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The Biggest Myth of Motherhood

Photograph by Getty Images

The ink on my college degree was barely dry, and at 22 years old, I was transitioning from overworked magazine intern to hopeful employee. I didn’t own a lot of things—money, in particular—but one spring night I gained another possession: a positive pregnancy test.

I cried a lot.

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I had plenty of reasons to cry, of course, but there was a main theme running through my anxieties: I’d never do the things I wanted to do, or be the person I wanted to be.

Looking back with five years of perspective, I don’t think I was crazy to have those fears. The message is everywhere, from marketing ads to teen pregnancy PSAs: Accomplish your goals before having kids, otherwise … (fade to black).

I remember reading through a “Pregnancy Bucket List” in the gynecologist's waiting room, feeling more deflated with every empty checkbox. I hadn’t traveled beyond the East coast, or skydived, or even landed a full-time job, for crying out loud. (And I did just that—cried out loud.) And, even now, I see my 20-something friends with their lists and their plans; determined to achieve ALL THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS before settling down and succumbing to motherhood.

There’s something to be said for celebrating with dance parties and tiny high-fives.

It’s a myth—a well-constructed myth—and it makes me want to climb on top of a soapbox with an oversize megaphone, yelling, “Your life is not over.”

Because your life is not over.

In fact, motherhood can be a pretty powerful catalyst for personal growth. As soon as I had a little person looking up at me, absorbing my behaviors, I had an urgent need to be better. I expected to turn into a diluted version of my former self, when, in actuality, motherhood fueled the fire.

And I’m not alone. Think about all of the inventions and businesses and books that were inspired by parenthood. Think about the advocacy groups and organizations born from a mother’s need to improve the world.

Then think about how lonely and boring it would be to achieve all of the accomplishments, only to settle into a stagnant existence. There’s something to be said for showing kids the patience and perseverance it takes to accomplish a goal, despite the roadblocks. There’s something to be said for celebrating with dance parties and tiny high-fives.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned through my work with EarlyMama.com, it’s that statistics and stereotypes don’t have to define our experience, in spite of what society implies. We can still take risks, and study abroad, and finish our education, and build businesses, and make a difference in the world.

We can continue to exist as individuals, apart from (and because of) our children.

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I’ve come a long way since I was holding that pregnancy test, imagining my future circling the drain. And I’ve done it all with a little person looking up at me, absorbing my behaviors and watching as I develop into the person I’ve always wanted to be.

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