The Threshold of Motherhood: Grieving Our Old Lives

The Threshold of Motherhood: Grieving Our Old Lives

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Being a mom brings complex emotions that deserve our attention

Once during a writing class, the instructor asked us to journal around the word threshold. “It’s amazing,” she told us, “just how much is wrapped up in this one word.”

It seemed a strange word to inspire a writing assignment, and for a moment, all I could think of were those rubber weatherstrips placed in the entryway of doors. Threshold, threshold, I thought to myself—and then it all came pouring out. I wrote about birth, about crossing the threshold of motherhood, and how sad, happy, and confused I was that I could never (ever) go back.

We sat in a circle and read our freewrites out loud. And every single mother in the room had written about motherhood.

Sure, the details were different for each person—there were stories about domestic violence, medical complications, difficult pregnancies, and mother-child relationship dynamics—but it was clear that motherhood had transformed each of us profoundly.

Why don’t we talk about mother grief?

It was also clear, during that writing exercise, that many of us were carrying around a deep “mother grief”: a sadness that we had not been able to express before a simple writing exercise made it all come out.

I’m not talking about postpartum depression, though many of us experience that as well. (It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor, therapist, or family if you think you might be experiencing this very real, common, and treatable mental-health issue.)

I’m talking about the shock of our lives turning on a dime, grinding to a halt, upending, becoming something else completely.

I’m talking about a once-vibrant young woman swallowed up by her new self: a mother with bags under her eyes and baby vomit on her T-shirt or a minivan filled with kids or a house that always looks like a tornado hit it.

I’m talking about staring down at my stretch-marked, saggy, milk-filled “mom bod.” And yes, this oh-so-powerful and amazing body grew and birthed my children, and I am eternally grateful—yet my new shell is so entirely different from my prebaby body.

I’m talking about that feeling of being gobsmacked by how much has been lost to this new life: leisurely mornings, sleeping in, drinking hot coffee, evenings out with friends, bike rides, and adventurous vacations—even pooping alone with the door closed feels like a lifetime away.

Mom grief doesn’t mean we regret our children, and it doesn’t mean we’re bad moms

I think most of us have those moments when we are transfixed by our children. When we stare at their eyelashes and their rosy cheeks. When we watch their eyelids twitching with dreams, and we are as in love as we could ever imagine being. We made magic happen when we created these perfect little humans.

We can be great parents and miss the way our lives were before we had children. We can want to literally inhale our children and wonder what it would have been like not to have them. We can celebrate motherhood and sometimes fantasize about running away to Iceland for a few years.

Parenthood is super complicated. Solo motherhood is way complicated. So I say feel all the feelings. Claim the conflicting emotions and thoughts, accept them, normalize them, and talk about them because we when we became mothers, we gained our children, but we also lost part of ourselves.

Grief is a process

When we lose something, we go through a fairly predictable process. The grief process looks like this: shock and denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I don’t know about you, but I have felt each of those in the process of becoming a mother.

In the beginning, I felt the shock of birth and the permanence of my new role. I couldn’t undo becoming a mother. It was my joy and my burden—forever. There have been times of anger, too. Anger that certain things are untenable, out of reach now that I have children. And there’s an air of bargaining. I get dreamy about the what-ifs. Sometimes I’ll think, If I didn’t have children, I could go to Tahiti for three months.

Depression has come and gone. Since becoming a mother, I have at times felt blue and beyond consolation. There have been times when food didn’t taste like much or when I felt like I was living behind a curtain of water. Like there was a space between me and the world, where I used to feel engaged.

And then, acceptance. I accept that my house will not be pristine during these years. I will not get enough sleep. I will miss parties and weddings and vacations because I will be mothering. There will be years of juice-box containers buried in the couch cushions and approximately 200 pounds of Cheerios vacuumed out of the car annually. There will be school plays and forgotten homework assignments. Instead of keeping up with friends, there will be trying to keep track of the characters in the newest Disney movie. There will be tears and fits and moments so beautiful they should really be in a Hallmark commercial. And through it all, to the best of my ability, I will try to be grateful.

Motherhood is crossing a threshold that can’t be reversed

Becoming a mother means jumping into a new life, a new body, a new role. It means leaving behind the girl who used to hop in the car for spontaneous road trips or stay out all night drinking cocktails with her girlfriends.

In my own motherhood circle, there’s a runner who can’t find time to run anymore, a writer who can’t find the words to write, an artist who hasn’t touched her pottery wheel in years, and many, many mother-friends who yearn for alone time or time to read books or the ability to stay in bed with their partners all day long without a care in the world.

And still, none of those mothers (myself included) would trade motherhood for the world.

I would not give up loving another human the way I love my children. I would not give up the opportunity to protect them, to guide them, to watch them grow and learn. I would not give up the soccer games or the school plays or the nights spent telling stories in a makeshift pillow fort. You could not pry my children from me.

But often, sitting on my shoulders is that “mom grief.” And instead of keeping it at bay, I invite it along for the ride. Motherhood is a special type of complicated and happy-sad—and I’m OK with that.

We can’t go back. So we must grieve our past selves and move over the threshold into our new messy, beautiful lives.

Let’s stop pretending that everything is OK and that we are always fine. Join our community for real conversations with Solo Moms who get it.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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