Recently, my husband and I were visiting with a few friends who had come to meet our daughter, then two months old. After sharing a few requisite stories about getting intimate with our daughter’s poop, the conversation inevitably turned to a more sobering discussion on parenthood.

One of them half-jokingly refer to having children as giving up. A thoughtless thing to say in front of new parents? Maybe. But I wasn’t offended. I understood exactly how he felt.

For much of my adulthood, fear permeated my thoughts around motherhood. As a self-proclaimed creative, I worried that I wouldn’t have achieved everything I had dreamed for myself before becoming a mother. I knew (in my heart, if not my mind) that I wanted children. But this fear surrounding my own freedom overwhelmed me – and persisted well into my pregnancy.

After becoming a mother, many of the things I had been told would happen, have, invariably, happened: my life has been turned upside down. I’ve given up countless personal freedoms. I’ve lost sleep. I’ve spent more money on one tiny person than I ever have on myself.

I’ve given up a world in which I am the center. Lazy days don’t exist anymore (or at least, not in the way I once knew them). Dropping everything and just going doesn’t happen anymore. And it’s true what they say: there is no right time to have a child. Even when it’s planned, doubts persist: do we make enough money? Will I know how to be a mother? Are we ready for this?

Parenthood is not easy. And yes, you give things up you wish you didn’t have to. But for me, that was only half the story.

Before I go further, however, I should give a disclaimer. This article is not meant to convince people who are happy not having children to suddenly question their life plan. For those people, having a child probably isn’t going to make them happier. I’m well aware of the current debate being waged around this topic. In my opinion, it’s a pointless argument. If you know you want children, then having them will probably make you happier. If you know you don’t, then not having them will probably make you happier. It’s an intensely personal choice. I don’t prescribe to the notion that we should all have children and live happier ever after.

Rather, this article is for that subset of people – women in particular – who look toward motherhood longingly, but are fearful of what they’ll have to give up to do so. And let me be clear: you’ll have to give up a lot. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For me, giving certain things up for motherhood meant finally accepting freedoms into my life that I hadn’t expected. And I realize that my experience won’t be the same as anyone else’s. My goal is simply to tell my story, in hope that it may help others release their fears. Here, then, is my experience:

I gave up questioning my value to the world.
This is not to say that I didn’t value myself before having my daughter. It’s to say I now value myself in a new way – one that is utterly intrinsic. I stopped feeling like I needed to prove something. In an instant, everything I had been striving for was validated. For my fellow empowered females out there, I hesitate even writing this (let alone, listing it first), for fear that it sounds like I’m suggesting that a woman’s only purpose is to have children. No.

Here’s my point: I realize now that everything I’ve been working for in my adult life – independence, freedom, self-sufficiency, self-worth – was a form of preparation. I had been practicing, so that I could teach her these same things and could pass on to the next generation this radical idea of the unmitigated power of a woman. The idea that yes, as a female, my daughter can do whatever she wants and that her value is inherent. And that, as a mother, I will lead by example. My value as a woman has existed since the day I was born, and for the past 32 years, the world has done it’s best to try to rob me of it. Now, as far as I’m concerned, the world can stop trying, because it doesn’t have a chance.

I gave up feeling insecure about my body.
As someone who spent almost 10 years of her life in the throws of a serious eating disorder, this is another one I write with both relief and trepidation. But I remind myself that it’s just one way the world has tried to steal my self-worth — along with the billions of other women who are told daily that the path to success and happiness is through a number on the scale, or a reflection in a mirror.

So who would have thought that having a child would lead to feeling the strongest, sexiest, most beautiful and most productive that I ever felt in my life? Because I do. I love my fleshy curves. I’ve earned every one of them. The extra 15 pounds I’m carrying around is a plush layer of confidence. I eat to nourish myself and to produce nourishment for my child. It’s a revolutionary feeling – but it shouldn’t be. I’m elated that I finally feel pleasure living in my own skin, but I’m sad that it’s taken 32 years to feel it.

I gave up drama.
Friends not being able to get their you-know-what together; colleagues bringing me down with bad habits; overly needy clients. The Real Housewives (yeah, I know). Drama, in it’s many forms, has no place in my life anymore. More important (and enjoyable) things occupy my time these days.

