To my younger self:
You see it on many blogs, websites, and in parenting magazines. And though you’ve never really wondered until now, you are warned that you will lose yourself when this baby comes in a few months. If you love motherhood, you’re in danger of losing your self. If you struggle, you’re also in danger.
The books offer so much advice–weekly date nights, time on the couch to reconnect with your husband every evening, a pedicure or mom’s day out. Some advise you not to stay home with the baby; others tell you it’s okay as long as you hire a sitter to get some alone time. You try to remember these things because you want to avoid depression or waking up in twenty years to a self you don’t know.
You get the message that your marriage, career, body, and self will change–maybe even be lost–in the delivery room (if not before). You’re warned that you have to furtively guard these things to keep this helpless unborn child from taking them away.
Now you have perspective from the future. So I’ll answer a few questions for you. Will you lose yourself? Yes. Will your life change? Yes. Will it all be good? No.
But you are worried about something that has happened before and will continue to happen. Let me tell you a story–your story.
Do you remember how much you loved high school? After the loneliness of middle school, you often referred to it as your golden years. You asked questions, found answers, and grew in your faith. You knew who you were. Sermons, books, Scripture, movies–they were all alive for you. You gained courage and kindness and friends. You became a better sister and daughter and student and friend. You felt like you knew yourself (you would later find that maybe you didn’t). You wrote constantly.
Then college came. Freshman year at a small liberal arts school overwhelms many students. And you certainly lost yourself. You were forced to confront things you had decided were black and white. Just as you resurfaced a bit at the end of the semester, you started dating. And though you found aspects of yourself, you also lost yourself again.
There are many warnings about losing yourself in a new relationship. But in some ways, it is inevitable. Part of falling in love is the giving up of yourself, finding the delight in hearing about another rather than talking about yourself. Through dating, you were forced to confront deep things about yourself–things you did not realize. I know you sometimes look at your dating years and feel that maybe you lost yourself, but in reality, dating and the many family crises of your college years were revealing who you ultimately were. And it was ugly in many ways.
But you emerged with a little more self-knowledge and a little more certainty that things weren’t as black and white as you thought. You were still weak and uncertain though, as many parts of your world had come crumbling in around you.
Then you started teaching. And in the morning-to-night work, never-ending grading and worries about your students, you lost yourself again. You heard harsh accusations and felt the sting of criticism. You wondered whether you could still sit in church behind these same adults who were rude and unrelenting. You questioned your desire to teach and the gifts you has assumed you had. After your first year, you found some healing, and things became a bit surer.
The next major change came when your son was born. But you had your doubts. You hated admitting you didn’t have a job. You wondered if you were doing the right thing. The days were often long, and the hours of darkness and solitude stretched on. But instead of being a crisis like these other times, you found strength from the beginning. You couldn’t believe that you could create and birth and grow a baby. You couldn’t imagine such sacrifice that didn’t feel like sacrifice. In motherhood, you rediscovered some things you had given up–writing, reading, being with children, solitude.
In motherhood, you found yourself again. But it’s just more of yourself–and you will repeat this cycle continuously.
Some experiences are more cut-and-dried. You came back from an internship in New York feeling like you found more of yourself than you lost. You spend the summer after your first year as a teacher feeling depleted and angry. But there’s always this cycle of loss and rebirth, growth and change.
I once heard that our lives–the people we are–are like those Russian nesting dolls. We stay the same core person inside but we grow through more and more selves. This has been true for me. I’ve lost myself again and again and then found myself. I’ve grown and changed and remained the same.
The same is true of marriage. Even in our brief years of marriage, our relationship has gone through hard times, changed, and become stronger and better. If we had not had our son, I’m convinced we still would have changed and our marriage would have changed. If anything, having Liam has brought more beauty, more laughter, and even more commitment to our marriage and ourselves as individuals.
You will continue to lose and find yourself throughout your life as you go through that series of nesting dolls. I know that I will inevitably have seasons of no time for myself or brief seasons when Jon and I barely have energy to speak to one another. I assume we will go through more difficult times and more times when one of us feels desperate and depressed. Such is life. If a baby pushes this further into lostness, then it also pushes us further into foundness, into the person we were meant to be. And this isn’t just true of babies–it can be true of every big or hard change throughout our lives.
So if you’re starting a new endeavor–new schooling, a new job, marriage, a child–you will almost inevitably lose some of yourself. That’s okay. Things will change; you may lose both bad parts and good parts. But by God’s grace, you will emerge even stronger, more confident (and less!), and more open to what it means to live in this world. Losing and finding is an inevitable cycle–a spiraling back until we return again to the beginning–to the openness, love, and wonder of childhood.