People, for the most part, are never the same after children. The shift from "person" to "parent" is immediate and irreversible (in most cases). In general, with that fat little baby's arrival comes the departure of individual identity - you are no longer "Liz," an autonomous and willful individual, but "Olivia's mother" (well, you may not be, but at least I am), whose every moment is dedicated to the survival and eventual thriving of a new life. It's as though new parents stow away their souls along with anything breakable that baby might be able to reach.
For each parent, the reclamation of individuality comes at a different time. There are many variables - season, personality, employment - that determine the length of time a parent remains in anonymity. Men, it seems, emerge from their new baby shock earlier, having no real biological function in the first year, save to keep mommy sane and well-fed enough to produce milk for that fat baby to grow. Daddy has to go back to work in whatever way he can. And, now with high costs of living and even higher materialistic standards (don't get me started...), mamas are finding that the need to work outweighs other challenges of parenting. It's a tricky balancing act.
For the mother who has chosen to remain "home with the baby," this social non-existence can stretch out for years. Especially, as in our case, if you add another baby to the family mix. The general structure of life, particularly where we live - in the central United States - supports a very individualistic way of life that many people find isolating. And even more so for the young mother, who thrives in social situations but is now home. All day. With a very squirmy, very loud, and VERY helpless tiny person. Gone are the days of going out to discuss life's interesting questions with friends, or quiet dinners for to. Really, going out anywhere at all is, frankly, right out.
And what of the young mother who has trained for years to "earn money?" Does she know about lactation and the right foods and herbs to support healthy nursing? About latches and sleep cycles and all of those all-consuming issues that keep poor new parents up late, even after their little one has fallen asleep? A precious few have taken crash courses right before baby was born, but what about those life lessons that a child-centered community can impart? What about her self worth when she no longer can "contribute" to society through financial gain? Where is the paycheck (because the dollar is how all things are given value anymore) for the unsung labors of the mother, who literally gives herself to the survival of her child? And, to top it off, a this new charge in no way generates income but is more akin to a large and seemingly bottomless pit into which the family's income inexplicably disappears.
Women, who for generations found strength in community, are drowning in the sea of a culture that doesn't value women's work.
This little essay started out with lighthearted intentions, but has clearly taken a turn for more challenging waters. To return to the earlier vein, I am pleased to announce that I have found my soul again (thank goodness)! I had lost it in a tidal wave of baby clothes that plagued our closet for years. And once those clothes were removed and tidily labeled for an impending yard sale, I noticed that there were other things in that closet: portraits I had taken from years back, art supplies and cameras, lovely fabrics and even a shirt that my grandmother had cut and pieced but never finished sewing. It was a real treasure hunt as I pulled out dear items and reflected on creativity long past. I recalled a recent conversation with a trusted friend, who gently reminded me that I was a creative person. Not only that, but I needed creativity - I needed space for it. At the time, I thought she meant "space" in a general sense, i.e. space in my life. But upon further inspection, I realized that I needed literal space. Namely a large desk, and a place to put my sewing machine.
A while back, I transformed a third of our large closet into a writing office for my husband. I even divided the space with a floor-to-ceiling curtain, so that his space felt like a real room. It's lovely and useful for all his writing needs, and I'm proud to say he's brought a large portion of his writing "to paper" in that room. The other portion of the closet was designated space for "things" - baby clothes too small for Olivia but too big yet for Elsie, our shoes and clothes, hampers, suitcases, etc. Enough to literally cram the space full. But no longer. It has been cleared out and tidied - those "things" seen for what they are - impediments to growth and life - and new space found. Enough for a desk for me. And my sewing machine.