I gave up self-destructive behaviors.
In your thirties, self-preservation becomes paramount. For me, the visible signs of aging began. When I got pregnant, I had to take a deeper look into my habits and ask, ‘what can I do better?’. I was bringing a life to the world and I needed to take care of myself, so I could take care of her. It’s not to say that things like eating better and exercising got easier – they haven’t. And I’m far from perfect. But, what goes into me, goes into her. And that is a very persuasive motivator.

I gave up self-destructive thoughts.
Another work in progress, but like behaviors, the thoughts we have about ourselves do not begin and end with oneself. The thoughts that pass through me, pass through her too – and in some cases, they stick there. I’d like for positive ones to mark their territory in that spongy little brain of hers – and with the tightest grip they’ve got.

I gave up urgent for important.
That hundred item to-do list that just had to get done? In the trash. Suddenly, I adopted a ‘slow-living’ lifestyle. One catering to the natural cycle of things, rather than the rat’s nest of ‘gotta-dos’ in my head. There’s nothing like having an infant that forces you to live moment-by-moment. Want to know a phenomenal form of meditation? Lie down beside your five month old and just watch her play and coo, happily comforted by your presence, and perfectly content in that single moment. Soak it in. Submerge yourself in it’s purity. For me, the world begins and ends in that moment.

I gave up the need for control.
If there’s anything having a baby teaches you, it’s that you aren’t in control. And for a self-proclaimed control freak, this was actually the break I needed. I’ve always struggled to delegate. In business and in life, I used to try to do it all myself and the only thing that’s ever given me is bitterness and burn out. Becoming a mother has taught me how to ask for help. I can’t do it all and, finally, that’s ok.

I gave up doing stuff I didn’t really want to do in the first place.
Having a baby gives you a great excuse to bow out of things you feel peer pressured into doing. I waffled on this one, in an attempt not to offend anyone in my life, but my friends know I love each of them and support their dreams. That said… if I don’t really feel like going to my friend’s up-and-coming band’s show tonight? No problem. Can’t make that destination wedding in Tahiti this month…oops. The truth is, I do not feel badly about using my child as an excuse to stay home and cuddle with her over going to your poetry reading. To my friends and loved ones: I miss you dearly, and I adore and treasure each of you. But, at least for awhile, time with my daughter will take precedence over time with you.

So…what does all of this giving up mean?

It means I’ve created a lot of space in my life. Enough space for catering to a new little person and for achieving my dreams. Yes, that’s right: achieving my dreams.

Since having a child, I have gained focus for the work I truly want and love to do. I don’t have time to fuss with the stuff that isn’t pushing my ultimate vision forward. That little smile has ignited in me a purpose and drive I never would have experienced had she not existed. I want to be an example to her. I want her to be proud of me and to learn to be proud of herself.

I’ve gained creative inspiration. I see the world countless new ways every day, right alongside her. I wonder, like a child, with my child.

I’ve gained a very deep understanding of my own parents love. I thank them everyday for everything they have given me.

I’ve gained a new appreciation and insight into what my body was made for and is capable of. It’s astounding.

I’ve gained copious amounts of laughter and delight. Try not being excited about every squeal and giggle emanating from a tiny little body. It’s intoxicating.

I’m attracted to my husband in ways I never expected. Seeing him cuddle with our daughter is an unbelievable turn on.

I’ve gained perspective. I have a much greater tolerance for other parents and families. I feel deep empathy for those who want children, but can’t have them. I’ve been humbled and grounded by motherhood.

And finally, I’ve gained a indescribable amount of love. The kind that squeezes your heart until you’re breathless. The kind that pushes your stomach into your throat and the kind that lies down dead, just to give someone else a chance to live. And if that kind of love doesn’t inspire you to go after what you want in life, I’m not sure what would.

Even if motherhood had meant giving up a dream or two, not doing so would have left me blind to an infinite number of new possibilities. Dreams that never would have had a chance to be realized. The day I became a mother is the day I realized that these dreams of mine – the ones I was so afraid of giving up (but not really going after like I should have been) – are now a must, not a maybe. I’m committed to proving to myself, and her, that it can be done. And if I don’t succeed? Well, I’m not worrying about that – it takes up too much space in my life. Space I need to conserve for other things.

