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I Need More Than Motherhood to Feel Fulfilled

Photograph by Getty Images

When I held my daughter for the first time, I experienced all the magic they said I would. She looked up at me with eyes like blue almonds, and my whole world was undone and put back together again in an instant. Love radiated through and from me. In the months that followed her birth, I adjusted to life as a stay-at-home mom. For a year I lived and breathed all things baby: parenting books, mom blogs and my many baby-related Google searches. I focused on my daughter’s needs and well-being, even as my own eroded and I became a haggard version of myself.

Everyone said I was being a great mother, but hardly anyone asked me how I was doing. But why should they? I had a loving husband and a healthy, beautiful new baby. I wasn’t supposed to want anything more. And yet, I began to feel like a part of my life was missing. Was it me? Was I missing from my life?

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Sometimes I’d lay awake at night while nursing my daughter. I wondered about the passage of time and whether it was like a river flowing over me or more like a ship sailing on the sea.

Because I split my day between motherhood and work, I am more aware of my time and the quality of our interactions has improved.

I understand that becoming a mother is in part a surrender of the self. But mothers do not cease to be people. Before I became a mother I was a woman with ideas, goals, dreams. I am still that woman, and I’m also a mother. I know that not every stay-at-home mom goes through an existential crisis, but I think many probably feel just like I did. It sounds strange, but I longed for assignments and to-do lists. I wanted to feel like I was checking goals off my calendar again. How could I do it when I didn’t want to give up being home with my daughter?

About a year into life as a stay-at-home mom, I started working from home. I picked up a few writing and consulting gigs. I worked from my kitchen table, because my office had been transformed into a guest room for traveling family members eager to spend time with our baby. In the year that followed, I grew my client list and took back my office. When it came to housework, I hired some help.

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I feel like I found a secret loophole that allows me to have the joy of being near my daughter and the feeling of accomplishment I get from negotiations, deals and honing my professional skills. I like being able to pay bills or grow our savings with money I earned myself. I like being able to treat my daughter to something special without feeling guilt. My calendar is full enough, but not so full that my daughter and I can’t have an impromptu adventure. There’s always time to read her favorite book just once more. Because I split my day between motherhood and work, I am more aware of my time and the quality of our interactions has improved. Becoming a working mom made me a better mom.

I enjoy the balance of the various roles in my life. And that’s just it, these roles--professional, mother, wife — these are all parts of me but no single one is the whole of me. I feel like a person again. And that’s the best thing I can give my daughter: a person for a mother. If the passage of time is really like being a ship at sea, then my daughter is the wind in my sail and the sun on my face, but I’m the one setting the course.

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