I always thought I was a toughie: the birth of a new emotional being as mother

Guest post by Cris Valkyria
I'm A Toughie tshirt from Zazzle
I’m A Toughie tshirt from Zazzle

I always thought I was a toughie. I was just not one of those women who would cry at the typical point during a sentimental movie. I deleted all emails with slide shows of cute, little babies, life advice from the Dalai Lama, and pretty pictures with encouraging statements for the “every day woman out there.” I despised statements like “women and children first,” because as a modern woman, I did not want any special treatment. I really didn’t like any event or group that promoted women exclusively. Women’s support group this and women’s empowerment that: Why? Why can’t men participate? Women’s night only?

“Yeah,” I thought, “I guess the women attending that would be the type of women that make stereotypes about women true: gossiping, easily shook up, in need of reassurance and protection.” I had no understanding of the need to identify oneself as a “woman” first, then an individual.

I was never a worrier. On no account would I lie awake worrying about anything. Not even exams, when I was a student. When it came to applying for and commencing my first job, I did not feel many jitters then, either. I was always solution-and task-focused — worrying just didn’t seem a productive a strategy. After all I could stay up the whole night and do something about that unprepared feeling. Or better still, I learned as I matured, just get a good night’s sleep. So, I put my head down on my pillow and was out like a light in less than 30 seconds. No worries, mate.

As a clinician, I have learnt from the psychological literature that the study of emotions and people’s appraisal of their emotions overlaps highly with the study of human personality. Indeed, how one perceives and appraises the world and how one feels about it pretty much determines ones character and style.

I had my personality pinned down: strong, open to new experiences, confident, determined, conscientious in some ways, a slacker in others, emotionally stable (I was no neurotic), extroverted, friendly and accommodating, yet assertive, attention seeking, and perhaps even abrasive at times. Capable of extreme devotion emotionally, yet too fond of my own life to be tied down by a baby, SUV and a house in the suburbs (of course, the three latter always came with the baby). It was not my style, I did not have maternal instincts, and my emotional make-up most likely could not accommodate the patience, dedication and unconditional generosity required to make a good mother. Babies didn’t evoke any particular positive emotion in me.

Indeed, I was always in amazement over the amount of snot, smelly body fluids, high, super sonic shrills, and the perpetual trail of food stains and scraps accompanying the youngest of individuals I encountered. Rather than maternal yearning, and a tug in my ovaries, babies evoked feelings of disgust and mild fear in me. When my friends told me that the biggest thing in their life was feeling the love one feels for a child, I simply hypothesized that they had not had the experience of falling deeply in love, as I had with my husband.

So, I am sure you can guess that my husband and I got pregnant, and though I was kicking and screaming the first month of pregnancy, the scientist in me arose curiously to the occasion to study with amazement the growth of human life inside of my own body. And then, slowly it happened: the extreme emotional outbursts, be it laughter, tears or angry hissy-fits on the floor, to great amusement and strain for my husband.

At first, I blamed it on the hormones: “This is not me, it’s the damned hormones making me a neurotic person.” I was still muttering this several months later while pacing and grinding my teeth in the unfinished baby room after the store had said they needed another 6 weeks before the crib would be delivered. After my beloved son graced us with his presence, it didn’t change — I didn’t go back to normal.

I started crying during movies, not just the sad ones, but the happy ones too. I started worrying, ruminating over “what ifs” and constantly second-guessing my decisions and actions as far as parenting goes. I was constantly attempting to reassess or simply talk about our parenting style with my husband, seeking approval, assurance and maybe even praise.

I also started thinking more fearfully about death, and was horrified by the potential prospect of not being able to care for my son. Indeed, my family car was recently bumped on the highway by a negligent driver, and I was surprised over how shaky I was, and how long the trembles lingered after we had pulled over and stated that the impact was minor and that my son had not even woken up from his nap in the car seat. My previous self would have wiped her hands off the accident as soon as the insurance information was exchanged, cursed out the clumsy driver under my breath, and kept on with my agenda for the day. But weeks later; retelling the story, the “what if’s” still slithers into my mind.

I changed. I went from an invincible, confident, extreme sports aficionado, to someone who sisterly attends mother groups. Now I cry over emails dedicated to strong females, sob over movies I never would have considered adding to my netflix queue, and gladly coo in the morning after a night of multiple sleep interruptions, in spite of being a notorious evening person whose previous pre-breakfast communication was limited to grunting.

I received brand new shades of colors on my emotional make-up pallet, and discovered that I had a whole other side of me. This side was previously not visible, and seemed at first encounter slightly threatening to my prior definitions of self. Indeed, it is a lot to handle for a couple and an individual, not only welcoming a baby with all the work and responsibility it entails, but also resolving a new stage of lifespan personality development.

