As I stood looking at my reflection in the bathroom mirror when I was seven weeks pregnant with my first child, I thought I might see a baby belly forming underneath my sweater. All the signs of pregnancy were there — I’d given up caffeine, was so tired every evening by 7 that I’d close my eyes while my then-husband watched our favorite television shows alone, and I slept next to him.
I already felt like a mother and knew I had to take care of this human growing inside of me. I gave in to every craving. I rested more, I stayed away from deli meats and cheeses, and read every pregnancy book I could get my hands on. But that was just the beginning.
I knew I was a mother by the strong urge I felt to care for this child growing inside of me, but I had no idea that feeling would grow and change and morph into some of the strongest emotions I’ve ever felt.
I had no idea it would change me from the inside out. I was told many times over that this would happen, but until you go through this epic ride, you don’t know what being a mother is going to feel like.
Like the day I yelled at a little girl for throwing a ball at my 8-month old pregnant belly. I remember stopping in my tracks, wondering what I had just done and where that protective anger came from, because, damn, was I angry.
And when my midwife told me to push through the ring of fire and the pain I felt made me think I was literally dying, but as soon as I looked at my fresh babe and the pain was gone, and all I could see was him, and all I wanted to do was hold him, inhale him, stare at him, I knew I was a mother and I’d never be able to go back to the way I used to be.
I knew I was a mother then, but over my almost fifteen years of filling that role, the truth of motherhood reveals itself one layer at a time.
Just when you think you couldn’t possibly feel like a mom any more than you already do, another layer is pulled back and you think, Wow, how was I ever not this?
And motherhood sinks deeper, takes over a little more, and there are days it’s hard to see yourself as anything but that — a mother.
Because motherhood changes you that much.
I knew I was a mother the first time my son peed in his eye during a diaper change and I called the doctor.
I knew I was a mother the first time one of my kids was sick and I slept by their crib all night and it didn’t matter if I didn’t sleep and my body felt torn and twisted the next day, and the next. The only thing that mattered was my sick child was better.
I knew I was a mother when my life’s purpose consisted of making sure my kids got to bed on time because hell hath no fury like a child who has missed a few nap times.
I knew I was a mother when I felt anxious going to the grocery store alone for the first time since having kids because an hour away from my child seemed too long.
I knew I was a mother when things that used to matter so much seemed insignificant. Like what size my jeans were, if my hair was done, and what day it was.
And I knew I was a mother the night I got in my car and took off because I felt I couldn’t breathe and the heaviness of being responsible for three offspring was overwhelming.
I knew I was a mother when I was more excited to bring birthday cupcakes to my son at school than he was to have me there.
I knew I was a mother when a boy was mean to my child and I marched over and told him he was way out of line and he better “shut it” even though I knew it embarrassed my son deeply.
I knew I was a mother the first time I realized my kids would actually grow up and leave me one day and it made my feel physically ill.
I knew I was a mother the first time I sounded so much like my own mom while scolding my kids, I kind of didn’t like myself for the rest of the day.
I cried just as hard on their first day of high school as I did on their first day of kindergarten. I still need as much time away from my kids now that they are older as I did when they were younger. The only difference is now I know doing this makes me whole, and gives me new life and I leave the side of guilt behind.
Because it must be said, the guilt that comes into your life when you become a mother feels like a guest who overstayed its welcome and no matter what you say to it, it refuses to budge.
When you are a mother, you are constantly putting everyone’s needs before your own and it’s only fair you escape that every now and again and remember the woman you used to be so you can return, and be the best version of your motherly self you can be.
If there’s one thing I know in this life, it’s that I was meant to be a mother.