When I returned to work after my first child was born, I was a completely different person. Each of those first few days in the office felt like a full week. The minutes ticked by while I pined for my infant. I could physically feel in my chest that I was missing her. I carefully watched the clock ticking away until I could race home, throw on an old t-shirt and nurse my sweet girl.
As those first few difficult days turned into memories, I began to notice a different kind of change. My professional self began reawakening … and she was pissed off. I found myself annoyed as hell. Annoyed that I was confined to a desk. Pissed that I had to fill in for our administrative assistant on her vacation. Completely put out by the regular rules and regulations put forth by the institution that owned my days.
At the time I thought that this was mostly a response to the exhaustion and overwhelm of being a new working parent. But today I think something much deeper was occurring within me. That time period kicked off a new phase of my ambitions, something that I had always had within me but had worked to stifle as often as possible.
How was it, I wondered just recently, that becoming a mother made me step into my ambitions? Why did I start to look at the job I held then as “beneath me?” I thought about what was different in me the day after my daughter was born versus the day before. Of course there were an infinite number of changes in my life the moment she took her first breath. But one important change came to mind.
For most of my life, as with most women I know, I was conditioned to downplay my achievements and the part I played in any successes around me. I considered it incredibly arrogant or selfish to point out that I was integral to any of the good things around me. And not only would I not say anything like that, I believed it too.
Girls are subtly taught to quietly wait for recognition. Then, if that recognition does not come, it’s your own fault – never the fault of the non-recognizer. We are taught to avoid thinking that we might be the best at something or even just the right fit for something. We are taught to think this about so much of life except for one thing: motherhood. Everything in our culture teaches us that a mother is the most essential being in a child’s life.
For me, it became a simple fact when I started breastfeeding. I literally kept my daughter alive through my body alone for the better part of her first year. For the first time in my life, there was no question in my mind about whether I was essential to a function. I had questions about whether I was any good at it. I thought long and hard on a regular basis about how to be better at it. But I never questioned whether I was essential for it. Of course I was. She was my baby and I was her mother.
That subtle recognition, that small awakening … today, I believe it permeated other aspects of my life that I would not have thought possible before. If I was essential to this one critical lifelong pursuit, then perhaps I was essential to other things as well. I was finally beginning to recognize this about myself and I was getting pissed as hell that others hadn’t seemed to recognize it for me, as I had been conditioned to wait for.