I spent at least a decade trying to find my way in my career, as an individual. This isn’t a long stretch of time in the grand scheme of things, but when you are only in your 30s, this is a third of your life. It feels big. Starting in high school I began making choices that I felt reflected who I was - I was beginning to develop a clearer sense of who I wanted to be in the world. I took certain classes, read certain things, and made some decisions that set me on a path after graduation. I studied education, and became a teacher. I liked some of it, didn’t like some of it. So I tweaked here and there, and added more steps to my path. As my twenties unfolded I did my best to move forward, make choices, listen to my gut, adjust, and move forward again. Through relationships, places, careers, jobs within careers - choose, reflect, adjust, choose. By the time I was 30 I had married and had a career that felt like the right fit, better than that, I had a specific niche within my career that felt like a very good fit. I was a marriage and family therapist specializing in trauma informed equine assisted psychotherapy. When I say I found a specific niche, I am not exaggerating. It took blood, sweat, tears and lots of time to find this career.
Then I had my baby.
That whole identity I had so lovingly, painstakingly crafted has been obliterated. And I am angry. You know why? Because I LOVE my work. I love it. It makes my heart soar and eyes light up while also making me feel grounded and centered and authentic and like I am contributing in a way I never knew possible. But you know what else? I love my kid more. This girl, this one who has turned me inside out and upside down, gives me tunnel vision. I would do just about anything to give her what she needs. So now who the fork am I, and what does this person think, care about, do??
I am a mother, yes. That truth has hit me square between the eyes like a Mack truck. And I am a therapist. But figuring out how to be both has my head spinning. I want to be a stay at home mother, being with my daughter in all her ups and downs. AND I want to work, to use my brain, talk with like minded adults, and contribute to the community. But you can’t be a half mother. And you can’t be a half therapist. Both require so much from a person - body, mind, soul - “phoning it in” doesn’t really cut it.
In the beginning, it was easy to choose, those first couple of months at home once she arrived were bliss. Lots of nursing, napping, and getting to know each other. I didn’t need anything else. But by four months I started to hit a wall. Motherhood can be so isolating. Alone. In my house. With a needy (rightly so, but needy nonetheless) baby. It was getting a little bleak. I started back to work part-time, thinking some work and lots of baby was going to be a great balance. But part-time work and full-time ‘momming’ isn’t a silver bullet either. It’s sort of a confusing dance in which you are constantly switching between two partners who dance quite differently, while desperately wanting to give your full attention to both.
I am lucky. I get to choose. And yet, I don’t get to choose. None of us do. Whether you are a stay at home mom or a full time working mom or something in between, whether you chose it or you have to do it so your family can get what they need. We don’t really get to choose, because no matter what we are doing, we have left behind who we were before and we have become something different. There are still pieces of who we were before, of course. But before my baby I was a therapist, and after my baby I can still be a therapist, but I will be a therapist-mom. A mom-therapist. A strange hybrid that is frequently feeling the loss of what isn’t being chosen in this moment. What I never heard talked about before I had my baby was that being a mother is full of grieving - even when your child is healthy and things are going well. You still grieve. You grieve the losses of your body, your identity, your time, your freedom, your previous life. You grieve all the moments in which you have to choose between you and your baby. You grieve every mistake, every tear, every flash of anger. You grieve.
This new life is overflowing with joy, and also, grief - they both exist simultaneously. It is significantly more complex than it was before, and like an infant, I am crawling along learning how to be, all over again. There will never be a perfect answer, life isn’t like that really. And as a parent in this day and age, I think it’s even more clear that life doesn’t have simple answers. As an adult, we are often required to choose. To move forward we look at our options, and we choose. It is the way things are. That doesn’t mean we don’t get to grieve what doesn’t work out, what doesn’t get chosen though. Grief happens not in the rational brain, but in the lower regions of relationship, love, memory, emotion - and so we feel it whether we “should” or not.
As mothers, we are given ample room for the joy, but are we given, are we taking, the room we need for grief?