Motherhood: What I’ve lost, what I’ve gained

September 25, 2014 — 1 Comment

I had an art teacher who said that early in his career he was interested in painting abstract art, but then he started studying Rembrandt and realized that there was more going on in one square inch of a Rembrandt than in any large-scale abstract work of art.

I am living my life in one square inch these days.

I see photos of younger, childless friends jetting around the world and remember those days of seeing a vast open horizon opened before me. I remember my single days when I could easily plan a trip, and save money for vacations in Mexico. My dreams were big then. Everything was possible.

But then I made choices and commitments. I bought a condo. I got married. I am in the process of adopting a foster child.

Having become a parent 2 1/2 years ago, the vast open horizon has shrunk to the short list of items I can squeeze into an hour before bedtime. My dream on most days is to have the time and energy to watch another episode of “Orange is the New Black”.

I recently read an article about how becoming a parent is a trauma. I can relate to that. And I think there’s an interesting and important discussion happening about women who don’t want kids, which I think is a valid choice for some women.

But after years of ambivalence about parenthood, my husband and I couldn’t shake the idea that we were meant to have a child in our lives. And after a years-long quest to become parents through adoption, we are content and happy with our choice to adopt our foster child. But that doesn’t mean it has been easy.

A friend and spiritual mentor once said, “May you leave many tombs behind you.” Life is a series of loss and resurrection. Parenthood is no different. In the past 2 1/2 years, I have had to grieve many losses. I have left many tombs behind. But along with that loss there has been resurrection, too. Here’s what I’ve lost and gained:

What I’ve lost:

The ability to run. I can no longer run away from my circumstances. I can’t get away by going to a coffee shop. I can no longer just pick up and travel to Mexico with girlfriends. Within 10 years, when I was in my 20s and 30s I moved a totally of 10 times. Once I even moved to Colorado. Then, nine months later, moved back.

I was frantic, confused, restless. I craved change. I kept thinking that a change of scenery would change ME, and fill some void I felt. But then, in my 30s, I moved into a large sunny 2-flat and stayed for 7 years. Then I bought a condo, and got married. We’ve lived in the same place for 10 years. Then we adopted a child. I am tethered now. Tethered to routine, and bedtime, and school drop-offs and pick-ups.

What I’ve gained:

The courage to stay and commit. I miss my freedom, but by being tethered I am also not able to run from myself. I’ve heard that marriage is like a mirror – you find out how selfish you are. And parenthood does the same thing, times 10. Motherhood has shown me my selfishness, but also how deeply I can love and how strong I am. Some days parenthood is like a marathon: We get up, get ready for work, get Desta ready for school, go to work, come home, feed Desta, get her ready for bed (an hour-long ordeal), get ourselves ready for bed, and then fall into bed exhausted. But I am doing it! I’m strong enough to survive this and Desta is thriving. It’s the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done.

What I’ve lost:

Alone time/physical space. My-four-year old daughter clings to me. She’s my shadow and barnacle. She has to be in the same room, preferably on my lap. She wants only me to put her to bed, giving my husband (who doesn’t need as much alone time), the coveted extra hour granted to the parent who doesn’t have to perform bedtime duties. My therapist-husband thinks this has something to do with the attachment process. Whatever it is….IT IS DRIVING THIS INTROVERT CRAZY!

What I’ve gained:

Cuddling and connection: Getting out of my comfort zone to lean into this attachment is necessary. The more I run or push her away because I “need space”, the more she will cling to me. I need to reassure her that I will not leave her. She is mine forever. Helping her to feel secure, after all of the losses she’s experienced in her short life, is a privilege. It’s stretching me, and stretching is good. Painful, but good. And on cold fall evenings I love to hear her say, “mommy will you come and cuddle with me?” Yes…I would love to come and cuddle with you, my darling girl. Someday I will have my time and space back again, and I will long for those cuddles.

What I’ve lost:

A few friendships: When our then 2.5-year-old daughter moved into our house with her pink skirts and 127 stuffed animals, she took over like a sorority house president. She turned our lives upside down. The trauma of parenthood so overhauls your life that it takes time to recover and let life settle into a new normal. Some of my friends didn’t understand this. Suddenly, I barely had the energy to answer emails, or call a girlfriend last minute to have coffee. The first year we were parents, we hunkered down and tried to make sense of what was happening to us. We were traumatized. Some friends didn’t understand that, and have moved on. I grieve these friendships, but I get it.

What I’ve gained:

A family. And new friends: We’ve lost friends, but gained others. We are getting to know families at Desta’s school. We’ve grown closer to neighbors who have kids Desta’s age. And I feel closer to my sisters, because I now know what they were dealing with when they had several kids under 5. Friendships have shifted and changed. But we have grown closer as a family and we are content.

What I’ve lost:

Time to write. My biggest worry about becoming a parent was that I would never write anything ever again. In some ways that’s true. I have very little time to write or contemplate these days. I long for those days when I spent most of a Saturday in my favorite Starbucks writing my first book –hours and hours of putting words together and pouring out my soul onto the page.

 What I’ve gained:

More material to write about. The events that led up to Desta’s adoption helped to fuel my first book. And now that we’ve been parents for 2.5 years, I have a whole treasure trove of material that I want to write about. My life seems richer and deeper. Now if I could only find the time to put it all down on paper. Someday I will.

What I’ve lost:

Opportunities: I used to be afraid of committing to anything because committing to something meant I had to give up the possibility of other opportunities. I didn’t want to narrow my options. It’s true. Once you commit, or make a choice to go down one path, other opportunities are lost. But if you never commit to anything, you’re lost in this no-mans land of nothingness. Indecision, non-commitment, is it’s own type of prison. Parenthood is the ultimate commitment, and it’s scary knowing you are responsible for a child for the rest of your life.

What I’ve gained:

A more focused view: With loss of choices, comes a more focused view. I don’t have a vast horizon of opportunities any more. But I can do what’s in front of me. Loving my daughter and my husband. Writing in bits and pieces. Finding joy in small things like watching  my daughter learn how to ride a bike, or seeing my husband become what Desta calls “my big-cheese daddy.” Commitment has narrowed my options but made my life richer. I’m painting a beautiful picture in the one-inch frame.


I’d love to hear from other parents about what they’ve lost and gained after becoming parents. What tombs have you left behind? Where have you found resurrection?









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One response to Motherhood: What I’ve lost, what I’ve gained

  1. Karen, I came across your blog which I enjoyed reading and felt compelled to reply. Your right life is a series of loss and resurrection and a series of transformations and change. All these experiences make up the rich tapestry of life. It should be all about commitment in parenthood. Unfortunately, most women have to take that journey alone.

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