I remember just where I was when I lost my identity. Burned into my brain, it’s one of my Kennedy Moments. It was February 28, 2011, just after 11 a.m. and I was standing in my bathroom staring at a stick with two pink lines repeatedly saying “ho-ly-shi-t.” That was the day that EPT stripped me of “me” – and replaced it with “we.”
Becoming a mom has rocked me to the core – so much so that sometimes I question if there is even a sliver left in me of the person that I used to be, pre-procreation.
Cue the uproar from moms who “have it all”...
Of course, they’re going to try to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way – that creating a life doesn’t mean you lose your own, and that your value is not measured in the number of diapers you’ve changed or the hours of sleep you have missed. These are the kind of moms you drive by on Sunday morning on your way to the grocery store. You know, the ones in the middle of their 10-mile run, pushing a double stroller, not a single hair out of place or ounce of fat on their body. The ones that it takes every fiber of your being not to splash the shit out of by accidentally veering toward that puddle. (Those ones.) As much as I don’t “get” how these kind of moms are able to (A.) run 10 miles, or (B.) convince themselves that their life is perfectly perfect perfection (They put on that façade of being the dependable employee, the best mom, leader of the PTA and doting wife, all while having a spotless house and perfect make-up.), I equally don’t “get” how (C.) a woman can have a baby and not be utterly and entirely changed.
As soon as I found out I was pregnant, my internal conflict with myself began. I knew that I was different – I just wasn’t quite sure how. What kind of mom will I be? How will I manage my professional life? Will I have a social life again? What kind of mom will I be?
When I was about 5 months pregnant, my former boss said to me “Just wait until that baby comes. You’ll want to work even harder, because you’ll want him or her to have everything. Everything you do, you’ll want to do better for that baby.” He knew I was struggling with the concept of being a working (absent?) mother, and was trying to make me feel better. But somehow, that just made me feel worse. He was preemptively setting my bar, with all these expectations of how I was supposed to be and do and feel once my child was born. What if I didn’t feel and do and be the right thing???
I started to question, do I want to be the distracted mom that takes conference calls on my Bluetooth as I pick my son up from daycare? That takes weeklong business trips and tries to make up for it with a new Transformer toy upon my return? And, on the flip side, what if becoming a mom made me a shitty employee? What if I just wanted to do the bare minimum every day, watching the clock until it hit 5pm when I could be reunited with my baby? What if I just wanted to quit?
Socially, I was slightly more prepared. Being married with two dogs and a mortgage, we had tamed ourselves quite a bit already from the wild college days of 60-second keg stands and all night binges. I mean, we could still throw a sick party. But our friends were all getting married and buying houses too, so we all became broke and responsible around the same time. When we did go out, we would try to be home by 10 or 11 so the dogs wouldn’t destroy yet another carpet. And more often than not, a quiet night on the couch with a movie and a bottle of wine was way more appealing than fighting through crowds of 20-somethings with their boobs hanging out, totally wasteeeeed off of 3 beers. Not going to lie, I welcomed the addition of a baby to our family for the simple fact that it was a great excuse to decline social invitations without offending anyone. “So sorry, we won’t be able to make it. Charlie has (whisper) diarrhea.”
But now more than 10 months have passed, and I’m feeling pretty lost. More lost than I was when C was a newborn. Probably because with a newborn, you’re too exhausted to notice that you haven’t brushed your teeth in 4 days let alone recognize the five million ways that you aren’t the same person anymore. Yet lately it’s become an overwhelming reality that I barely recognize the woman that looks back at me in the mirror. I mean, look at my massive failure at Mommy Monday. Never before having a child would I have had an entire night to myself and not known how to just be alone with me.
Who is this woman that has invaded my body and brain? She doesn’t even have the same name.
