Several months ago, I had a scary thought: Am I in the process of losing my identity to motherhood? Have the past six months as a new mom done nothing more for my character than add little bits of mom-ish information like why baby onesies are designed with the overlapping shoulder seams and how a blow dryer can instantly shut off a screaming newborn? Am I even capable of carrying on a conversation anymore without hearing that someone has children and snatching the opportunity to ask when they started them on solid foods? What’s happening to me?! I used to be someone. I used to have dreams and goals and a purpose and now I have a baby who drools like a St. Bernard and screeches so ear-piercingly that people peek around shelves at the grocery store to see who brought their pterodactyl to the cereal aisle.
I remember once promising myself that when I had children I would absolutely not surrender my own identity for the sake of caring for them. I would have my own life and continue to progress as myself on my own… and a whole lot more I’s, my’s and me’s. And then, this past Christmas Eve, me became Mia and time that had once passively allowed me to bask in selfishness suddenly demanded a frightening degree of selflessness.
I am in no way implying that people who don’t have children are fundamentally selfish. Far from it. Some of the most self-giving people have not been parents. For others, like me, it takes a radical change like motherhood to snatch them out of the I, me, my bubble and plop them into a realm of genuine purpose.
In the midst of all this change – as my entire world was shifting amidst a muddle of days, each one seeming to drag by and yet simultaneously be gone before I had time to begin it – I started wondering what was becoming of me and this identity I had been so desperate to preserve. What identity? The better question is, what is an identity anyway? Eventually I came to the realization that even before Mia, I really didn’t have any idea who me was. I ultimately just clung to attributes that were encouraged or favored by the outside world (sense of humor, vibrancy, productivity) while attempting to shed those that were not (insecurity, monotony, laziness).
At some point during this post partum identity crisis, I came across this quote by Gandhi: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Not long after, I flipped through Jesus-Shock by renowned Catholic author Peter Kreeft and was hit with his line, “This is the secret of life: the self lives only by dying, finds its identity (and its happiness) only by self-forgetfulness, self-giving, self-sacrifice [.]” If these two great men from different eras and with such dramatically different worldviews both taught that the route to self-discovery lies in giving of oneself, then there must be a truth to it that spans time and religion. It began to dawn on me that this baby I had thought was going to be a hindrance to the preservation of my identity was actually an opportunity to finally establish it!
I sat with this for awhile, stopping myself from getting angry when a screaming infant interrupted my “me time” and instead reminding myself that through the seeming inconveniences of motherhood, God is helping me shed my selfish nature to reveal a better, stronger, happier me. And now, after roughly eight months of service for an entirely dependent, ungrateful, but completely innocent little human, I’m actually more comfortable and at peace with who I am and where I am than I’ve ever been. Joy is a far more frequent companion these days and along my twisted search for an identity, I realize that’s all I was really pursuing: real, authentic joy.
Our brilliant Creator designed a world where we are all in search of joy for ourselves but the key to attaining it is giving to others, whether they are our own children or perfect strangers. We will not discover who we truly are or the joyfulness we were made for unless we share ourselves with others. As one of my favorite priests, Father John Riccardo, once said, “Give. That’s how you find happiness. Give. Pour out your life. Give. That’s the only way.”