I didn't want to be a mom... until I did. I've always known that people change multiple times over, along with their plans, aspirations, beliefs, and points of view. But from time to time, it's a painful shock to the system. I still find myself taken aback by the number of "me"s I've shed to be the person — and the mother — I am today.
I thought about all this recently with the arrival of Adele's latest album, "30," released Friday. In it, she gets very real about finding herself, being a mother and the effects of her divorce on her son, Angelo Adkins, 9.
The song "My Little Love" in particular is generating buzz for its raw, relatable emotion. "I know you feel lost/It's my fault completely," she sings to her son. "I don't recognize myself in the coldness of the daylight/So I ain't surprised you can read through all of my lies."
When I became a mom, a new version of myself was born alongside my son. And with all the love and joy, pride and adoration I gained the day my son made me a mother, there was also a significant loss. Who I used to be was gone, and there are moments when I mourn her and wonder who she could have been.
Adeleshared a similar sentiment during a recent interview with The Face. When asked about her Grammy acceptance speech in February 2017, when she said that throughout the course of her pregnancy and early motherhood she had "lost herself," she responded:
There are definitely a few elements of myself that I don’t think I’ll ever get back. More than anything, it’s the freedom of being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Going somewhere and not having to prioritize someone else. Whereas my number one priority with everything I do since I had Angelo, which is in life, in work, is obviously my son.The Face
Before she makes any decision, she said, she thinks of her son first. And while Adele believes that's what parents should do, the selflessness demanded of mothers still makes her mourn the loss of her former self.
"Maybe I'm not mourning anymore," she added. "Maybe I'm more yearning. A little bit like: ooh, what would I do and where would I go?"
A common sentiment among parents is the romantic notion that our hearts grow in size to make room for all the love we feel for our child or children. But I don't think my heart really did expand in order to accommodate the love I have for my kids. I think I took a hammer and nail and chiseled out all the things I loved less — spontaneous vacations, waking up at noon, a full night's sleep — to make room. And then there were the sharp edges that I didn't know I needed to trim — a judgmental friend; a toxic family member — that threatened to crack the foundations of an identity already under major renovations.
When I met my partner, I choose parenthood — my son was so deeply wanted and wished for; alive in my mind long before he took his first breath. But that doesn't mean there isn't a grieving process that comes with this drastic and overwhelming transitionary period. And as mothers, we need space for that mourning, which is often running side-by-side and forever tangled up in our excitement and joy.
"There are both subtle and substantial transitions in identity and self-concept over the course of one's life. Motherhood is one of these times," Dr. Lisa Lindquist, MD, PMH-C, a psychiatrist with Providence Medical Group at Providence Alaska Medical Center told TODAY Parents. "The anthropological term for motherhood is 'matrescence.' Similar to adolescence, this is a life-changing time wherein identity, self-concept discovery and transition are major themes, accompanied by hormonal and neurobiological changes, as well as familial and society role shifts."
Both society and medical practitioners, Lindquist said, don't adequately prepare women for the identity transition of motherhood. Women aren't taught ways to integrate their former selves with their new identity as a mom.
"It is necessary for all of us to recognize the role strain women face when balancing motherhood, relationships, and career," she said, "as women who perceive that they are balancing these roles poorly often feel incompetent in all three."
Which is why Adele's comments — made at a time when she's debuting her highly personal album and after a divorce, no less — are so important. Moms are struggling with their mental health, they're overwhelmed and burnt out, and they're handling more child care, household, and work responsibilities than, arguably, ever before.
"When women like Adele utilize their platform to be vulnerable and share something that many women experience but few vocalize, it provides an opportunity for women to hear and understand that they are not alone," Lindquist said. "It provides a voice to amplify a common experience that historically women have been ashamed or afraid of acknowledging. When women like Adele speak their experiences out loud, it gives other women permission to acknowledge their experience not only to one another, but to themselves... and that's powerful."
From time to time I miss the woman I used to be. There are moments when I wish I could be her, if only for a second. During a few child-free vacations with friends I have even attempted to be her again — but I no longer understand popular music and wind up with a painful hangover that leaves me dead to the world for 72 hours. I am not as fearless as I once was. I am not as carefree as I used to be. I can no longer bask in the freedom that comes with ignoring consequences.
I also often feel an intense need to not only mourn my past self, but to celebrate her, too — she mattered just as much as the person she became when she had kids. Her status as a "child-free" woman didn't diminish her worth. After all, my sons would not exist without her, even though their existence meant I had to tell her goodbye.
I still run into her from time to time, though. I felt her the moment my son received his first vaccine as an infant — the rage that instantly boiled inside me was directed at a loving, tender pediatrician in the same way I unleashed on the drunk college man-boys who used to hit on my friends. I could see her in the pep talk I gave myself before dropping off my child at school for the first time; a talk so similar to the one I gave before bungee-jumping off a bridge in Vancouver.
And in those moments, I smile. I hug the old me gently, thanking her for still showing up when I need her most. And then I let her go, making room for my sons to fit perfectly in my arms.