On Turning Outwards
Before I became a mother, I found myself constantly preoccupied with myself.
Did I look pretty today? Did I have a blemish on my face? Does this outfit make me look bigger than I am? Are those people judging me? Did that comment make me sound stupid?
I wouldn’t say that I was a anxious person by nature, but I had bouts of insecurities just like everyone else. I was inwardly turned, most of the time.
When I got married and started my career as a teacher, I inevitably began to think of others more, because my husband and my students demanded my attention. But there was nothing quite like the arrival of my little baby boy, and the way he calmly lay in my arms, that forced my interior gaze out into the world and on another person.
Having my child grow inside of me made me contemplate how my life would change, in that I watched my belly expand month after month and folded little clothes and made my plans for the future. I imagined what it would be like to hold my child and gaze into his eyes, sharing those first few moments together. I anticipated an instant bond, which so many others described: of suddenly falling in love.
But, just like when I said my marriage vows to my husband, that moment of intensity didn’t bring a rush of beautiful emotions. Rather, it solidified itself forever in my memory as a moment of calm, heartfelt sobriety: this is it, this is my life changing.
When I held onto my soft little baby and touched his wrinkled baby fingers, watched as his little eyes opened and closed, and listened as his first cries of hunger and confusion rang in my ears, I knew that my life of self had been laid to rest. This, this new person, who felt as much a part of my body as my own being, made forever permanent how my thoughts are now turned outwards.
Some people speak of motherhood as a fight for your own identity. Babies can swallow up so much of the freedoms that you didn’t even know you enjoyed. It can be difficult to juggle new responsibilities and figure out how to adjust your life to this new person who is, truly, in utter dependence on you.
What I discovered, in the most reassuring way, is that the part of me that was born to be a mother naturally lifted up the parts of me that were too tired, too selfish, too overwhelmed. The part of myself that was destined all along to sustain and love this little boy gently and fiercely transformed me into a woman that thinks of others and loves others.
This is not to say that I have lost myself or my own identity apart from being a mother; far from it. My own interior life is still rich, and my routine as an individual still runs it course. But this sublime calling of motherhood has enriched me through and through, like rich soil that has soaked up water. It makes my arms stronger to hold, my heart more tender, and my mind sharper. As it turns out, serving and loving others is one of the best things you can do reassure yourself that, yes, I am enough and I doing good things. This call to be mother affirmed me from the inside out, even amidst the late nights and pumping in the break room and sleep deprivation.
I no longer think, How do I look? Are they judging me?
Now, I think, How I am loving? How did I serve? How is he watching? How is he growing? How am I showing the world beauty today? How did I love people today?
And that gift of transcending and finding myself at the same time is sweeter and more real than I ever could have imagined.