Everyone tells you having children is a life-changer. But no one can prepare you for the biggest change – what happens to your identity when you become a mother.
If you’d have asked me in the lead up to my due date if I was ready for our baby’s arrival, I’d have answered you in a blasé way with something like “yeah, pretty much”. I wasn’t worried about the birth (thanks in part to hypnobirthing), we had baby ‘stuff’, and anything we had forgotten we could just buy when the baby arrived. The nursery wasn’t decorated but, hey, I’d been working my arse off building a business and financial buffer to take time off, and the nursery could wait until the baby was here – she wasn’t going to sleep in it for her first six months anyway!
Who am I?
But, for all the chilled attitude towards the birth and arrival, nothing prepared me for the confusing and emotional identity change I experienced when I became a mum. Before my daughter, I was a wife, a daughter, a friend and absolutely fully career-focused (and studying for a degree in what limited spare time I had), with my sense of success gained from doing good work and getting paid.
It seems simple looking back. Days were my own. It was easy to just pop out for a coffee or go shopping, I went to bed and woke when I wanted and could pretty much do anything inside and outside of the home easily and at my own will. But, all of a sudden, I wasn’t just a person, I was a mother to a little person; someone who relied on me so completely for her food and comfort that we couldn’t be apart at all, really, in those first few weeks and months. And I didn’t want to be apart.
My life turned upside down as I dealt with the hormonal changes, the untimely and (mostly) unprompted bouts of tears (even happy tears!) and the complete muddle of how to adjust to this huge responsibility, as well as the loss of independence both in my ability to do things and to contribute financially to the home and our lifestyle – who was this person and what had she done with the fiercely-independent Lauren??
Pretty much as soon as my daughter arrived, I was fielding questions on when I’d go back to my business. But, in truth, as soon as this bundle of loveliness arrived, my heart was with her.
I’ve had to redefine success to feel the sense of achievement I need to in life – my daughter eating a whole meal, taking her first steps, saying her first words, starting to count, these are all awesome achievements for us both! And I make a list of stuff I want to get done each day so I can tick it off and accept it’s been a productive day, even if all we’ve managed to do is to sweep the floor, feed ourselves and play.
The 1950s wife…almost (well, not really)
18 months later, I’m comfortable with who I am as a mum and see the value mothers bring to the world (as well as how much they are undervalued). I’m also comfortable with the sacrifices we make in our own lives and careers and, though I still carry guilt about the lack of financial contribution I make to the home (I go out of my way to tell my husband what I’ve done to “earn my keep” at home…as if raising our daughter is not enough!), it’s important to recognise we contribute in a different way – raising happy children, particularly (this is not a small thing!).
Admittedly, we’ve slipped into a dynamic I didn’t think would happen to us – that of the 1950s husband and wife: I’m at home looking after domestic duties and our daughter, while my husband is out earning. Though, I have to confess, the dinner isn’t always ready when he walks in the door and I don’t place a newspaper and slippers by his chair ready for when he wants to relax, we’ve left some elements of the 1950s well behind. But that’s OK! We both have our roles for now and it works for us.
There are more identity changes coming!
And by the way, apparently this isn’t the last of the identity challenges (they’re like sleep regressions…they keep coming!). Yesterday, I met a friend and mum of two (8 and 5 year old) and mentioned this post; she said she can relate to it not only after birth but she is currently experiencing a second identity challenge now that both her children are at school and need her less in the day. We both wondered if the next identity change after that is empty nest syndrome when they leave home?? What a roller coaster parenthood is, but one we wouldn’t change for the world.
Lauren, the Mother Side xx
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We strongly believe mothers should be able to be the mothers they want to be, guilt-free and without pressure. We’ve written about this in our post Undervalued. Unsupported. And under pressure to “do it all”. Inspired by a talk by Vanessa Olorenshaw, author of Liberating Motherhood.