, motherhood shook my identity to the core. Prior to having my daughter, I was immersed in my career.
The year before I became pregnant, I was an adjunct faculty member at a local university, a staff psychologist at another university and I had started a small private practice. In my spare time, I also organized local craft shows and was working on opening an online boutique.
I was naïve about how much things would change once my daughter was born. And so when Jenny relayed the advice that her neighbor had shared with her, I, too became attached to her words, "Never let yourself go."
After maternity leave, I imagined returning to a very full career. And so, in an attempt to get back my pre-baby life, I resumed working when my daughter was 11 weeks old. For me, never letting myself go meant trying to return to the same career with the same hours and variety that I worked before I became a mother.
I vividly remember that day. I took the train to work and passed many of the familiar faces I had seen for years on my morning commute. As I stepped off the train, I stopped into Starbucks for my usual latte and walked past the CitiBank that greeted me as I walked to the office. While externally my surroundings were the same, internally everything was different. My heart ached for my daughter. I felt emotionally torn about what I had hoped would be an easy transition.
My fantasy about working and motherhood did not match my reality. After a few weeks back at work, I felt like my career determination had fizzled. I couldn't imagine being at work and missing out on time with my baby.
And so, instead of working three jobs, I decided to focus on just one: building a part-time private practice. This was easier said than done. During the months that followed, I felt like I was missing out on my old life. I browsed job ads and fantasized about how I would get my pre-baby career back.
An illuminating lesson emerged when my daughter was 11 months old. One afternoon, she was holding two stuffed animals, one in each hand, but she wanted her bottle. I offered it to her, but she didn't want to let go of one of her toys. Frustrated, she began crying. I tried to take an animal from her, but her grip was too strong. More crying.
I watched in awe as her suffering paralleled my own. Because I was so attached to never letting myself go, I had not fully accepted how much motherhood had changed me. I was so attached to what my career once was that I didn't create enough room to appreciate my decision to no longer work full-time.
That moment was a turning point in my journey as a mother. When I finally stopped to reflect on what was different and what was never going to be the same, I realized that I would never have the same career, the same body or the same freedom that I had before I became a mother. Getting my pre-baby anything back was not a possibility.
That summer, now over five years ago, I signed up for my first Mindful Parenting group. where I learned mindfulness techniques and realized one of the deepest lessons of motherhood: loving without attachment to outcome.
As for my friend Jenny, after several months of putting on makeup and designer jeans, she decided that motherhood wasn't such a bad fit, after all. She became pregnant with her second baby and moved to the East Coast. She now lives in a quiet home just outside of Boston without a meddling neighbor in sight.
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