I look at myself in the bathroom mirror, gently touching the stretch marks criss-crossing across the length of my belly, a belly that was never taut but never as soft and saggy, as it is today. Further down, a thin brown line made of slightly puckered skin marks where my body was split open to give safe passage to my children. Once in 2011 and once in 2016. Both times after days and hours of intense waves of painful labour, hoping and praying that I would not need medical assistance to give birth. Both times, being taught from the very beginning that our thoughts and dreams of motherhood do not always come true. Right from birth my children taught me that I would not remain what I was before. My dress sizes have moved up and down and up and back down again as have my shoe sizes. My hair has changed styles and lengths and texture, as I tried to keep up with the breakneck pace of early motherhood.
And while the changes that my children have left on my body are those that are visible, it is the many invisible changes that motherhood has wrought that are so much more deeply etched and far-reaching.
I have found within myself deep reserves of patience that I did not know existed. A calming presence I could tap into when my children were and are challenging. A mineral to be mined by the bucket when they were ill and grouchy with stuffed noses and virals.
But alongside the pleasing discovery of patience, I found that since I gave birth all that I did was tarred with a sticky vile emotion, something that all mothers were intimately familiar with – Mom guilt. It crept up over my heart making me question all that I did and did not do. And as the years passed, though I have developed my own way of ignoring its grubby touch, it still lurks in the corners of mind happily leering knowing that I will never truly be able to get rid of it completely.
And then there is the new ray of light that motherhood has shone on my jaded traveller’s view. Travelling with my children makes everything look new. Nothing is mundane anymore. The grass seems greener and every tree is for climbing. A bus ride is an adventure and a walk through the neighborhood, a quest for all things new.
Motherhood has also given me this special new armour. It makes me brave and strong even when I am not. Suddenly I can run faster than I could before and bear more than I ever did, if it keeps my children safe. Yet, I am also more vulnerable than ever before. Despite being a former television correspondent, I find myself shunning the news. Motherhood makes me relate every child’s pain to my own and I just cannot watch the news anymore without grieving for the families who have to live out their lives in violent and dangerous environments. Back at home, every roll and tumble has my heart leaping out of my chest and hurtling towards the ground. Every time they hurt themselves, it goes in my mind’s record book where every minuscule pain of theirs is documented. And while, I know they will forget it the minute the scab falls off, I know that it will always be a tiny wound in my heart. Motherhood has given me the curse of eternal memory.
But it has also made me take off my judgemental glasses. Now with over five years of motherhood notches on my parenting belt, I have more compassion for those I have judged in my child-free days – the parents with the bawling baby on the aeroplane, the mother with the screaming toddler in the shopping cart, the parents with the child watching cartoons from a device in the restaurant. I cringe at how self-involved I was, casually passing judgement without ever understanding the harsh realities of bringing up a child. And I am grateful that I am not that person anymore.
Motherhood has made me give up my personal vanities. There are no more leisurely visits to the salon, languidly browsing through magazines as gentle hands tend to my fingernails and feet. Heels have long been kicked aside for flats, and skirts and dresses for pants and tops in colours where stains will not show. Yet motherhood has made me take a hard look at my fitness and what I eat. I have never eaten as many vegetables and drank as many green smoothies as I do today. The first time I stepped foot inside a gym was two years after becoming a mother. Motherhood made me want to become the healthiest I can be. For if I do not take care of myself, how will I take care of my children?
Motherhood has made me competitive, a lot more competitive than I thought I could be. It has blown its whistle in my ears at unearthly hours, setting me impossible goals like a successful career, a magazine worthy house, well-adjusted children and a super-model worthy body. It pushed me into races that I could not win. And I when I failed, and when I found myself drowning in the inky black pools of desperation and frustration, depression approaching me as stealthily as she could, it was motherhood that threw me a lifeline – a glimmer of insight. Motherhood taught me that I was not in a race. I was not in a competition. I was on a journey with my children and there was no one at the end of that finish line waiting to hand me a crown and a sash and asking to buy the lifetime rights for my motherhood story. And yet, motherhood has made me want to continue to reach for the skies by changing my reasons for doing so. I want to continue to achieve, so that my children know that the sky is the limit and that it is fine to set lofty standards and goals for yourself as long as you are not fuelled towards it for selfish reasons.
Motherhood has changed me by initiating me into a sisterhood – the sisterhood of mothers. A world where we all have our own rules and ways of doing things, yet there is rarely judgement, but always support and encouragement when things get overwhelming as they do. A world where it is ok to ask for help and confess your darkest sins. Motherhood has given a gypsy soul like me a place where I will always be home even when I am not.
And motherhood has changed my definition of love. Love is no longer the sappy songs I listened to or the love poems I devoured. Love now is my husband taking care of the children while I get the time to write. It is my parents making the effort to travel thousands of kilometres to be with us. It is a handmade card with a wonkily written, “I love you, Amma.” It is the relieved hug when I emerge from the shower. Love is the umpteen hugs and cuddles and kisses that I get throughout the day.
Motherhood has enveloped me whole, shaken me, stripped me and then placed me back on the ground. It cracked me open, making me access my physical and emotional core, making me understand for the first time that it was not just my body that had been opened, but also my heart. It was motherhood that made me work on becoming the best version of myself that I could aspire to be.
((I would not have gotten the much needed boost to pen this if it were not for Pooja Kawatra's Mums and Babies blog train. Do read her post on 'How motherhood changed her' here and the entire schedule of the blog train here.
And now, the next stop of this blog train will be at Sushi Targett's blog - A Vegan Mama who trained as a journalist, Sushi is now a full-time practitioner of gentle parenting with one adorable home-birthed baby and two energetic step-children. Sushi is joined in this adventure by her husband and two dogs. She blogs at Beach-Walk-Muse.))
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