It was my 27th week of gestation and little did I know my life was about to be turned upside down: that motherhood would happen sooner than later. A typical day at work was interrupted by visions of triangular shapes everywhere I looked. It was as if I had just stared at a bright light in the form of a triangle and then looked away. The problem was, I hadn’t. One thing led to another. I was admitted that day to the hospital for observation, diagnosed with preeclampsia two days later, and delivered my daughter via emergency C-section three days after that. Much sooner than expected, I was a mother.
I Relished Every Moment of Motherhood Until I Didn’t
Hard doesn’t even begin to describe those first few moments and days that followed. I barely got a glimpse of my daughter before she was whisked away. She was immediately intubated and, soon after that, connected to a ton of machines—some to administer medication and others to monitor her vitals to keep her alive. I, myself, was in a semi-conscious state, my body battling both the magnesium-chloride fog and utter exhaustion. It wasn’t until 30 hours after my daughter’s birth that I finally got to meet her, with her incubator serving as both a barrier and a necessity.
“All too often the image I had of a good mom was of a selfless woman: always giving to others and putting herself last. Having done that myself—and seeing how it eventually burned me out—I wanted to consider modeling self-love and value in hopes that she would grow up believing in her own importance even after becoming a mother.”
From her 71-day stint in the NICU to defining our routines for the first few weeks and months at home, she was my everything. My life revolved around her because that’s what she needed to survive. As she matured, the threat to her life diminished, but my commitment and dedication to her remained steadfast. Everything I did, I did for her. Through it all—the incredible, beautiful, hard, and scary moments—I was a mother, and I relished every moment. Until I didn’t.
As my daughter became a toddler, it was apparent that the model I had created—the one where she was my everything—wasn’t sustainable. Although I loved my daughter dearly and wanted to give her the world, I felt depleted.
Yes, I was her mother, but it could not be my sole identity. I struggled with what motherhood meant. A flurry of thoughts circled my mind: Was I a good mom if I wanted to expand my priorities to include things other than my daughter? Who was I if not a mother? Was there even room in my life to pursue anything else?
I Needed to Prioritize Me
My journey of answering these questions made me realize I needed to prioritize myself. Initially, it came as a shock. It seemed selfish and wrong, but I continued to pursue answers because it also felt vital. I needed to feel more balanced and that was by valuing myself. I began to see myself as essential, not only to my daughter and all the other people and entities in my life but also to me. And that epiphany felt good. It felt right. It was also what I wanted my daughter to see modeled for her. All too often the image I had of a good mom was of a selfless woman: always giving to others and putting herself last. Having done that myself—and seeing how it eventually burned me out—I wanted to consider modeling self-love and value in hopes that she would grow up believing in her own importance even after becoming a mother. Coming to this realization wasn’t easy. In fact, it’s an ongoing process that continues to evolve as my daughter and I mature. My daughter is now a healthy, active, and thriving 9-year-old, and I’m thrilled to say we have a fantastic relationship. Here is what I’ve learned and would like to share with you.
Time is Valuable
Often times mamas take on the majority of household responsibilities. If you’re in the position to do so, hire a person or entity to get your time back. Whether it’s cleaning, laundry, or grocery shopping, there are a ton of options these days, and the price may be worth it to you to reclaim time for yourself. But, hey, many of us are not in the position to pay for services. Instead, share household responsibilities with your partner, children, and even extended family members willing to help you out.
It’s Okay to Ask for Help
I used to believe that asking for help was an indication of failure. Willing to help others, I rarely asked for help myself. Requesting assistance is a sign of strength as well as compassion for both myself and my child. You cannot continue to give to others when your well is dry. Ask for help and be clear in your request.
Evaluate What You Want to Model for Your Child
Equal love and care for my daughter and myself are what I model. There is room in my life for many priorities. Including myself does not diminish the love I have for my child. Knowing and honoring your needs dramatically shapes how we parent, making us feel less stressed and more in control of our decisions. Yes, I’m a mother, but I’m an even better one now that my life isn’t all about her.
About the Author
Tina Unrue is a working mom and the founder and owner of Selfish Mama, a community that supports working mothers seeking more from life: more fulfillment, meaning, and purpose. Selfish Mama came out of Tina’s struggle to define what motherhood should look like and her yearning to trade in the wash-rinse-repeat feeling of her day-to-day life for meaning and purpose.
Tina is a certified life coach, a perfectly imperfect mom to a strong-willed 9-year-old girl, stepmom to two beautiful adult women, and grandma to three amazing littles. For Tina, life coaching is not a job, it’s a way of life. The skills she learned are invaluable for helping not only her clients, but also herself, and her young daughter. Tina believes that moms deserve to live their best life and that in doing so, they model an excellent life for their children.
“The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their own happiness.” -Thich Nhat Hanh