So what about you? For the mothers and fathers out there… what has been your experience? For mothers and fathers yet-to-be, what are some of your fears? Let’s keep this conversation going in the comments.

16 Comments

  • Emily,

    How right you are! I feel more blessed and more beautiful after having had both of my children than I ever did before I had them. all of the things I had to “give up” are outweighed by the things I gained through having them. hearing Laughter and watching the delight on their little faces. knowing that I will always have two little bodies that want me to love them and who love me. little kisses and hearing “I love you” from someone who is too young to understand the concept of saying things because it makes someone else feel good. The honesty I get from my children is one of the most amazing gifts in life. My daughter and son make me feel beautiful, in some ways more beautiful that even my husband has made me feel. I wouldn’t trade one single moment of being a parent for anything else in the world. Thank you for sharing!

    • Rosanna,
      Thank you for your insightful words! I love hearing that you feel more beautiful after having BOTH your children. As a first-time mom, I can’t yet speak about the joys and trials of having more than one child. I know it comes with it’s own set of fears and blessings. It’s wonderfully comforting to hear your perspective. And I love your point on the honesty you receive from your children. My daughter is so young, but I think I already feel it. As parents, children force us to face who we really are – and what we really want from life. Thank you!

  • I love this! I have a 4 month old baby girl and have experienced all of this as well. I can’t give this piece the response it deserves because one of the things I have given up for motherhood is free time but I just wanted to say thank you!

    • Ashley, oh my goodness, you are so welcome and you are so right – I can’t believe I forgot to mention the issue of time as a parent. Haha! I loved how you framed your response. I’m so glad this has resonated with you – a doula nonetheless (great site!). We had a doula at Ella’s birth and she was utterly invaluable. Thank you so much for taking your precious time to read this. Squeeze that little girl for me!

  • Ohhhh wow, this made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside! I still have a good 5-7 years before I plan on having kids, but I always use my future children as motivation for positive change in my life. I want to have established positive habits for my children-yet-to-Be, and your piece was so very touching. Congrats to all the miraculous changes in your life! xox
    -Brittany
    http://www.Soultiply.com

    • Thank you so much Brittany! I love that you visualize your future children – and yourself as a mother – to make positive change. It’s all about making decisions that get you closer to the ultimate vision for yourself. Much love and peace to you on your journey.

  • Beautiful. I’m in the category of women you mention and this has brought a sense of peace to the rat’s nest. Thank you. x

  • Thank you Emily!

    I’m a first time mom to be and these thoughts circle my head every day as I gain excitement, hesitation, anxiety, joy and the eagerness to finally smell and hear this little being inside. When I get the waves of doubt or anxiety, i connect to the deep knowing i have of my ability, desire and welcoming of the transition into a new life.

    The notion of loosing your dreams just doesn’t seem to be daunting but rather we dream more vividly and aspire with less doubt about our ability. if we can do this (motherhood) we certainly can achieve what we want outside of that, give or take a few things. I’m excited for this new life with new meaning and new goals. i’m excited to build a legacy and create a human i can only aspire to make a better person than my mother made me. Thank you for your honestly and openness.
    one love,
    m

  • Dear Emily,

    Apologies for the caps [I have no idea where the fault lies as it’s not my keyboard!].

    Thank-you very much for taking time to share your experience and thoughts. I have recently found out I am expecting and my immediate reaction was I am not ready to sacrifice all of my plans and dreams/end my career, just as it’s taking off. I would like 4 children but my plan was to have them back-2-back from mid-late thirties when I’d be more content to surrender. What you friend mentioned about “giving up” is exactly how I feel – naively… in my view it’s what people do that don’t have ambition and drive to ACHIEVE something extraordinary [because most women can reproduce right?!]. I am a control freak and frightfully independent so the last scenario I would welcome is anyone other than myself holding me back. However, your article [and the responses from other readers] have made me realiZe that becoming a parent doesn’t mean you have settled for the easy option (by that I mean having an excuse as to why you weren’t the next best “X”/LEADER IN YOUR INDUSTRY/wINNER OR THIS aWARD AND THAT AWARD AND SO ON…) IT JUST MEANS YOU ARE EMBRACING THE OPPORTUNITY AND BLESSING AND AS YOU HAVE PROVED, JUST REFINED YOUR FOCUS AND PRESSED PAUSE FOR A MOMENT.