I’m now known in most circles as “Charlie’s Mom.” Which is an amazing title and, in its own right, the most important one that has ever been bestowed upon me. It is my most favorite when spoken from the top – from the little guy himself – who has shortened (or lengthened?) it to “Ma-ma-ma.” One might think I’d be used to this sort of epithet. After all, I was the third child and just 13 months younger than my sister, who happened to also be a super-star athlete. Through my entire youth, if my first name was even spoken it was often followed by “Liz’s Sister.” That, or upon my introduction, I’d received an immediate “Oh, are you the softball player??” Since I was the one you’d see picking daisies in right field, it was safe to say that they had the wrong Winslow sister. Once, I even had an adult member of the community (a well known lawyer) tell me that he would “show me respect some day, if I ever earned it in the way my sister had.” Srsly.
For quite some time I contemplated legally changing my name to: MichelleLiz’sSisterWhoPlaysSoftballButIsn’tTheSoftballPlayerYou’reThinkingOf.
Interestingly though, being known as “Michelle, Liz’s Sister” helped me to discover myself in the end. I spent most of my years growing up trying to get out of that shadow and honing my ability to let people down gently, reminding them that even though they were not meeting the Gatorade Softball Player of The Year it was okay because I was prettier. (J/K, sis!) I began defining myself in the most basic sense:
“No, I’m the dancer.”
“No, I’m the writer.”
“No, I’m the funny one.”
“No, but she would be nothing without me considering that year in Little League no one would catch for her because they were afraid of her fastball, so the coach added 3 inches of padding to my glove and made me do it – probably because there was less likely to be a lawsuit if she seriously injured her direct relative.”
When I went away to college, I earned my own stripes even more. In that world, no one knew that I had a sister or a brother or an awesome mother or a dead father. I learned who I was on my own, when I could do and say and be anything I wanted. I learned how I related to others, as I made new friends. I learned how hilarious I was after just 2 beers. I learned how much strength I possessed when news came that my grandmother had died. I learned how much of a conscience I had 2 years later, when I forgot to show up to a math test and needed a good excuse to retake the exam. (Sorry Grammy!) I learned how I could allow one guy to bring out the worst in me, that I’d let him crumble me to pieces, but that with the help of my best girlfriends I could put myself back together stronger and even better than before. I learned that I didn’t need someone else to love me, if I loved myself.
By the time I graduated college and eventually met my husband, I was vetted. I knew who I was and where I was going. And I think that’s when successful relationships happen for many people – it’s only after you are secure with yourself that you can open up to love and be loved in its truest sense. When I met Tristan, I was ready for him. And when we got married, it was never a question whether or not I’d change my last name. My name didn’t define me, I’d define it.
When we decided to start a family, I prepared myself for big changes. I expected to lose sleep, time, money, sanity, patience, my sex life. But no one told me that after doing all of this hard work to find myself, that having a baby would throw that all out the window. It took me 28 years to remove the comma after my name. To become just Michelle, and not someone’s sister or daughter or girlfriend or wife. I didn’t know that becoming ‘Mom’ would replace every part of me. Becoming a mom made me selfless, and in that I lost myself.
But maybe being Charlie’s Mom is like being Liz’s Sister. Maybe what I am feeling doesn’t have to be loss – maybe it’s just change. Maybe I need to redefine myself again, in the basic sense:
I am still a great dancer, if only on my living room floor with my giggly little boy as my partner.
I am still a great writer, if only in a blog about motherhood.
I am still hilarious, if only in my son’s eyes because I’ll do and say anything foolish to make him smile.
And one day, I’ll be able to show my son how to catch and throw a ball and tell him that I was really good back in my day – even if his aunt was way better.
I love being a mother, with all of the struggle and sacrifice that comes with it. I wouldn’t change it for the world. I was born to be someone’s mom, of that I am sure. And maybe, even though it often feels like that’s all I am these days, it’s really just another layer I’m adding to the whole of me. I am Charlie’s Mom. But I’m also still a wife, employee, comedian, writer, artist, dancer, athlete, sister, daughter, friend, and whatever adjectives may come in the future. And not one of those things defines me. They are, as a whole, what makes all of me.