My daughter, as she was almost six years ago.
I put the picture of my baby on this post, because when it comes to personal identity, I really did find that "a baby changes everything". The picture that I carried of myself, who I thought I was, and what I thought defined me as a person - all of that was swept aside by the identity of Loving Mother.
It came home to me most powerfully in a early workshop for the Masters in Teaching program I was in. To start us off we had a week-long retreat with the rest of our cohort and the professors, and we did a whole week of processing identity questions and group building. One exercise we did was with a box, and we wrote inside the box how we saw ourselves. Then we passed the box around to these still-mostly-strangers and they wrote on the outside of the box how they saw us.
I still thought of myself as being tough and striving, an achiever who stressed out too much, and a whole bunch of other identity stuff from my pre-children days. What the others saw was a young mother who had to leave class all the time to go pump breast milk for her baby who had been left for the first time ever with a new nanny. They saw me as the Loving Mother. What I had been before was no longer visible, and frankly didn't really matter anymore. Having a baby changed everything, and it transformed me as a person in big and small ways.
Since having my children, Love and Service have been at the core of my identity at all times. Sometimes it's a narrow focus Love and Service that only encircles my own family, and sometimes it's a kind of general love for all of existence that feels like it could burst my heart into little bits because it's just too big for one person to feel all at once. Sometimes it is something in between, when I feel powerful love and compassion for others that calls me to care for them in some way. But some sort of outward focused love and the need to care for others is always guiding and motivating me.
What I'm discovering now is that I have to stop and give that same love back to myself. Going back to that box that we wrote on for the identity exercise, I have to love all the bits of myself that no one else ever sees. I have to nourish and care for the inner person, so that I will have the strength to bear this Love that can drain me of myself. Love calls me to service, and Love and Service can hurt sometimes. But Love also heals, forgives, and waits patiently.