As I held him in my arms while my insides were sewn back into place on the operating table, my son opened his little beady eyes one at a time.
At last, we met face to face on a rare snowy day last April. Nine months of gestation (well, a little over nine… stubborn dude was a bit too cozy in there), seventeen hours of excruciating induced labor, two epidural attempts, and one emergency c-section later, Atlas made it out.
Oh! My beating heart! So much love to give! Oh! My racing brain! All the things I wanted to teach him!
But as I’ve come to learn one year into motherhood, it isn’t just me teaching him things—he is teaching me as well.
My child and this precious, primal, psychedelic experience called motherhood are teaching me valuable life lessons. Lessons I’ve been processing through therapy, and lessons I’ve been writing about in bits and pieces in between diaper changes.
They’ve been so profound that I felt called to share them with you. Even if you’re not a mother, you can still hopefully benefit from the things I’ve learned this past year.
Here's what I learned:
1) We can heal generational trauma so it doesn’t pass on
Passed down pain doesn’t have to keep getting passed on.
Motherhood is triggering AF. This past year, I saw flashes of my mom’s rage in me. The explosive anger that she repressed for years until it came out when she hit me. And then I saw my own repressed anger, the pain from childhood I didn’t express because it wasn’t safe to. Let me tell you, I’m terrified of passing this down another generation and I promise to heal what I can to prevent it.
I’ve come to learn that sometimes we carry deep wounds and profound pain that wasn’t ours to begin with. I’ve come to learn that hurt people hurt people. That people who have suffered trauma often pass down their trauma. Our parents weren’t immune to that. Perhaps they lived through war or abuse in their family. I came to understand that my mom experienced horrors during the Cultural Revolution in China, and had so much pain buried inside. The more compassion I have more for my parents, the more I can heal my own wounds and not pass them down. We have agency. We have power. We can choose to heal and break the cycle of hurt.
2) Social media highlights can be a far cry from real life
Comparing yourself to someone else’s curated gallery of life is masochistic.
As I scrolled through images of moms with fresh make-up, tidy homes, and angelic sleeping babies, I silently cried as my son woke up for the fifth time in a night. Who were all these people with seemingly perfect lives in my feed? How did they do it?
With bags under my eyes, I looked like a zombie. I reminisced about my wild solo travels, my pre-baby body, and my free-spirited independence. They seemed several lifetimes ago. In their place, I had an identity crisis, postpartum rage, and very little sleep. The first months were brutal.
However, as I became pissed off enough to express my raw experience online and desperate enough to ask for help, I came to see the truth. That the family with shiny smiles is cracking behind the scenes, that moms all over are teetering on the edge, that most babies in fact do NOT sleep through the night. I learned that there is a huge gap between what we see online vs reality. And that comparisons online inflict unnecessary and avoidable pain.
3) We don’t have to fit into neat boxes; we can be hybrids
You can break free from societal and cultural expectations.
Society and our cultural upbringings are full of dichotomy and dueling expectations. Be a present mother. Be a working mom. Stay at home as much as possible with your child. Provide as much as possible for your child. Focus on your son. Focus on yourself. Don’t give up things you love. You must give up things you love. So many shoulds and opinions of what we need to be. When I worked I felt guilty. When I didn’t work I felt guilty. That mom guilt is real.
Trying to shove myself into rigid definitions made me deeply unhappy. So I decided to break free from them and choose the freedom of AND. I could be a present mom AND work part-time on my business or memoir. I could give my son what he needs AND not abandon my own needs. I could still be a mom AND be me as an individual (dancing to house music and disco late into the night.) The more we reclaim our power to design our own unique hybrid lives, the happier we can be.
4) Intuition can be an invaluable guide; learn to trust it
There’s a lot of advice on what to do, but only you know best what works for your life.
In the early days of motherhood, I went on a Pinterest rampage, maniacally saving articles I read once and never opened again. I also got a bunch of parenting books which are now collecting dust, still to be read. They sit in the corner, along with piles of unsolicited advice from other people. Parenting—a minefield of unsolicited advice and other people’s opinions (though bless everyone for sharing their often well-meaning advice.)
What happened? Am I just a bad listener? Rebellious fool? Too lazy to read? No. What happened was I became a better listener to my intuition. Admittedly in the beginning I blindly followed lots of published advice because I was like a fish out of water. Buy this. Buy that. Do this. Do that. However, over time I came to listen to my gut. I came to see that every one of us has a unique path, even though parts of our experience may be universal. I came to learn that each of us has deep inner wisdom that can guide us, even when we venture into new unchartered territory in life.
5) Letting go is key to mental and emotional health
If you want to maintain some level of sanity, you have to be able to let go and surrender.
For most of my life, I’ve been a busy overachiever. This came from watching my Chinese immigrant parents bust their asses to survive in America and from my childhood trauma. In recent years after burning out several times, I’ve been learning to let go. However, it’s been a hard lesson. As they say, “next level same devil.”
And holy shit did it show up again– the need to prove myself and do too much, even as a new mom. I put way too much pressure on myself, and came crashing down in several epic mental breakdowns. I finished writing my memoir manuscript and book proposal, but it came at a high cost. I couldn’t be fully present with my baby, my nerves rattling as I dashed against imaginary timelines.
It was only when I learned to let go that I could enjoy the little fleeting moments of my child’s life that I can never get back again. I learned that even if I don’t cross off my to-do’s, even if I don’t write a single sentence, even if I don’t shower for days…that it’s perfectly ok. I learned to chill the f*ck out, and my life has been infinitely better for it.
I’m incredibly grateful for the lessons I’ve learned this past year. They’ve changed my life for the better. I hope you can benefit from them too.
With love and light,
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