When I had my first child, I was 35 years old. I had left home for college at 17, over half my life ago. I’d supported myself since college graduation. Granted, my career as a musician and writer was not the typical “adult” path. Still, I certainly felt like a grown-up.
And then I had a kid.
Now, before you jump to conclusions, let me say a few things. I’m talking about me, not you. Many of my dearest friends don’t have kids, and they are far more mature than I will ever be. It may well be that I was particularly immature before I became a mother. It may well be that I still am.
Because despite living on my own in NYC for many years, I had led a pretty sheltered life. I had a loving family, financial support through college, and emotional support whenever I needed it. And maybe that career as a wandering musician did keep my 20s alive a little further into my 30s than if I’d had an office job.
The point is, life had been good to me. And so it was that becoming a mother broke my spirit.
I know, I know, that sounds pretty melodramatic. But isn’t that what you do to a wild horse—break its spirit of independence, to allow a human being to ride it safely? That’s exactly what motherhood did to me, as a fiercely independent, driven woman, with a career I loved deeply.
Maybe it would have been different if I could have afforded a nanny, or worked a regular job that paid well, or lived down the street from my mom instead of across the country from her. Maybe it would have been different if I’d had the kind of birth I’d hoped for instead of a traumatic c-section, or success nursing instead of low milk supply which required me to give my baby formula, though I’d planned to exclusively breastfeed. Maybe then I would have felt like I was continuing down a path rather than shifting into hyperspace and entering a different galaxy where I’d lost control of my life.
But I sort of doubt it. I think the universe was going to teach me this massive lesson through motherhood, one way or another.
Because the fact is, I’d never had to take care of anyone except myself before. I thought that taking care of myself made me an adult, but for me, it was taking care of someone else that made me grow up. And that, mama friends, is how my kids broke my spirit—in a good way.
These words are easy to say in retrospect, but that transition was incredibly difficult for me. I had no idea who I was for a while there. I grieved my old self and despaired of ever finding my new one. I went through postpartum depression and lost my joy in life for a while.
But I did make it to the other side. I learned how to be honest about what I need, whether it’s putting my sweet baby in day care younger than I expected so that I can work more, or asking for more help from my husband so that I can get a haircut once in a while.
It’s not just about me anymore. I have these precious creatures riding on my back now. They turned me from a wild horse to a mama horse. They tamed me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.