MOMFESSIONAL: The Bankruptcy of Babyhood or How I had a baby and lost my mojo.

Today I’m linking up with my dear friend Michelle of  They Call Me Mummy.  We have known each other since we were in high school, but only reconnected over the last few years as moms. It has been a delight and a joy to get to know Michelle again. She is hilariously funny, dynamic, warm, generous, real and a wonderful friend. Go and check out her heartfelt blog. It is a labour of love and you won’t regret it! Recently she launched a Momfessional series. Here’s my latest dish about the dark side of re-entering a club I thought I had left behind forever. It’s an epic.


A few evenings ago, feeling utterly depleted, sick and exhausted after 3 straight days of ridiculous sleep deprivation, a chest cold, more tantrums than usual (and the baby was even worse), and living in complete chaos, I watched, helpless with physical and emotional exhaustion as Ella, fresh from what felt like her fourth tantrum in an hour (which she won,) happily wiped her sticky fingers all over the screen of my iPhone as she (once again) expertly cued up a song that I once loved and now never want to hear again.. “Ohhhh… “I sighed to my husband, “you know I love this baby more than life, but I can’t help but wonder what our life would look like right this moment if we still just had our first four. I mean really, she has set us back seven years. It’s like a bankruptcy!”

My husband who is used to me and my outrageous outbursts by now, still looked taken aback. He chuckled nervously and said, “um, well…yeah…it’s probably best that we don’t tell her that we see her that way”.  And the truth is, I don’t see her that way. At all. I really don’t. I don’t see HER as anything but wonderful and magical. But my life has changed and I feel like I have lost a lot of ground in many areas of personal progress.  Personally, yes in many ways I feel pretty bankrupt.

Ella is a “bonus baby”. Our youngest was 7 years old when she was born (hence the bankruptcy analogy-since in the U.S it apparently takes 7 years for your credit to recover if you file for bankruptcy).

We were deep and dirty in the parenting trenches with our first four, no more than 2 years apart each for most of a decade. And then things started to calm down and get…almost civilized around here until….bam. They weren’t.

Eighteen months later, I am still reeling.

Our baby has enriched all of our lives in ways that can’t possibly be expressed, and many ways that can. She has brought us more joy and delight than we can ever tell. She has given me the opportunity of being able to dote on just one baby which has, quite frankly, been an absolute novelty and a treat.  She’s given us one more chance to enjoy all of those awesome “firsts”, with the increased appreciation that comes from knowing just how quickly they vanish into thin air. She has been a living doll and source of endless entertainment for her adoring siblings. She does things several times a day that make me clench my fists and fold my lips in on themselves in order to contain my violent adoration.. (lest I pick her up and squish her into oblivion). She is cute, oh so cute. More funny, clever, sweet, tender and well….magical, than we ever imagined.  She makes us so happy. As a family she makes us complete. We would not trade her for all the world.

But that does not take away the feelings of bankruptcy in my own progression that I struggle with. The loss that I feel of myself, as an entity, separate and individual from my children.

I got married at 19 and between the ages of 22 and 28, had four kids. We have always lived far (like across the world far)away from family, and we moved a lot so really, it was mostly just my husband and I. Alone, together raising our tiny tribe.  It was intense. My 20’s were a blur of baby bearing and rearing and when I turned 30, I suddenly found myself with enough time to breathe. And so I resolved to find out who the adult version of me was. To discover myself if you will forgive the cliché. I finally lost all of the baby weight, finished my degree and became certified as a personal trainer. And it was just as I was really settling into the swing of Me when I got knocked up. Again.

After the initial shock and nausea wore off I was actually really excited and happy. Our kids had long dreamed of and begged for a baby, and although I was resigned to being done, my heart was not done. It was the logical and responsible choice though, and we would not have felt right choosing to have another baby.  I was 34, so the timing made sense, and in many ways we were delighted that the decision had been taken out of our hands.

And while this baby has been an absolute joy and blessing to our family,  I wouldn’t be honest if  I did not say that re-entering the baby bearing/rearing phase has rocked my world.  It completely derailed the new career I had planned to start, coinciding with my youngest beginning full day school. It launched me into many months of depression, ranging from low grade to severe. It changed my energy levels and my body and consequently the image I had of myself as someone who was fit and healthy and energetic.. It made me feel less capable in every area of life, including in my role as a mother. It created physical chaos in my home environment almost every day. It changed my social life completely, my relationship with my husband and my older children. It changed my presence in the community and at church. It even changed the way I interact with my dog!  Having a baby may not have necessarily set me back in all of these areas but it changed everything.

And for the most part I can’t pretend that I like the way I fit into my new world. Because I really don’t.

Yes. I confess that I sometimes go there. I sometimes let myself feel curious and even fantasize about what my life would look like today if we hadn’t been blessed with our surprise. I would probably be working with a client at the gym right now. I would have a handful of other projects and plans brewing. No doubt I would wearing a smaller pants size and running a faster mile. It is even possible that with me contributing financially we would (ironically)  be living in a larger house, and I’m willing to bet (all that independently earned) money that this hypothetical bigger house would be a lot cleaner and tidier. I would not need to plan a trip to the grocery store with military like precision around meal times, pooping times and naps. I would be free to volunteer in the community in any way I chose again. The trip I just took to South Africa would not have required paralyzing guilt and that my husband use up all of his remaining annual leave. Things would be simpler, and yes, in some ways more complicated. There is no sense in pretending that life would not be totally different.