    I really hope my former view of parenthood hasn’t offended anybody who comes to read this and I am certain that when my husband and i hold our baby for the first time, I will think about my former opinion and be hysterical about just how mislead my mind and opinion was…

  • Thanks for Sharing This. I’M 33 and HAPPILY married. I have been focusing on my carEer for years, building it up and in recent years feeling like i have reached success and mAny of my goals. My husband is ready for children and has been for some time, But i still feel like something is holding me back.

    Then, throw in 8 months ago, when i was in a car accident and had to stop working and felt a huge loss of identity. although i have been told over and over that this is normal and a job is a large part of who we are, i’m Beginning to think that i focused too much of my identity within my job. now i’m trying to find myself in other things as i heal and am still off work. I have been reconnecting to my creative side and think that i have Ignored this side of me for a long time. But basicallY I want to accept where I am with my injury and also Try to understand my fear to Have children. I will get better in time But i also hope tO Find Some inner peace to unstick my feaRs and let me Move forward into parenthood with my husband. My other option i Guess is to let it Happen and learn AccEptance as i go!

    Thank you all for sharing your journeYs. It makes me feel like it’s not just me and there’s comfort in that.

  • Beautifully written and so inspiring!! As someone who feels like i HAVEN’T achieved my dreams or liveD My creative passions just yet i was so captured by this artIcle! I have been married for a few years and together with my Husband for many years, i am now aged 31 soon and reaDy for a baby but have been hesitant due to feeling like i haveN’t achieved

  • Thank you so much for writing this. I felt like this was written just for me. I am a very creative person. My husband and I have a duo called Saint Bear …I’m pursuing a sommelier certificate and I’m wanting to start a family soon. I know I’ll love being a mother I’m just plagued with doubt wondering how our life will fit all of this in. You captured the feeling well.

    • Witni, you are so welcome! I am always honored when my writing resonates with someone and it’s hands-down the best compliment to hear that you felt it was written just for you. IT WAS. AND YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Remember that. Here’s what I have to say about your fears surrounding whether a baby can fit into your life right now: your life and your love will GROW to fit that baby, and then some. Will it be difficult if you choose to do it while so much stuff is happening? Yes. Will it be difficult if you wait a few years until you feel the ‘time is right’? Yes. Why? Because you’re going to have just as much going on then as right now. Those things will just be different than what they are now. That said, if there are certain things in your life that have actual, real, tangible deadlines in the foreseeable future (like, attaining your sommelier certificate), perhaps you can make a plan with your husband to pursue having a child once you’ve accomplished that? Having that off your plate wouldn’t magically make having a baby easy, but it would be one less thing you’d have to think about, and potentially make things a little less difficult. But, in general, if you truly do want to start a family, I’d advise against getting into the trap of ‘Well, once this happens, then we can have a baby’. Because that could go on forever, if you let it. That’s particularly true of creative pursuits, like your lovely music, since those are so open-ended (as they should be!). But, it can even be true for things with ‘deadlines’. For instance, let’s say you wait until you’ve gained your certificate, but then you’re offered a job immediately upon gaining your sommelier certificate by someone you impressed along the way… then what? You’d essentially be in the same spot you’re in now. It comes down to being honest with yourself about what you truly want in life. So, knowing you want to have a family and that you’ll love being a mother, perhaps the question is not ‘am I ready?’, but rather: ‘do I want to wait any longer?’, for the love and growth and joy (and, yes, sleepless nights, loss of personal time and space, worry, etc.) that come with having a child? The bottom line is: being a parent is not easy…it’s worth it. The best word I have to describe it? DEPTH. Whatever you decide, or whatever comes your way, know this: you can handle it. Let love lead the way.

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