For most of my life, I've been praised for being a “good girl.” My parents would often brag to others about how I was their easy child, the one who never gave them any grief.
I grew up in a very conservative Mormon community and was taught from a young age the importance of "doing the right thing." This made me feel a great responsibility to do what was expected of me. I never really asked myself what I wanted out of life, as it all felt like it was already planned out for me.
My religion taught me that a woman's greatest calling is to be a mother and that it would bring me the most happiness. Even though I was never very comfortable around children, and had many different passions and aspirations, I never questioned this admonishment.
So, I did what almost all young Mormon women do: I married young and had a baby.
It was all so much harder than I ever imagined, and yet, it was also amazing. But I learned something important about myself—my limits for doing what was expected of me.
When my father-in-law asked me when we would be having more kids, saying that having kids two years apart was the "right way to do it," I told him that his son and I would be making that decision, and that we had no plans to have kids that close together. When we eventually did have another child, it was because it was what we both wanted, not because it was expected of us.
The truth is, I felt lost in my role as a mother in many ways. I felt like an imposter. I looked around me at women who had way more kids than I did and seemed to have it all together and wondered, “How am I struggling so much when everyone else is making it look so easy?” I loved my son fiercely and have never regretted having him for a moment, but I did feel like the culture I grew up in wasn’t completely honest about motherhood.
Motherhood is beautiful, but it's not all that defines us as women.
Utah, the state I live in, ranks the highest in the nation for the percentage of adults who have experienced any mental illness in the past year. Also, women are more than twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression nationwide. I myself experienced postpartum depression after the births of each of my three children.
There are some disagreements about whether or not Utah culture has some bearing on the prevalence of depression but I can say that it had an impact on me personally. When I became a mom, I devoted myself entirely to the role of caretaker and lost myself in many ways. After a while, I couldn’t even remember who I was anymore and yet I wondered why I wasn’t happy.
After confiding in many other mothers who have had a similar upbringing, I know that I'm not alone. Many have felt that there must be something “wrong” with them because they're not completely fulfilled as a wife and homemaker.
The PPD I experienced after my third child really shook me up, and woke me up to the fact that I needed to practice some self-care and find out what I wanted out of life.
Now—for the first time ever— I feel like I'm living for me. I'm not focused on doing what's expected of me, and I'm not afraid to question my upbringing and my beliefs. This has given me the freedom to pursue my dreams outside of motherhood without guilt.
Motherhood is beautiful, but it's not all that defines us as women. Letting go of the expectations of others, and ones that I placed on myself, has allowed me to fully embrace all that life has to offer.