What's There To Lose?
In this chapter, I cover six major (and universal) kinds of loss that people can experience over the course of their lifetime. Although women don't always experience or perceive each and every one of these kinds of losses during early motherhood, I have interviewed enough new moms to suggest that they can exist, and often, simultaneously. I will discuss one at a time and give examples before moving onto inherent elements of loss, including four basic categories: avoidable/unavoidable, temporary/permanent, anticipated/unanticipated, and actual/imagined. All with examples for clarity.
Listen to intro
Mothers don’t usually consider a lost sense of self as a reason for their negative self-talk, conflicting feelings, or symptoms probably because the whole concept of self, one’s sense of self, is so abstract and elusive. And then to talk about losing that sense of self, well, that may be pushing things. Another reason might involve the fact that childbirth is usually thought of as an occasion to be joyfully anticipated, celebrated, and embraced in its entirety. To introduce a negative consequence of having a baby might raise a few eyebrows, and no one wants to do that. But the truth is, having a baby changes everything, and mothers learn this quite quickly. It’s even something Johnson & Johnson clearly advertises. Of course J & J shows the sweeter, gentler moments that babies fill in the lives of their parents, but the reality of a baby is far more complicated than a twenty-second commercial intended to entice its viewing public. Having a baby and caring for the child that he or she becomes is hard work and involves many tough moments. Unfortunately, mothers rarely talk about these tough times and in that tacit way become vulnerable to society’s skewed perception that they have the “luxury” of staying home with their children as though it should be a welcomed situation that bears no burdens.
I’ve taken the time to speak with men, women, and mothers who work full-time outside the home, and it never ceases to amaze me when I hear comments that expose envy and mistaken ideals. Once I overheard a conversation my husband had with several acquaintances he knew from a theater group. He was asked if his wife worked. He answered, “Yes, she works full-time at home with our three children.” Although I smiled upon hearing this because I knew I had duly influenced him over the years, I was nevertheless disheartened when I heard their responses. “Yes, but does she work?” Again my husband said, “Yes, at home.” This went on for several minutes with my husband having to “defend” me. It was clear that their inquisition went beyond curiosity and toward a kind of resentment that is hard to put into words. I wanted to scream from the other room, “Yes, I !@#&*% work. In fact, I never not work. I move from chore to chore all day without a word of praise or gratitude. I work two twelve-hour shifts every day and eat my meals while standing and serving others. I receive no paycheck for my efforts or any medical benefits. I can never quit (or get fired!), call in sick, get a paid vacation, or receive a pension for the many years I devoted to my work. My work is tedious, demanding, and all-consuming, and yet others think nothing of judging me or criticizing me for doing what they could not (or do not) do.” Needless to say, I felt angry and somewhat self-conscious, as though I should question what I was doing at home with my children. Given such subtle (and unfortunate) messages from society, mothers may ignore, deny, or stifle any feelings that reflect a personal crisis related to motherhood.
Mothers also obscure their feelings and symptoms by keeping busy with all the chores, distractions, and commitments that call them. While they answer the call of motherhood, they tend to miss the greater process of folding within them; that is, the process of letting go of the women they were and a time that existed before they had children. This is a process that's imperative to attend; the process of letting go is a valid component of change. In some changes that occur in the first few years of motherhood, mothers can incorporate the old with the new. But in most instances, change means moving from one state of being to another or from one set of circumstances to another. Regardless of the kind of change, mothers must often let go of what was, even if temporarily. Letting go, by its very nature, suggests loss. So it should come as no surprise that mothers might feel a sense of loss for what they no longer have. “Having a baby changes everything.” Indeed it does, as mothers know best. But what mothers may not know (understand or appreciate) is exactly how the changes in everything often involve loss and how loss affects their lives. Toward this end, I cite six major kinds of loss that generally occur over the course of a lifetime. But as I have discovered, these six kinds of loss also seem to occur simultaneously....
I keep trying to tell myself that of course I was going to miss getting out with friends, but you're right. Its been more than that. I miss doing a lot of things, and doing things by myself. It's been a huge adjustment. I really don't think there's any way to not have these feelings. It can really make me depressed sometimes.
I'm thinking you're probably right. It would be rather unusual if you didn't experience feelings around not being able to do what you want when you want to like you probably did in your more free spirit days of single-hood. However, most of us moms like the trade off. So, perhaps you could start to imagine ways you could still do some of the things you used to love doing. It might look a little different, but that's okay. You will eventually find the "sweet spot" of incorporating time to do for you in a way that works. Remember, overwhelm can lead to diminished coping skills, and diminished coping skills tend to stop insightful thought. That is, we forget what works or how to work it. Step away from the problem to gain some perspective, clarity, and answers. Chances are you'll be able to do many of the things you used to enjoy doing. Brainstorm creative ways that might make it possible.