I’ve been struggling with whether or not, or when, to go back to work. Freddy is seven months and before I know it, he’ll be one year old. I had thought that by now I’d be reinvigorating my job search, that is until the reality of nursery fees tempered my grand plans. And also, I’ve changed. What I want has changed.
It’s been a journey, and still is, internalising all the ways I’ve changed since becoming a mother. Sometimes these changes are in conflict with my previous self and I find them confusing. Assumptions I made about what I wanted in life and who I am as a person aren’t all necessarily true anymore. I suspect that this is also true for many women (and fathers – dads change too) although the degree varies. For me, it’s been all encompassing.
First there are the physical changes. It’s common knowledge that a woman’s body changes after pregnancy, but a mother who never carried her child in pregnancy changes too. For those who were pregnant, your bigger, flabbier, and maybe you have stretch marks. Maybe your hips and rib cage are larger than they were before, maybe your ab muscles separated during pregnancy and now your tummy sags. You might even feel phantom baby kicks, even though you are no longer pregnant. For all mothers, you’ll probably tilt to one side – the side you usually carry your baby on. One of your arms will be stronger and you might become more ambidextrous. And you’ll probably sway involuntarily even when you’re by yourself. You’re tired. You have dark circles under your eyes. Your body aches from carrying around a growing baby all day – bending down, standing up, lifting, setting down. Repeat.
Then there are the emotional changes. You love another human so fiercely it hurts. You worry more, and about things you didn’t care about before. You feel protective of your little one and feel an intense, primal need to keep him or her safe. You experience euphoric joy you never felt before – not better than other lived experiences – just different. You’re probably a bit too hormonal for your own good, but it comes with the territory. You might worry that your relationship with your spouse or partner is strained but then your relationship is probably deeper and stronger now.
Maybe your worldview changes. Possibly things that you thought didn’t matter to you much anymore hold more importance to you now that you have a child. You stopped going to Church or Synagogue or the Mosque a long time ago, and might be unsure about where you stand with the almighty (whoever they are to you), but you then remember fond memories of Sunday School or summer camp with your like-minded faithful friends and decide you want that for your child as well as they grow up. Perhaps you spurned the fussy, manners-obsessed upbringing you were forced to ‘suffer’ through (Thank You Notes, No Elbows on the Table, Sweatpants are Not For Public Outings) and now think, you know what, I’m going to raise my child the exact same way. Traditions and your old way of life somehow seep back in.
Then you change within society. Perhaps politics begin to matter to you more because you’ve got a little person who will live on beyond you and you want the world to be more just, fair, and free. You understand Feminism in a different light – that women and mothers are truly resilient, strong, and capable. Motherhood presents many challenges, but we have to take them in our stride because another life literally depends on it. Maybe you accepted this before, but you’ve lived it now and you know. You learn that Feminism isn’t just about shattering the glass ceiling, but it can also be about raising a human(s) with good values, kindness, and compassion. It’s about accepting that there are many paths for women and they don’t all end up at a desk in front of a computer. That women have power both within the home and outside of it.
I used to be extremely judgemental – the worst – and really harsh about women who changed their lifestyle after motherhood. I thought they’d been deceived by a false narrative that they weren’t able to climb the corporate ladder once they became a mother, that they were giving up and choosing a life without achievement or success, that once you became a mother – unless you were maintaing a fast-paced career with an active social life – it was often a retreat into the home to a life of solitude, nursery rhymes, and dirty nappies.
I had no appreciation for the intense and meaningful purpose that can be found in deciding to stay home with your child. Not every mother has the luxury to chose between work and home, and being at home with my son isn’t without its practical and intellectual challenges. My previous assumption that I felt most fulfilled at an office or plumping up my CV has changed. I’m now more understanding and accepting of the internal and external changes that having a child has brought me. What made me judge before now makes me empathetic. So when I consider going back to work, or concerned that I’m not living up to the self I used to be or believed I was prior to becoming a mother, I must remember that I am different, I am changed, and life will never be the same.