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I didn’t look forward to becoming a mother.

When my then-boyfriend, now-husband, and I had that conversation, it went something like this:

“What do you think about kids?” I asked, probably sipping on an iced latte in one of my favorite New York City coffee shops.

“I think being a dad is something I definitely envision for the future. How about you?” he returned the question.

“I don’t feel the need to have kids. But I guess I don’t mind?” I responded vaguely.

I wasn’t excited about children because I had plans for my own life, things I wanted to accomplish. In my mind, children would get in the way of that. I thought of motherhood as a role of endless self-sacrifice — something I was not particularly excited about. With that conversation, I felt the clock began to tick on my ambitions.

Losing myself

My plans fell through long before I had my first child, though.

After years of making music and performing as a singer-songwriter, I’d slowly burnt out and eventually quit completely when my father passed away. The ambitions I’d fervently chased since graduating university had been thrown into disarray.

Instead of taking time to recover, I turned my dogged focus to graphic design, manically studying a series of softwares and working ten- to twelve-hour days to make up for lost time. I was desperate to feel a sense of purpose. I was running against time to prove that my life had meaning, that I was making a difference, whatever that meant.

When I became pregnant at almost thirty, my heart sank slowly for ten uncomfortable months. That’s it, I feared. It’s about to be over for me. I failed as a singer-songwriter. I’m not a great designer. And I’m about to fade into a bland world of food prep, playground trips, and apartment cleaning.

As you might imagine, my grim outlook did not prepare me for a smooth transition to motherhood. The first six months, in particular, were a blur of exhaustion and confusion. If I hadn’t realized that I was lost before, I now knew full well that I had no idea what I was doing with my life.

I loved my little girl, but I struggled to wear the new identity of being a mother. I felt guilty for struggling to be present with my little one, guilty that motherhood wasn’t “enough” for me, guilty that I was unhappy. There I was, failing in yet another role.

Finding Myself

Mara and her daughter Credit: Jo Lees

Mara and her daughter Credit: Jo Lees

My forgiving baby seemed unfazed by my internal turmoil though, and with time she began to infect me with her unabashed zeal for life. I couldn’t help but marvel daily at how she had no shame in being fully who she was. She was not obsessed with proving herself to me. She was not afraid of asking for what she wanted. She was not afraid of being told, “no.” Whatever obstacle she faced, she found a way to continue forward.

I had dreaded becoming a mother because I thought that would spell the end of my personal journey, but before saying her first word, my child had led me on a beautiful path of self-discovery.

Somewhere along the way of growing up, I’d become a very fearful woman. I was afraid of not being good enough, of what people would think, of being a failure. Those fears tainted all my pursuits as I tried to make my way in the world.

I had started making music as a way to express myself, and in the beginning, I’d delighted in the process of creating new songs and sounds. But as I began releasing music and performing publicly, I’d lost myself in the need to prove that I was good, to hit the numbers that would show I had “something special”. Performing became such a joyless endeavor that I eventually quit.

But in the presence of my carefree child, I remembered why I loved to sing. I remembered why I loved to find the right words to perfectly describe a feeling, a moment, a dream. I re-connected to the passion I’d lost when I became bound by the invisible pressures I had tied myself up with. I began to let go of those lofty standards that I could never meet because I’d always keep pushing them higher and higher.

The simplicity of remembering that it was okay for me to do what I wanted to do, simply because I wanted to, simply because I loved to, was profoundly freeing. My child offered a masterclass for me in embracing who I was, and taking baby steps forward regardless of my quiet fears.

Living with a new freedom

I took my newfound freedom and ran with it. As my daughter turned one, I reached out to a music producer to record a new album. I turned the chaotic beauty of that first year of motherhood into songs — not to prove myself this time, but with the simple recognition that I make music because creating is what I do.

My fears are still there. I’m not sure they will ever fully go away, but with my daughter’s silent counsel, I’m learning to keep going regardless of the voices that hold me back. Just as my daughter is a child, and she will always be exploring — so I am an artist, and I will always be creating.