Reflections on New Motherhood

my daughter and I - north Sydney | Kimberly Hetherington

I remember this time last year so clearly. I was in the early stages of my pregnancy and my husband and I enrolled for a birth and pregnancy course.

Together we attended every class, eagerly taking notes like it was a quiz to ace. It makes me smile to reflect on it now. As if the enormous life-changing task of becoming a parent could be condensed into a 6 week course. But having that course every week settled my anxiety, it gave me a sense of control. It was both an exciting and terrifying time. I was terrified to become a mother, and even more scared to give birth. Being pregnant felt like an eternity. Every single day slowly inched along. It felt like I was stuck in mud, moving in slow motion.

Now my baby girl is crawling around the house, screaming and squealing, adding a burst of enthusiasm and energy to our used-to-be quiet home. I love it, my life is so much richer with her in it. These past nine months have been jam-packed and always changing. I’m often overwhelmed by contradicting emotions. Sometimes it feels too much all at once, like there’s not enough room in my body to contain it all.

I didn’t realise that within this journey of becoming a mother that there would be so many beginnings and endings. From the outside looking in they are small, but in my heart they feel huge. With every first, comes another last. I didn’t anticipate that there would be so many back to back.

I didn’t anticipate this enormous realisation that my life is not really my own anymore. Of course, I knew this on a certain level during my pregnancy but now it’s real. Being a mother is also such a strange concept. I almost feel startled when someone is with my daughter and says, “you want your mama?” I have to pause and remember ‘oh yes, that’s me. I’m the mama.’ It is both strange but wonderful, like a compliment I never even fathomed could be associated with me. Being a mother is a role that got put on me like an oversized jacket I don’t quite fit in. Yet it’s a big part who I am now, and this role does not end when I close my eyes to sleep. Nor does it end when I go out on a rare night with friends, or when I get a burst of inspiration to create something that inspires me. Suddenly I need to think twice, it’s not just impulse, then act. It’s impulse, and then wonder how this will fit in with my mother duties, then act.

Life as a mother continues, forever. It’s not just a few cute cuddles and singing lullabies together. It’s nonstop, round the clock. It’s the constant demand of attention and changing a million dirty diapers. This is the start of my life as a parent and the beginning of life for my daughter. We stand at either ends, both of us at the dawn of a new life. I stand proudly as her guardian. I vow to do my absolute best in helping her thrive and flourish in the sheer bliss that is childhood. I feel simultaneous privilege and honour, as I do pressure and overwhelm. I know I won’t be perfect, and I don’t expect to be, but I know the mother I want to be, the type of childhood I want my daughter to have. Sometimes it’s my own expectations that I must wrestle with.

Becoming a parent shines a very bright light on my own mortality. But in a different way to how I felt after my sister died. Instead of an urge to see and experience it all, I’m reminded of the importance in remaining healthy to be alive for as long as I can. It’s also made me viscerally aware that I am just another person in my family tree. One link in a long line of people who have come before me and those who will come after me. It’s made me feel both significant and insignificant all at once. It’s caused me to think about what role I want to play in my family lineage. What will my descendants think about my life? How will what I do shape their life? I also find it so odd that to a person on the street I’m just another nameless stranger; a nobody in their eyes. Yet in the eyes of my daughter, I’m everything. My life is but one light in this entire spectrum of living species, but the brightest one for my daughter. It’s a funny feeling to be both all at once.

In the past few months, I’ve also felt myself ageing in more evident ways. My skin has deeper wrinkles and little brown spots have formed from an accumulation of years in the sun. Sometimes I catch myself in the mirror and wonder who this person is. In those moments I see a flash of myself as an old woman and can’t help but feel a pang of sadness. How ruthless it is to age; how vain it feels to not want to let go. My youth is slipping further and further into my life story like books in an old attic. Dust is gathering slowly. I hope I never forget these old stories about the person I once was.

I don’t say all this because I’m sad or depressed. In fact, it feels like the opposite. I feel a lot these days, like a sponge to life. Everything permeates. I know there is so much to look forward to, and I know, I am only 34 years young. But this isn’t the point. It doesn’t take away from knowing that life is slowly fading away, even if it’s born again in another minute. It doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m in a very different place in my life now than I ever was, even if it’s an amazing place to be. Everything that is happening right now, everything I’m experiencing, it too is slowly fading into a memory. It hurts knowing that. Life is constantly forcing us to adapt to a new reality. No matter how hard I try to pause it, to outsmart it, I lose. I never seem to find a way to let go, no matter how many opportunities I’ve had.

To be a human being means to experience it all, isn’t it? And sometimes it happens all at once. Sometimes it feels all too much to bear. But I know that the opposite is feeling nothing at all. That to me is a much scarier place to be. So, I’ll sit here with these feelings inside of me that feel both deliriously beautiful, yet also deeply painful. Knowing that all they want is to be heard, to be acknowledged. Writing gives these feelings room to be experienced. It gives them oxygen. Sometimes that’s all they need.

So here they are. Out in the open. A dissection of my thoughts. Floating out there on the internet, waiting to be absorbed into the consciousness of another person who feels similar. Another person who nods and says:

Yes, I feel that way too sometimes.

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