Worn Well

My Transformative First Year as a Mother

Tara Rock Motherhood

Explorer Collective member Tara Rock went through an identity crisis after she gave birth. Below, she shares how becoming a mother made her a better person. Words and Photos by Tara Rock

The first year I became a mother was one of the most difficult, transformative and amazing experiences I’ve ever faced in my life. I have never been pulled so hard in two completely different directions. I even have a hard time describing those opposing feelings because they’re always changing and motherhood continues to be such a complex, unique journey.

Flatform Universal

Tara wears the Flatform Universal in Black.  

I would describe my life, pre-baby, as spontaneous, selfish, and pretty carefree. I was an explorer, photographer, creative and felt most validated when I was shooting photos and/or traveling. I would book commercial shoots regularly which helped fuel my need to travel and explore the world. When I was home in Oahu, most mornings were spent surfing or sleeping in when the waves weren’t good.

I had to dive into motherhood head first. We just moved, my husband started a new job, and we didn’t have anywhere to live (among other things). I am not much of a planner so I had no intentions of finding alternative childcare or deciding the direction of my career postpartum. I was just winging it and hoping that everything would work out. I thought everything would still be the same but with a baby in-tow. I’m still not sure if my choice (or lack of choice) was a good (or bad) idea. I still don’t know what the heck I am doing other than being the primary caregiver to my son, and that’s okay.

I think every new mother’s struggle is different. My sister just had a baby and is struggling with the idea of leaving him to go back to work. I have a friend who is a single mother trying to find a balance between being a parent and providing for her family. And I have other friends who have made the choice to give up their careers and become stay-at-home moms much like myself.

Tara Rock

It used to be hard for me to say that I am a stay-at-home mom. Admitting it felt so permanent, but here I am saying it now without flinching. I had this idea that I would effortlessly balance my career and raise a child. I don’t know what I was thinking. I am terrible at multitasking. I suddenly felt useless when I stopped taking photos and had to focus on raising my son. I never thought my life as a creative would be so blatantly replaced by child-rearing.

I basically went through a major identity crisis. That will be really fun telling my son one day. Suddenly my independent, spontaneous lifestyle came to a screeching halt and I had to give all of myself to my child. I had to turn down photo opportunities, couldn’t go surfing when the conditions were good, or hop on a plane whenever I felt like it. His time napping became a luxury but a total drag too. I’d finally have an hour or two to myself to do absolutely nothing but I was stuck in the confines of my house to do absolutely nothing.

Ember Moc Shearling

 The Ember Moc Shearling in Pecan. 

Being a stay-at-home mom became a blessing and a curse. I had this amazing opportunity to give my child undivided attention and love up on him all the time but the lines are blurred when my “job” as a mom was over because it’s never really over. When do I get a break? When is the last time I took a shower? Did I eat something today? These were all basic human needs I never had to worry about before I had a baby.

I’ve had countless text message exchanges with a close friend who basically coached me through the first year. On my end, there was a lot of, “I don’t know if I can do this,” and her replies were a lot of “You’re doing a great job, he’s still alive.” I just wanted to give up. I didn’t think I had the patience or selflessness to be a good mother. There are times I wanted to walk away and leave him crying all by himself because I felt so powerless and hopeless.

Flatform Universal in Black

The Flatform Universal in Black.  

But I believe struggling takes you outside (or inside, depending who you are) yourself, builds character and makes you a better person. My son Otis has and continues to make me a better version of myself. I’m always going to be a work in progress but having a child forced me to be more selfless and be so much more present. I’ve never spent so much time with another human and learned so much about myself at the same time.

I’m so grateful he knocked me off my feet and made me his mother. He continues to teach me more every day and I am enamored by his curiosity and willingness to learn and explore. And his bright, beaming face each morning kills me (and not just because it’s bright and beaming at 5:30am).

Flatform Universal in Black

The Flatform Universal in Black.  

I read an article in the Boston Globe that talked about how a woman’s brain actually goes through neurological changes during pregnancy and after she has a baby. It’s almost as if she becomes a different person. You always hear about how a woman’s body changes and how her hormones affect her but we never hear about our brains changing—mostly because there hasn’t been a lot of research on the subject.

In the article, the author interviews T. Berry Brazelton, a famed pediatrician and child development expert from the 1960s – 1970s:

“You’re frightened and you don’t feel adequate and you’re working very hard to pull yourself together, to start facing this child that you’ve fallen desperately in love with for the first time in your life, and you realize what a major responsibility that is and what a turning point in your life it is… I see getting disorganized and thrown into a frenzy like that as a major opportunity to reorganize yourself and pull yourself back together and become the new person that you want to be.”

Wow. Did he just describe me? Or just all new moms?

Flatform Universal in Black

The Flatform Universal in Black. 

It’s comforting to know I am not alone. Birth is intrinsic to our existence yet there is very little conversation about the ways it mentally affects women (and how to support these women) postpartum.

I don’t like to be (publicly) vulnerable and talk about my struggles because quite frankly, I know that there is a certain level of privilege that comes with these issues. I have so much gratitude for my experiences and I love my son but I think it is important to talk about it because women’s mental health postpartum is something that is clearly neglected. We need to be better at meeting the needs and supporting other women.

Flatform Universal in Black

The Flatform Universal in Black. 

Now, Otis has become an extension of me and travels with me often— New Zealand, Canada, three to four trips to the West coast, many island hops around Hawaii, and I predict many more travels to come while he’s still under two-years-old and flies for free! He loves being in new places and experiencing new things (I think he gets it from his mama) and I love showing him the world.

Being outside is a huge priority for us. Have you ever been stuck in the house all day with a toddler? Maddening. I love taking him on bike rides, going down to the beach, and taking him in the ocean. I’m really looking forward to the day he can hop on a surfboard.

Ember Moc Shearling

The Ember Moc Shearling in Pecan. 

A lot of stuff came up that I didn’t like about myself over the last year. Having a child made me confront all these deep-rooted issues. It was a really uncomfortable, but necessary process that I had to face in order to be a better mother. Nothing will ever replace this intimate year (and hopefully a few more years as a stay-at-home mom) we’ve spent together.

I am a different person now. I finally shed my old identity (one that was more selfish, less responsible and less patient), and found the balance I needed to be a good mother to my son and continue to be the person I want to be. My 2019 resolution was to surrender and it almost took the entire year to let go and finally embrace this moment in my life (2020 New Years Resolution is to Be the Buddha if you care to know).

I was having a conversation with a friend who had similar struggles and she reminded me that raising a child is one of the most important roles in the world. We are in charge of the next generation. We are loving enough to put others first, caring enough to make this world a better place, and curious enough to explore without ever feeling held back. I’m hoping to raise a child who will be a Teva Explorer someday.

Sometimes I didn’t think I was going to make it the first year. But I did. I’m still a work in progress but if you’re reading this and need to hear this: you’re gonna get through the hardest moments and come out of it being a better person too.

Tara Rock

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