Two years ago, a month after our son was born, I found myself staring at our fridge. It had always been a visual representation of what was going on in our lives, and suddenly it was covered with things relating to our baby. Instead of being proud, I stood there in my sleep deprived state wondering if I was doing something wrong. Was I focused too much on my kid? Was I letting the rest of my life go? Was I… changing? First time motherhood was for me an identity crisis.
I found that my pregnancy was filled with folks telling me all the things I didn’t know. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be. I didn’t know how my identity would change. I didn’t know if I would want to work after I had the baby. I didn’t know how I would parent, or how intense I would become. In short, all the things I thought I knew… were probably wrong.
It was terrifying.
And then there was the pressure from other side. Possibly because many of our friends didn’t have kids, I also felt enormous pressure to have everything stay the same. I seemed like I needed to prove my coolness and earn my place in my normal crowd, by proving that motherhood wasn’t going to change me. I needed to demonstrate that you could come over to my house and never see a non-hip toy, that I would still make all the parties (and leave the kid at home with a sitter), and that I wouldn’t think or talk too much about motherhood.
That, of course, was impossible, which I realized that night staring at our fridge. Because that magnetic surface was a reflection of what was going on in our life, and it was made up of Instagram prints of baby chub, the little name marker from his hospital bassinet, his birth announcement designed by a friend, and the lyrics of the lullaby I had just written for him. It was parenthood done in our style, but it was parenthood. And for two people on maternity leave, taking care of an infant that we were newly in love with, it was our life in that moment.
Life Is Already Complicated
Fast forward to the present, and I’m thirty-seven weeks pregnant, and starting maternity leave again, today. And while this pregnancy hasn’t been easy, it has been unmarred by my fear of other people’s expectations.
As a young-looking thirty-five in the overpriced Bay Area—where many people don’t even get married until their thirties, let alone have kids—I’ve found that when I’m out and about on my own during the work day, people constantly assume that I’m having my first child. (Which is fair enough, given that having my first kid at thirty-two made me pretty consistently one of the youngest moms in the room.) As a result, I’m peppered with the same kind of comments that I got the first time around. “Congratulations! Everything is about to change.” “Enjoy it now, life is about to get complicated!” But this time, I laugh and have a ready response. “I have a toddler. Life is already complicated.”
Because, of course, it is. Having tiny children isn’t exactly a walk down easy street, no matter how you cut it. There is the sleep deprivation, the crying, the crazy developmental phases, the emotional meltdowns, and (for working families) the daycare bills. Life is fuller than before, and more tired. I don’t get to sit around on the weekend and binge watch shows. I never get up late on a Sunday morning and wonder what lazy goodness I’m going to plan for the day. We can’t grab our bags and book a just the two of us getaway. Of course I miss all of that.
But, when you look at the big picture, our life isn’t altogether different. Our fridge is still crammed with baby pictures. But it also has the London Tube ticket dated with our son’s first birthday. It has snapshots of the kid and me together on an APW photoshoot. It’s got a picture of David and me on a night out. It’s recognizably our life, with a great new person added to the mix (and sadly, less sleep).
’Oga Like Dis
As I approach my due date this time around, I’ve slowly realized that I’ve been living in the midst of an identity crisis that wasn’t. Flipping through photos of the last two years, I realize that all of those markers of identity that suddenly seemed so important when I thought they would be taken away from me with childbirth… they’re still around. I’m still wearing hipster jewelry and hot pink nail polish. I’m working harder at my non-traditional job than ever before. David and I are still watching our arty television shows and debating the news over the New York Times every morning.
But there are differences too. Good ones, to go with the sleeplessness. I have more patience, for starters. And I’m far more laid back, despite all that hinting that I would be more intense. Plus, there is a tiny love machine who runs up and gives me hugs like his life depended on it. The small director putting on finger puppet shows, doing yoga poses he learned at school (“’oga like dis”), and debating over whether his hair should be pink or purple (“Maybe pink or purple hair, like Maddie“). Because the funny thing was, that baby who came and joined us… he’s the perfect third member of our family. He makes sense here.
Sometimes Happiness Is Easy
The other weekend, we woke up in a rental vacation cabin for one last family getaway for just the three of us. I pulled the toddler out of his crib, and plopped him in the middle of the bed, with his footy pajamas and milk. And he sat there, in the early morning half light, grinning and grinning. “Mommy, Daddy, and me,” he said. “Me happy.”
And damn if I wasn’t proud of the little family we’d created. Excessive hot pink and all.