I embraced my softer self. It still amazes me, and sometimes I don’t believe my own introspective eyes. The scientist in me again takes stock: How many unresolved identity crises caused by motherhood are really the cause of the statistically potent amount of relationship break-ups within two years of having a child, as well as some milder cases of Post Partum Depression? It may be worth my while going back to school and completing that PhD to get that question answered. But I keep going back and forth on when the right time will be to start my son in day care. I worry that … oh, my. I just worried again.

Comments on I always thought I was a toughie: the birth of a new emotional being as mother

  1. Great post. I’ve recently been coming to realize that while I’m not a worrier now, I may, after having a child become one… It seems to be the trend in my family. I already cry when I hear something as silly as an onstar commercial though, so I’m worried how much of a basket case I’ll wind up being!

  2. I am having a similar experience. I am (was?) like you described, dont cry in movies, not emotional, babies have never pulled at my heart strings.

    I am now nearly 5 months pregnant and I have noticed myself softening. So many people tell me that the maternal instinct will just kick in once I have my baby and I hope they are right!

  3. Oh my gawd, I can relate to this. It didn’t happen in pregnancy for me, but 3 days after Aspen was born, I found myself holding her asleep on the couch, listening to an NPR segment on Baby University, that I had already heard, and bawling my eyes out. I have read “On the Day You Were Born” to her at least 100 times, and I cry almost every time, and don’t get me started on “Love You Forever”!

    • I’m with you 100% on Love You Forever. That book still makes me sniffly just thinking about it.
      I guess it isn’t just me then, with this whole thing. I was a fairly emotional person to begin with, but I didn’t notice it get too out of hand while pregnant, aside from a few flare ups. But after coming home from the hospital I’m just a big sap now. And after almost 17 months, I still am. It’s interesting to see such a similar situation across different personality types.

  4. Great post, I went through a similar experience after my brother passed away. I shed my tough skin and started to have a far more sensitive outlook on many things. Looks like the beginning of a life can have the same effect as the end of one. 🙂

  5. oh, can i relate to this! certainly the confluence of death going out the door, new life coming in, and the beautiful, horrible reality that i will someday have to leave this wonderful human i have birthed. (the idea of dying never really bothered me before; it seemed more like a comforting escape at the end of the tunnel.) the alternative—him leaving me that way—is unthinkable.

    for me, the transition was eased because i became, slowly, a stepmom of an older child, and had a chance to discover my softer side and the fact that i really dug being a part-time co-parent.

    through that i had to confront how calcified my identity had become: the whole childfree, sometimes wild, occasionally glamorous, terribly interesting, often tough person i’d shaped myself into. i let it change, not without struggle.

    i also experienced grief (someone above mentioned their brother’s death) during that time: a suicide in the family, the loss of a good friend to addiction, and biggest of all, a shocking sense of loss for the baby i thought i’d never be able to have. before, i’d never wanted one, but when the biological clock hit, it hit HARD (thus my blog).

    the two experiences were fairly good preparation for the softening required, the compassion, the understanding that every single one of us goes through massive things, and i shoudl at least attempt to become a little more thoughtful… more “pink chenille bedspread” as a friend characterizes the sappiness of some female-oriented, Oprah-ish self-helpy new-agey materials.

    the raw intensity of those feelings in pregnancy and my son’s infancy are a different matter! but thanks for this post. in some ways, the softening makes me feel stronger. i got through a failed epidural, 36 hours of labor, pitocin, and all that stuff, and it was much more painful than the tattoos i’ve sat for etc etc. now i’m tough as fuckin’ nails — while being gooey and pink and soft and Oprahish.

  6. It is interesting to see how many people shared the same peri-and post natal experiences as far as becoming sappy and teary-eyed. Thanks to you all for posting comments on my article! I have to say I really found it interesting reading all your experiences, and am curious to hear about the few of you that are expecting – on how your emotional make-up pallet will look like in a few months from now. Please do share!

    The icing of the sappy cake for me is that while reading you agreeing comments, I felt all moved by the sisterhood in sharing these experiences, and had to swallow hard in order to not tear up again. Goodness, I am still getting used to this well of emotions!

    Thanks again for commenting, ladies!

  7. I got some interesting emails from non-parent readers saying that this post freaked them out … because it implies that something miraculously changes after you have a baby, and you can’t control it. And that’s scary.

    Of course not everyone will have this same emotional experience. For myself, I only experienced a very small amount of emotional softening post-baby … but I saw it as a good thing. I’m still a bitch, but a little bit less ready to cut people. 😉

    That said, I think the moral of this post isn’t as much “having a baby makes you emotionally frail.” Rather, it’s “having a baby is an opportunity to discover new sides of yourself.” I don’t think it happens without your consent.

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