Meeting the me who arrived with the kids By Alena Murguia

Karen Skinner / Chicago Parent  Alena Murguia with sons Connor, 1½, and Patrick, almost 3.

I've come to realize that I am a completely different person than the Alena of three years ago. It took two babies and quite a bit of soul searching to reach this epiphany. Before that, I was only vaguely aware that, since the birth of my son Patrick, something was off. I had the feeling I didn't fit somehow.

I was prepared for my lifestyle to change with my first child. I read books. I talked to other moms. I bought all the right things. And then, suddenly it seemed, he was here. He was precious and vulnerable and amazing. I could not believe I made him. It was unreal. I was swept into a world of awe and wonder I had never known. I sat and stared for as long as he would let me.

Of course, it was also a world of diapers, never-ending visitors and colic. So I read more books, talked to more moms and bought more things. I learned to function on little or no sleep. I could change a diaper while talking on the phone and nurse Paddy while walking.

Slowly, I began to find my footing as a mother. I felt ready, even eager, to return to my life. What I didn't understand was that the life I had known was gone.

I had made the decision long before Paddy was born not to return to full-time work and had already made arrangements to work part-time from home. In that way, I never really stopped working. I was also the co-artistic director of a professional theatre company. I had taken some time off from directing but continued attending meetings, sometimes with Paddy in tow, and attending to my duties there. I tried to still see my friends and made new friends in the classes Paddy and I took together. I assumed I could integrate motherhood into my life, balance these two things as if they were separate parts of me. I worked hard toward this balance and felt small victories as friends and family marveled at my ability to "do so much."

But still, I felt like I was watching my life happen to someone else. Floating outside myself, I wondered at Alena's choices and judged her decisions without feeling fully connected to them. And I struggled. I struggled to return to the me I knew. I struggled to understand what had happened to my life. I looked in the mirror and barely recognized the woman I saw. The face was the same, but the person was new.

Luckily, I was surrounded by wonderful people willing to listen and offer encouragement. My mom's friends were especially helpful in letting me know I wasn't alone. Without even knowing it, our seemingly mundane conversations about baby food, Sesame Street videos and sippy cups created a safety net. I felt safe to explore my feelings.

The one thing I knew for sure was that I was exhausted. Down to the bone tired, not just from lack of sleep, but from the constant action of being a mother. There are no breaks, no vacations, no sabbaticals. Even when you have a babysitter, you never stop being a mother. Strangely, it took me a good year to realize that. I felt the stress associated with it, but couldn't identify the cause. I am a mother. It is the core of who I am. It seems obvious now, but I resisted the knowledge. I didn't anticipate the fundamental change.

Shouldn't I have known that my priorities would shift dramatically? Surely, the books had warned me that with pregnancy and breast-feeding my body would no longer be my own. Certainly, I might have foreseen that my single and newly married friends would not be able to comprehend the importance of soiled diapers and sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the very tasks of motherhood kept me too busy to examine the big picture.

By the time I realized the old Alena was gone, consumed by motherhood, it seemed ridiculously late to grieve for her. I wasn't even sad, just surprised that her passing had gone almost unnoticed by me. Isn't it strange that she disappeared so dramatically and imperceptibly at the same time? It isn't as if I hadn't experienced dramatic changes in my life prior to becoming a mother. I had taken risks, experienced love and heartbreak, changed jobs. I had gotten married. But these life-altering events temporarily changed how I saw the world. I integrated the changes and moved on. Motherhood turned me inside out and altered me permanently.

So here I am almost three years later, just getting to know myself. I've changed so much. I've had to radically adjust my expectations. I have always excelled at whatever I've put my mind to. Whether in school, at the theatre or in the workplace, I always felt good about what I did. As a mother though, my successes are always tempered by what I see as my failures-today I lost my temper, yesterday my kids didn't eat any vegetables, last Tuesday Paddy watched four hours of television-the list is endless. Never before had I undertaken a project which resulted in so many failures. And I can't quit. I'm in this for the long haul.

And where do my old priorities fit in? The theatre, which was once the center of my life, is now a blip on my radar. It took almost two years for me to realize I had to let go, to resign from my leadership position and walk away. I was so afraid of letting go of that part of me. I was afraid I would never replace the sense of satisfaction or confidence I felt there. I could not imagine how my 2-year-old's use of the words "please" and "thank you" would shine the spotlight of satisfaction back onto me.

I have lost the old me, but what I have gained is so much more important. I am learning along with my children. I am a mother.


Alena Murguia, who lives in Berwyn, is the mother of Patrick and Connor and works part-time for Chicago Parent.


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