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.