As for who I am now.  I feel as though having a baby has made me regress in many ways, back to the person I was when I had my first baby more than 14 years ago. I’ve felt a great loss of confidence over the last 18 months. I feel like all the ground I gained from my experience as a mom of four has washed away. I feel like a first time mom without the wide-eyed naivete  of believing I could do it all- perfectly -if I just read the right books.  I feel flustered and frazzled and frustrated a good deal of the time. I frequently get the sense that I am a inept child living in a grown up world where everyone but me “gets it”.

Almost every time I prepare to leave the house these days I have to gird up my loins. Just getting out the door is a mission. What used to be an inconsequential errand has now become an expedition. I am, sigh.. back to worrying about germs obsessively. I don’t fear illness I fear the sleep deprivation that illness brings. And oh the sleep deprivation! Because I am frequently exhausted,  I am less generous with my time and resources, less apt to volunteer or commit to anything requiring any kind of energy expenditure. I say “no” first and reconsider later whereas my M.O before was just the opposite.  . I am mentally and intellectually sluggish. For the most part, I actively avoid challenging myself in any way, whereas competing against myself used to be my life’s blood, my drug.

I have some days when I think I see glimmers of my former self.  Days when I feel motivated and organized and confident. Those days inevitably coincide with a good workout, and while they are still spotty and scattered, I think the trend is definitely an upward one. But for the most part I feel somewhat schlumpy and uncomfortable in this new, stretched out (both figuratively and literally) skin. 

At the same time, with the loss of my sense of being “together”,  I feel a gain in compassion. As trite and pithy as it sounds.. and it really does…although I feel less smart, sassy and worldly, I feel wiser for the beat-down. I judge less (although still too much). I sympathize and empathize more (although still not enough). I am far less helpful, but I am somewhat more kind.  I am less smug.  My struggles have made me gentler and less condescending. I realize now how little I know, about well…pretty much everything.  I am more inclined to share my struggles,  and less inclined to worry about how things may appear to others. In this way, I am more generous.

Yes, there have been some gains. But honestly?  I still don’t like where I am as a person right now. I crave the old me.  I sense that I will never get her back though. I will never be the exact same person as I was pre-bonus-baby, and I’m learning to be ok with that.

My hope is this. One day, in the hopefully not too distant future, I will see a return to My Together Self. I will have the energy, vigor and motivation that I used to enjoy. I will feel confident and can-do. I’ll actively seek out ways to help and be involved outside of my home, rather than focusing just on keeping my own head above water. I’ll feel more satisfied with what I’ve accomplished  at the end of each day,and more excited at the beginning of each day. 

But with the return to me, I will bring the softened edges of the Schlumpy Me. I will bring the patience and understanding that can only come from walking in shoes that feel heavy and ill-fitting and awkward and unattractive. I will be less of a know-it-all but I will  better know how to help others move their version of “schlump” toward whatever their “together” may be . And hopefully, I will know the right things to say to make them feel beautiful and valuable and purposeful as they dwell in the Shadow of the Valley of the Schlump.  Because the Schlump may not be pretty to look at, and the Schlump may not be as dynamic and helpful, but the Schlump knows a thing or two…the Schlump is stripped of the superficial trappings of “Together”.  The Schlump lacks the motivation to Keep Up Appearances, the Schlump has a bit of hard-won humility on its side.

I am hopeful. I am hopeful enough to say that although my life post-bonus baby does appear  to be bankrupt of its former glory, order and energy, I can envisage it morphing into something that I can be even prouder of one day. But as of right now,  “Me” is still often kind of…”meh”.

So. Don’t leave a girl exposed and hanging out to dry. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. Anybody relate? Do you love your baby but not so much your SELF after baby? If you’ve weathered the storm and emerged triumphant, tell us how you did it.  I can’t remember having such a struggle with any of my previous four and I’m all ears.

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paparazzimom said...

Oh goodness, YES! Thank you for your real honesty in this post. I so totally get exactly what you are saying. Even though I didn't have that "grace period" between my last baby, I definitely feel like I've lost myself and am in a constant search to discover who I am aside from being a mom. I have yet to get there so please keep me posted on how you discover that. :)

Anonymous said...

All I can say is that experiences, good, bad and hard, all make up the "me". Don't cling to the old "me" but feel confident that the new "me" will be (as you indicate that you understand)a better and improved version. As we both know but sometimes forget, God really DOES know what we need, long, long before we do,so I suppose I am saying trust Him in this.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Kirsty, you are just amazing. The incredible thing to me is that you are the ONE MUM that motivates me to be better. You may feel 'less than' but to me, you are nothing short of amazing. You inspire not only me, but countless other mothers, constantly.

You aren't perfect - DUH, there's no such thing - but in my eyes, your honesty, outlook at intentions to always do better, be better are close enough.

When you do eventually emerge from the toddler-schlump, you'll find yourself, no doubt. And you'll be surprised to see me there waiting, because I already see the real you and she's just perfect.

Helen said...

I felt really lost and overwhelmed after my first. I thought there was no "me" left and there never would be. After the second, I was very eager to go back to work to find myself (and take out my frustrations on my colleagues ; )) But now I'm about to go back to work after number three and I'm not too keen frankly- perhaps I'm not in such a rush now to get back to being totally manic, together and organised.

Helen said...

The other thing that makes me not quite so depressed about the whole thing is that I know quite a few ladies who are further down the line than me and now have their teenagers and Saturday lie ins. Eventually we will be the same.... Eventually.

Unknown said...

I really loved that post. Thanks for having the courage to express your experience with such honesty. Your candid reflections were so refreshing, and so relatable. Great job!