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Being a new mom in Vondelpark

Six thirty in the morning and I am sitting alone with my two month old baby on a bench in Vondelpark. He has been awake a lot last night, woke up mostly every hour and I am exhausted. I left the house on an impulse, needing to be outside, but still close to that bundle of me that is my son. My partner did not say a single word, he watched me pack a small diaper bag, the baby and leave in tears. And I liked that he did not ask anything.

Back to the park bench, my son starts crying with that same nerve wracking tone he did all night. I looked around, checking if any soul around me would see me and sue me for being such a notorious bad mother. In an attempt to break free from my son crying, I google ‘how to stop my baby from crying’. Apparently it could be as simple as to sing him a lullaby but I do not know any. I remembered a friend once said she sang an argentine song named ‘noni noni’. I played it on Spotify and started singing the lyrics out loud reading them from my phone. I was so tired but the singing brought me some unexpected ease and I felt my body letting go of the night’s tension. I started to weep incessantly while hugging my child, walking past a mini forest of tallest trees, the sun drawing light fans through the bark. In one hour I went from anger, to sadness, to hope and beauty of life.

The Noni noni song has a mellow melody and the voices of a mom and her child singing to each other about their sleeping rituals. The final verse is the lonely lament of the mother noticing that one day her magic will not be needed anymore, and her child will know how to fall asleep. I kept on tearily singing to my son while needing my own mother, and then I am her, I am my mother fully aware her first daughter can sleep alone, like the grownup baby in the song. I cry more, I do not know when I will be able to stop. I am still in a public park in the middle of Amsterdam, fortunately no one is seeing me. My baby stares at me, his eyes just lost in mine. I speak to him in thoughts: I do not know how to be your mother my dear son, this is harder than I expected. I do not know who I am anymore my dear son. I used to be this career woman, even a scientist once, but that life is so far away I don't even know how to go back there.

Can I even go back there? Who am I now then? Can I be anything I want? Is there any exciting me to be in spite of being a mother? Is there any piece of the old me that I can keep as I build this new identity? Can this new me be built or should I just accept it?

In the first few months postpartum I cried sometimes with a very clear reason: I would never be able to be back to who I was before. I was embarrassed to admit it, to say it out loud. But I also read about this before my son was born: that a new identity needed to be explored. That the birth of a first child comes with the grief of the person you will never be. So, I would never be able to be who I was, there is no one to be back to. I do not exist anymore. I am now someone’s mother, that son needs me to survive, to thrive, to turn into an independent human being. And like the noni noni song said, one day he will not need me anymore and who may I be then?

Months went by after that morning, nights staring at the ceiling and crying with my partner in desperation for the lack of sleep. We went to work in pieces, we left him at daycare with guilty relief. I slowly started to have the time to do things I like: painting, yoga, having drinks with friends, and even running. I started running eight years ago after a painful setback in my life. I needed a win. So, I signed up for a 10K and gave myself six months to train. One rainy morning in Buenos Aires I went through the finish line with immense joy, I was proud of myself. I looked around and saw so many teary eyes, loaded hugs. I loved it, and I kept on running through a thyroid disease, unknown cities, even joined running teams. I cried through every finish line, I yelled at people to bring their best, I hated to run. Running was always there for me, just like writing, and yoga, and painting, and all those things that allow me to be more me. Whatever that is.

When I was four months pregnant I was still running, three times a week, through the Vondelpark. But I started getting too tired, and I stopped. I listened to my body, as the midwife recommended. My son is eighteen months now, and I haven't been able to run much. It was either because my c-section needed to heal, my thyroid needed to work well, my baby needed to sleep better, or I needed to just sit down and relax. But being able to run ‘a lot’ for me meant being back. Back to the person I was before my son existed.

Last night, after cooking dinner for my toddler, I went out for a long run with a clear goal: 14 kilometers from Zaandam to Westzaan and back. I was about to break my personal postpartum record, and I was excited. While the sun was setting out in the green dutch fields, I broke my record and arrived at my quiet home wearing a winning smile and a revelation: maternity changed me because I can be whatever I want now. While I was running, I thought about who I was, but somehow the exercise endorphins told me that I am someone else now, and I can grow into any other woman whenever I am ready for it.

The metamorphosis of motherhood has opened the possibilities of new mes, either through surviving the lack of sleep, the ability to keep a human alive, or the responsibility over the child’s milestones achieved. I am a mother, I am a different woman, I am proud of me. I am not going back, I am going somewhere else.

So I went back to my son’s eyes that morning in the Vondelpark, a few weeks deep into postpartum daze, and I tell him in my thoughts: Thank you dear son for changing me, I do not know how to be a mother but I know one day I will be proud of me.


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