by Ann Douglas
My mom gave me this 'Mother's Journal' when I was pregnant. She wrote something in it for me, but her words just sounded corny to me before Ryan was born. But when I read it after he was born, her message made me cry. She had written 'Welcome to the Club!' It brings tears to my eyes even now.
- Tracy Moroney, mother of two, Burlington, Ontario
When I first told people I was pregnant, people who had disappeared out of my life when they had their own children suddenly reappeared. It was like I had 'joined the club.' They could relate to me again, and I to them. I had things to talk about with people who had kids.
- Marilyn Thomsen, mother of two, Los Angeles, California
There are few experiences as dramatic as that of becoming a mother. One moment you're totally in control of your own destiny: the next, you've surrendered yourself -- body and soul -- to meeting the ever-changing demands of a tiny, red-faced infant.
Is it any wonder that so many women view motherhood as a great dividing line separating who they were B.B. (Before Baby), and who they've since become?
For many, it's the intensity of the love that they feel for their child that they find so overwhelming. "Everyone warned me that being a parent would change my life," recalled Wendy Putler of Gilbert, Arizona, who gave birth fifteen months ago. "I thought they meant not getting enough sleep, not being able to travel whenever I please, and so on. I had no idea that having a child would be such a shocking experience. It has made me aware of a depth of feeling I never knew I possessed.
Like Putler, Los Angeles mother of two Marilyn Thomsen was surprised by strength of her feelings: "What surprised me was the joy," she recalled. "I don't think anyone can really tell you about the intense love of a mother for her child. You have to experience it for yourself."
"I think motherhood has made me both fierce and kind," said Elizabeth Walker, a mother of two in Logan, Utah. "I perceive threats to my children like a mother wolf, and I view the college students who jaywalk on the campus where I work as other mothers' sons whom I must protect."
For some women, the powerful experience of becoming a mother starts long before birth. "You don't become a mother when you have a positive pregnancy test, or even at birth, but during the time before and after the birth," said Darcy Bretz of Roselle, Illinois, who became a mother 17 months ago.
For others, it is the act of giving birth itself that suddenly redefines who they are.
"The experience of childbirth really changed me," said Diane Wolf, a Peterborough, Ontario, mother of three. "It really boosted my self-esteem. I felt that if I could survive childbirth, I could do anything. I became a whole lot more courageous, a lot more of a risk-taker. I feel now like there's nothing in the world that I can't do if I put my mind to it."
Motherhood often changes a woman's view of the world, and refocuses her ideas about what is important. When Katharine de Baun of Port Townsend, Maine became a mother two years ago, she found her focus shifting from herself and her career to the world around her. "In having to care 24 hours per day for a little baby, I was exhausted and overwhelmed, of course, but I was also secretly relieved to be able to stop being so obsessed with myself. Becoming a mom was a graduating from the long-in-dying angst of my twenties; I felt like a true adult for the first time in my life. For me, motherhood was nothing less than a revolution in my identity, my priorities, my maturity."
Tia Harrison -- an Omaha, Nebraska, mother of two - learned how to stop sweating the small stuff after her daughters were born. "Before I had children, I was on top of everything. My house was clean, my nails (hands and feet!) were always polished, my makeup was done to perfection, and every hair was in place. My friends now look at me as a real person. They see my shortcomings and you know what? I don't care. That is a change for me."
For Halifax, Nova Scotia, mother of one Anne Martell, becoming a mother meant putting the needs of her family ahead of the demands of her busy management consulting practice. "Motherhood has brought on a refocussing of life's priorities. My clients don't have the same stranglehold on my time as they did during 'Life Before Lyell.' I make sure my interviews are complete or my meetings are scheduled prior to the end of school. It's important that I be home waiting for Lyell when he gets off the bus at 2:45 p.m. I love hearing the door open with a crash and Lyell's voice calling, 'Mom?'"
Reva Wayman -- the director of a healthcare public relations agency in New York City - has also learned how to keep her personal life in balance since the arrival of her twin boys two-and-a-half years ago. For Wayman, that means keeping the number of hours she spends at the office to a minimum. "I find that I work harder while I'm at work, because I'm anxious to get back home to my family," she explained.
For many women, motherhood can be the impetus behind a career change. Wolf returned to school and then launched her career as a professional speaker after the birth of her children; de Baun launched Moms Online, one of the most popular parenting forums on America Online; and Putler abandoned her career as a software engineer with American Express in order to launch her own hospitality-industry business. Motherhood can also be the force behind massive personal growth.
"There is not a single aspect of my life which motherhood has not changed," said Lorelyn Morgan, a Haliburton, Ontario, mother of two. "Motherhood has made me about 98% more patient and less self-centred." "I believe I matured a lot after the birth of my first child," said Kim Harasek, a Chicago mother of three. "I think I am more patient, compassionate, and understanding."
"Motherhood has definitely made me a better person. I'm more loving and giving, more organized, and I exercise better self-control," said Wolf.
Like many women, Marilyn Thomsen feels that the greatest gift that motherhood has brought her has been the way it has increased her capacity to love.
"I've seen my heart expand more than I ever knew was possible," she said. It was especially interesting when I had my second child. I had worried that I wouldn't be able to love a second as much as the first, but it really was true that my heart expanded exponentially.
"I think we love our children so intensely because we give to them so fully. When you have that little tiny baby, it doesn't make any difference at all if you need to sleep or you're not feeling well or if you'd really rather read a book. You take care of the baby's needs.
"It is that daily investment of ourselves, no matter what, that blossoms into love."
Ann Douglas is the author of The Unofficial Guide to Childcare , Baby Science How Babies Really Work , and The Unofficial Guide to Having A Baby . She writes the monthly "Mom's the Word" column for Canadian Parents Online and is a regular contributor to a number of print and online publications. She and her husband Neil have four children. Ann is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. She can be contacted via her management firm, Page One Productions Inc.
Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario, with their four children Julie, Scott, Erik, and Ian. A fifth child, Laura Ann, was stillborn in 1996 due to a true knot in her umbilical cord.
Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.