"The truth is, I was so scared of losing myself to motherhood that I didn’t understand becoming a mum was only adding a new layer to my existing identity as a woman."
Rebecca, Newcastle, UK
"Throughout my life, I have heard people talk about how becoming a parent changed their life. They talked about the way it stole their freedom, how it gave them new unwanted lines on their foreheads and the envy that they have for the childless; you know, the friends and colleagues who spend their Friday nights at the newest bar in town and who holiday four times a year.
These throwaway comments and passing conversations seemed to paint a negative picture of what parenthood was and even though my maternal instincts were always strong (and never waned), that fear of losing my identity when the time came was real.
Sure enough during my pregnancy intrusive feeling thoughts made their way into my day-to-day life and I struggled with the anxiety of the unknown. Would I still be able to achieve my dreams? Should I still even have dreams? Will I have to do a job I don’t want to do so I can provide a future for my child? Would I have time to look after myself? And every mother’s favourite warning- would I even have time to shower in the morning?
I became determined to prove anyone wrong who told me that I ‘won’t be able to do that anymore’. Once my baby arrived, I was going to get my showers, I would take her to restaurants I wanted to eat at and most importantly I would be calm, cool, and collected at all times. Because we all know that a calm mother equals a calm baby, right?!
Well, my initial experience was really positive, and I feel incredibly lucky because I know that the beginning is often the hardest time for many women. Personally, I felt at home once Gigi, my little girl, arrived. Even post emergency C-section I was up and out of the house quickly enjoying the new energy I had following an exhausting pregnancy. True my baby wasn't sleeping great during the night, but during the days her long newborn naps allowed me ample time to shower, get ready and keep the house spotless.
I felt myself, but better, even taking on freelance contracts for content work six weeks postpartum. It was too good to be true.
I can’t quite recall when the reality of motherhood hit for me, but it was probably once Gigi started to require more stimulation during the days and her wake window increased. I breastfed her almost exclusively from birth and suddenly it felt as though every minute of my day (and night) was spent feeding and entertaining my little person. It was a shock to my system and there was a lot of tension in the house with my partner. I felt as though I was trying to do it all and simply could not and so in a way my nightmare was coming true; it appeared that being a mum really did consume your identity.
We took a trip to Glasgow at the end of January for a friend's engagement party and we took Gigi with us to the function venue. Within seconds of arriving, I knew it was a mistake bringing our three-month-old there and I remember feeling sweaty and anxious surrounded by blaring music and the hustle and bustle of a bar. I left alone shortly after arriving.
My mum guilt following that trip was intense and I felt socially awkward and to be honest totally lost for weeks after. It didn’t help that during this time I also lost a freelance contract on my return home, something that really made me feel that I existed beyond motherhood.
I suppose I felt like I had let myself down and all I had left was being a mother. Equally, I was annoyed with myself for feeling that way because being a mother was all I dreamt about for so long.
Recently I have come to understand the truth about becoming a mother. It absolutely requires you to place your previous life on hold at times, but not all the time. Those days and nights spent with your tiny baby are precious. Suddenly they are not as tiny anymore and those times where you live for your baby and not just yourself seem fleeting in a sad way. You can allow yourself to be what your baby needs during those early months whilst also making plans for the person you were and still are.
Here I am now over four months postpartum; still taking on freelance work, staying creative and building my future but in the background right now because my first priority is my baby whilst she's a baby. I don't manage to brush my hair properly or pop some make-up on every single morning, but on other days I do a full face, wash my hair, and do a Zoom meeting with a client. No two days are the same when you're a parent.
So I want to tell the people who talk about how becoming a mother ‘changed their life forever’ that they were right. I am changed. But it is not this all-consuming sad change, it's for the better. I am now capable of putting another human being above my own needs every single day and I have learnt the meaning of real unconditional love. There is nothing negative about bringing a life into the world and watching that little human being grow and become. It is liberating, not restricting.
And as for my dreams? Honestly, they feel bigger than ever before because I want to prove to my daughter that if she chooses to raise a family one day, that her ambitions are still relevant and that those goals are more than achievable.
The truth is, I was so scared of losing myself to motherhood that I didn’t understand becoming a mum was only adding a new layer to my existing identity as a woman. I haven’t lost who I am but rather unlocked a version of myself that is both made up of all the parts before Gigi was born and the little pieces that get added each new day as I overcome the challenges and joys of being a parent."
If this content reminds you of your own experiences or makes you think of someone you know and you feel concerned or uncomfortable, please head to the PSI website for information about perinatal mental health resources that may be able to help.