My Karma Shirt
Having a baby is much like being underwater for a long time, and when you finally surface you find that you have come up into an alien world. Sure, there’s air to breathe, and it certainly seems like the same people you love are there, but nearly everything—really, everything—has changed. Those first days, weeks, and months of new motherhood are about keeping baby fed, engaged, and calm. That time is so much about mastering all the firsts—how to deal with a car seat, how to get both groceries and baby into the car, how to prioritize diaper changing, naps, and milk-giving—that there is little time left to think lofty thoughts about yourself. There’s little time for svadhyaya, the yogic word for “self-study.” There’s little time to philosophize about who you’re becoming or how you’ve changed or what this all means.
Somewhere in the back of my foggy, tired mind during that first year, I had a sense of waiting. Initially I wasn’t sure what I was waiting for, but as time went on the hazy sense of waiting sharpened to a point: I was waiting for life to go back to normal. Maybe you had (or will have) a quicker response to new motherhood, but for me it took nearly two years for the realization to sink in—really sink in, in a deep, true way—that this was life now. This was my normal life now. Forever.
That’s not to say that it doesn’t get easier. If you’re in the throes of the first year or two, know it absolutely gets easier and more routinized and as time goes on there is definitely some space to think, be, and self-study. But when your baby arrives, and you surface from the water in the new alien terrain? Well, you're going to live in that world permanently. Something has forever changed. A new life has joined your world, and it is one that you prioritize and love more than anything else. And that shifts everything.
And it’s OK, on some levels, if you dislike or resist or feel a crushing sense of loss at that change.
It’s OK to miss your old self.
My favorite yoga shirt is a light pink tank top emblazoned with the word KARMA. From a distance, it looks fairly typical. It’s feminine, soft cotton, has a requisite yogic word. It’s exactly what you might expect a yoga teacher to walk around in. But if you look at the shirt at much closer range, shimmery gold writing above and below Karma starts to become clear, until it’s obvious that the shirt says, “Dear Karma, I have a list of people you missed.” Funny, right? I certainly think so. The part of it that’s so funny to me is that, of course, it’s not very yogic in its light vengefulness. But that’s the reason it’s my favorite.
Part of being a “yoga person,” is that people might assume things about you. They might assume you spend hours meditating or that you’re vegan or that you can jump into handstand in a flash. And that describes some yoga people, for sure. But not all of us. It doesn’t describe me. My KARMA shirt is my own way of saying “I’m my own yoga person.” For instance, I might be a lovely and kind yogi who can also imagine bad things happening to people who have hurt me. And I’m good with that. (Vengeance isn’t high on my priority list, but it’s not off the list either.)
Motherhood is a lot like being a yoga person. When you become a mother, certain attributes are applied to you: selflessness, most obviously. But also empathy, nurturing, compassion, gentleness, calm, patience, and purity. When I surfaced in the new land where those things were law, it didn’t initially bother me. I barely noticed in my desire to keep my daughter well and soothed and loved. But over time, resistance to my new mom life has often come because of the things our culture assumes about motherhood. I am not, for instance, gentle. I’m not very patient. I don’t think anyone would describe me as calm. And I’m definitely not pure.
Those assumptions about motherhood make the shift into this new world so much harder. The truth is (and research supports this), motherhood is as big of a shift as puberty. Hormones flow, priorities shift, you change. But that change doesn’t mean you have to be a mother on society’s terms. You can be a mother on your own terms. Not everything the world thinks about mothers has to be something that you take on as who you are. Part of the new trauma of motherhood, though, is these assumptions. It’s the assumption that all you want to do is this. It’s the assumption that you have suddenly arrived at the very apex of your purpose in life. It’s the assumption that life is somehow complete since your child has joined the world.
And for you, maybe all of those things are true. Or maybe some of them are true. Or maybe none of them are true. Maybe you’re a yogi who meditates daily or doesn’t eat meat or adds a handstand before every chattarunga. Or maybe you meditate sometimes. Or maybe you do meatless Monday. Or maybe you’ve never done a handstand in your life. Whatever the case, you’re still a yogi. Whatever the case, you’re still a mother. On your terms. In your way.
If I had a shirt for Motherhood, I think it would be a pretty pink, too, with the scripted word “Mom” written in flowery writing. And below it in shimmery gold writing? “Yeah, and my old life was pretty f**king good, too."