This week, a work colleague and I had a conversation about mothering-while-corporate-ladder-climbing.
She was debating whether to grow her newish family and — stretched to the max by her one toddler— was pretty sure she was going to land in the “cons” column on that idea.
I’m already tired and overwhelmed with just one child, she said. And what will happen to my career and personal aspirations if I choose to have another?
That feeling was familiar. I remember crying, not just once but steadily for days, when I learned I was pregnant with our daughter. How would we make it work financially, emotionally, practically? I just couldn’t see it.
Even more acutely, I worried about how adding another child would also add to the time it would take to get back to being the “me” I remembered being before having children.
Before becoming a mother, I honestly didn’t realize just how much of myself would have to temporarily recede for the children to get top billing.
In the early days of motherhood — with a finite amount of time and energy — my friends slot got filled by children, as did my exercise slot and my book-reading slot. My self-care slot took a backseat, as did my work-around-the-clock-and-still-have-time-to-volunteer slot. From their birth until about age 4, I was mothering and wife-ing and not doing much else of note.
Here’s a story I’ll never forget.
In 2014, the company I worked for at the time closed its offices because of a nasty winter storm and allowed employees to work from home. The boys were nearly 4 and our daughter was almost 2, so the snow day was a circus of trying to respond to email on my phone with one hand while swatting away kids who wanted my full attention with the other. Afterward, I had a headache the size of California from being half everywhere and fully nowhere all day long.
Meanwhile, my then-supervisor, whose kids were grown, drove carefully in to work and boasted the next day about how much work he was able to get done in our quiet, empty office. My husband glibly remarked, “If I was (the company’s owner), I’d hire all people just like him, people without kids who have nothing better to do on a snow day but come in and work.”
We laughed when he said it, but it was true. Without kids, my supervisor could focus — really focus — on work. He was devoted to the company. I loved what I did then, and love what I do now, but I am devoted to my family.
And this is how it should be. Raising our family is an important choice and one that I do not regret. But “becoming” a mother means more than just giving birth to a baby. Instead, it is more like a transformation — the slow “becoming” of something else other than what you once were.
The more you become the one thing, the less you are the other. Like a tadpole becomes a frog, or water becomes steam. It is a metamorphosis.
When I was pregnant with the boys and contemplating family life, I really thought I would have the energy, time and mobility to do something else other than be a mother/wife. I did not give up living so that I could be a mom, but I did put a lot of my life on a back burner.
This is not something people fully explain to you pre-baby. And so many of us struggle thinking we are the only ones mourning our old selves and fearing we will never find that woman again.
To my colleague and all the women like her out there, I want to tell you: You are not the only one. On the other side of preschool, you will meet yourself again. And when you do, you will understand and appreciate yourself so much more. You will be less likely to take any of your “slots” for granted; you will mean so much more to you than you ever did before.
Instead of erasing you, this metamorphosis, this becoming, is making you a better friend, a better worker, a better community member — a better you.
Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works in communications at Exelon. She and her husband have twin 10-year-old sons, an 8-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears monthly.