Our Real Work: Jess Ryan, MS

Coaching and consulting. Something's calling. It's your life.

i am mother.

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This week’s post is a guest post written by my colleague and friend Emily Brown. We are co-teaching a local workshop called I Am Mother. Check it out HERE.


I often wish that my children could have met me before I became this thing called mother. I wish they could have seen my free spirit and thirst for adventure when it was just me. I wish my old self could spend a day with them, running wild through open spaces, drenched in optimism and best intentions.

But, it turns out, these little beings are exactly what makes me mother. My old self could have never known or understood how deeply being their mother would change who I was.

My motherhood journey began when I was first faced with the realization that I may never become one. I married young and it was always just assumed we would have children. There was never a discussion about our expectations or that we could expect something other. At the time, it hadn’t even occurred to me that some people choose to not become a parent.

Then I got pregnant and miscarried. Then I got pregnant again. And miscarried again. At that point, as I scrolled through the internet reading article after article telling me I COULD still have children and scrolled through article after article telling me I likely WOULDN’T have children, I knew that no matter what happened, I was a mother. I was changed in a way only mothers can be. My grief was deep and my heart touched in a way I had never known before.

It has been six years since the birth of my first child. These days, I mostly feel tired and weighed down by how I have experienced parenthood in a way that is markedly different than my husband. The feeling that motherhood has confused and scrambled my whole identity has been almost impossible for me to express. I lack the time and energy to examine my exhaust and navigate with awareness this thing that I have become, called mother.

And then, one day, I had to quit a bike race half way through and I was crazy pissed off. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t physically do it. It was a 50 mile race that I had done several times Before (yes, Before with a capital B means, before I was a mother). I have never been an outstanding athlete or accomplished much physically that would warrant even a raised eyebrow. But I finished, and I finished a lot of races. In my mind I was an athlete. Then I wasn’t, and to me, that has been the disorienting journey of motherhood. This time around, I got on my bike with very little preparation and the old mindset of “athlete”. The first 10 miles felt good, inspiring even, but almost every mile after felt more and more deflating. By mile 22, I knew. I knew I couldn’t finish. I knew I was no longer what I was.

At mile 27 my kids, my mom, and my dad were on course ringing cowbells and cheering obnoxiously. I stopped so they could snap a photo and I didn’t start again. My daughter hopped onto my bicycle seat and I walked my bike and myself away with them. I felt embarrassed and deeply disappointed.

I wanted my children to see their mother do something other than cook dinner, pick up the house, and run errands. I wanted them to watch and cheer as I crossed the finish line and for that memory to be etched in their minds when they remembered me. If all of this seems terribly dramatic, you’re right. It is. But, it’s really not about the race anyway. It’s about the evolution of who I am and the grieving and letting go of what I am not.

The atmosphere at the finish line was celebratory. Hundreds of racers were drinking beer and recounting the tales of the many miles biked that day. I ran into acquaintances and old friends whose race times just happened to be phenomenal and I had to try keeping the mood light when asked how my race went. I looked at the crowd of over 600 racers and left angry.

Here is my very gross, and probably inaccurate, summary of the race participants:  Of the females, maybe 1% are mothers and I would guess a good 25-30% of the males were dads. At least, that was the story I was telling myself. The reason this story matters to me is part of why I perceive parenthood being such a different experience for me and my husband.

When my husband became a father it seemed as though it was accompanied with a comma. He was teacher, biker, fixer, thinker, and father. When I became mother it felt more like it was drafted with a period. I am mother. And, in a culture where it seems to take so very little for man to be seen as a good father and so very little for a woman to be seen as a bad mother, I have always met that label with resistance.

Through my lense, it seems that I have had to give up so much and have been  met with judgement from all angles, whether personally or societally. This role comes with so many external pressures that I often feel like I am missing some “mom” gene or hormone that makes me love and cherish every second of raising children. While my husband gets to go to bed each night with a sense of accomplishment and a job well done, I seem to toss and turn while contemplating my failures as a mother.

Like many difficult moments in life, quitting the bike race was pivotal for some small awakening in my soul. It makes sense that “mother” is a lot to live up to. When we look at the mother archetype we see the giver of life. The protector, the nurturer, the life force of the entire universe. The mother represents unconditional love, devotion, and caring. The truth is, we all have aspects of the great mother within us, male and female.

We live in a culture that grossly undervalues and objectifies the feminine. It comes at us everyday in subtle ways with terms like, “you ____ like a girl” or “that’s good for a girl” and in more obvious ways like aggression and sexual violence towards both women and men who exhibit signs of femininity.  It is no wonder that those of us who represent the literal mother feel immense pressure to represent her in all her glory and power.

What if mother was not a role that represents sacrifice or failure? What is “mother” was enough? Biological birth or not, children or not, we are all and have been a mother of some kind. We have all created and fostered something, even if it’s just this very life we are living. We all have the capacity to love deeply and possess the healing power of “kissing the scratched knees” of our family, friends, and even ourselves.

I am no longer an athlete. I am no longer the free, adventurous, and self absorbed girl. I am less able to fly by the seat of pants and plan trips on a whim. I can no longer make decisions based solely on what I want. I can no longer finish 50 mile races. Right now. Or maybe ever.

I wake up, make coffee, juggle schedules, cook dinners, put bandaids on cuts and scratches, clean-up, arrange playdates, and read bedtime stories. For now, in this season, I am mother. And that is enough.


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