Although I’ve always wanted kids, I’ve never felt comfortable identifying as a mom (to be). “Housewife” was a dirty word to me. I admire the women I know who thrive in these roles, but they just never fit me. My identity has always been pathologically linked to my career and educational success.
I’ve always seen myself as the one who wears the pants and brings home the bacon. Not quite the classic career woman, I’m happier running a table saw than at a desk. That’s why it was so difficult for me transition to the stay-at-home life. All the pregnancy books have one sentence about how difficult this can be, but I didn’t anticipate a full-on identity crisis.
When I got pregnant, I almost immediately got sick. It was beyond the normal morning sickness, but not quite hyperemesis gravidarum. I had planned on working as a carpenter until about month fives into pregnancy. I had an image in my head of the strong woman who works the fields to the last minute. I quickly realized that it just wasn’t safe for me to continue working. And once I started to feel better, I was too pregnant to go back to my regular job, and no one else wanted to hire an obviously pregnant woman.
At first it was just plain frustrating to be sick. Normally a very active person, I went into deep depression. When I started to feel better, I was able to keep busy but I just didn’t feel right. I resented anyone who said “Your job now is to make a baby.” That comment seemed so dismissive of who I am and what I was going through.
Those who felt I was lucky to have time off had no idea how quickly daytime TV and cleaning the house got old. Sure, I kept busy. I built some furniture, made some art, went to yoga classes, read books I’d never had time to finish. But it just didn’t take away the feeling that I just wasn’t me anymore.
The loss of my own income was a huge blow to my self-esteem. Having to ask my husband for grocery money felt like the most humiliating thing I’d ever had to do. Yes, I had always planned to take a few years off to raise kids. Back when it was an abstract idea, I had looked forward to a couple years of making cookies and finger painting. But I didn’t think it would be so hard to slip out of the work boots and into the apron.
Reading mommy blogs made me feel worse. I learned the term “mommy wars.” I couldn’t identify with either the stay-at-home-moms or the career women. I was somewhere in between. I spent many weeks outraged at the unfairness of it all. I felt that feminism had failed mothers and that biology had doomed me. The whole world seemed to want me to pick one side or the other.
Then there was the pressure from those around me, most of whom thought I’d eagerly jump into the stay-at-home role like they had. Some expected me to suddenly start caring about packing lunches and making sure my husband’s shoes didn’t smell. Others asked me if I was going to take out my lip ring now that I was about to have a baby (what???). I was told that I’d better not get a nanny or put my child in day-care.
In the end, I had to make a conscious decision to ignore it all. I stopped reading parenting blogs and feminist blogs that talked about the sociology of motherhood. I stopped the conversations with my in-laws that had sent me home crying. I stopped the incessant back-and-forth in my head that pitted my goals against motherhood. I would be neither a stay-at-home-mom nor a working mom. I would be me. I would accept that my life was going to be different, but I was still the same person, no matter what those around me expected.
I’m still not sure exactly when I’ll be going back to work. I’ll probably be forced to go back at least part-time when my meager benefits from the Canadian government run out next year. But now with some peace and perspective, it does not feel like an-identity-defining decision but more like a choice I’ll make based on what is best for me and my family.
Now two months away from having my baby, I’m glad I’ve had the time off to adjust to being at home. What I’ve learned in this time off will help me be a better mother, and more successful at work when that time comes. I’ve learned that my worth as a human being isn’t contingent on my paycheck or on how perfect a mom and wife I turn out to be. I’ve learned to accept help from my husband. I’ve learned to be vulnerable and to be patient. I’ve learned that the slow life can be wonderful. I’ve learned that when my politics prevent me from making the right decisions for me, maybe it’s time to throw politics out of the equation.
I’ve learned that feminism, to me, is meaningless if it keeps me from following my heart. I’ve learned to ignore the outside voices and do what’s right for me. I’ve learned that my old self can fit into my new life.