In 2020 I became a Mum for the first time. The single most challenging, terrifying, glorious experience; no matter how much you try to prepare for it, it’s never enough. You learn on the job, things change just as you feel you’re at the edge of your sanity and everything just kind of tumbles around in this magical ball of chaos. If you’re really lucky you get to sleep at night before doing it all again the next day, although I’m not yet part of that particular club.
There’s bits people tell you, bits people don’t and bits you wish they hadn’t. But the single thing that stands out for me, the thing that nobody really spoke to me about, was the complete loss of identity I would experience.
Now, I want to be clear that this is not about not enjoying Motherhood, or longing for the life I no longer live - it’s morally and emotionally neutral - it’s just that after the pregnant stage, the newborn stage, the tiny baby turning into a little person stage, there’s a bit of a plateau where you’re just kind of “meh”.
Pregnancy was wonderful for me, I was incredibly lucky that I was probably the most well I have been for a number of years, mentally and physically. I embraced my curvier, softer body, I felt feminine and beautiful. I had most of my every day life intact alongside my new identity of Mum-to-Be. I was excited, focussed & planning ahead.
After Dotty was born, although nothing prepares you for the total overhaul of everything you have ever known, you have your New Mum identity. You’re flooded with well wishes and everyone is interested in all the details - you’re a minor celebrity for a little while and you belong to the generations of womenfolk who came before you. If you’re lucky enough, in amongst the exhaustion and engorged boobs, you feel a sort of empowered, tribal belonging. I AM WOMAN, OBSERVE MY LIFE GIVING LOINS!
For a while after the newborn part, you’re completely wrapped up in the firsts - first smile, first giggle, rolling over, first foods, crawling, first babbling Dada and Mama (6 months and 13 months, respectively) first full night of sleep (pending), all the usual questions from fellow parents, all the right comments at the right times about weaning, bowel movements and teeth.
Then comes the gradual realisation that interest is waning in your newfound Motherhood status, because now you’re not a shiny new member of the club, but a hardened, long term, well initiated stalwart. More trusted, comfortable cord chair in the corner than brand new velvet wingback on display. And that’s ok, everyone loves a comfy chair, but all of a sudden you don’t quite know where you fit anymore.
And this is the bit nobody tells you about.
The long, lonely days where you’re desperate for adult conversation.
Realising half your hair has fallen out and is growing back in tufts.
Trying to remember what you like to do in your spare time, because you don’t have any spare time anymore and you’re not sure what you like these days.
Wanting to do something about your appearance, because you used to make a bit of an effort, but now it’s just about getting out of the house on time and making sure you’ve eaten something.
Having lots of inspiration for work but having absolutely no energy or brain space to follow any of them up.
Needing to create income, getting by, but not managing to generate quite enough to feel confident in spending a bit on yourself.
Feeling guilty for the house being a mess, the washing not being put away, the dishes piling up, the bottles not being rinsed.
Feeling guilty for letting the baby watch TV while you clean.
Feeling guilty for not showering for three days.
Feeling guilty for letting the baby watch TV while you shower.
Wanting to spend time with your partner but also wanting space and silence.
I could go on, but we would be here for hours and in fairness, if you’re still reading then it’s likely you’re short on time, because Motherhood.
So where’s the balance? How do we move gently through this feeling and embrace our new identity when we’re not really sure who we are outside of Mama?
The first step for me was reminding myself that becoming a Mum didn’t automatically negate my previous roles. I asked myself who I was then and which bits of that person are still ingrained in me.
One of the single most important and cathartic things I started to do was socialise with other Mum’s, some old friends, some new friends and mostly with kids the same age. Firstly, it gave me someone to bounce with about the demons of sleep, tantrums, teething and everything in between. When you’ve got someone on the same age related journey as you, it really helps to ground you when you’re feeling like the only person in the world whose baby doesn’t sleep properly or eat their breakfast every morning.
Making new friends gives you an opportunity to talk about who you are away from your parenting role, because people ask you! And yes, you sometimes have to think long and hard because you can’t remember what music you’re into anymore, but it helps to gradually remind you of what makes you who you are.
It’s also really important that you do something away from the baby and the house. The guilt will get you, but it’s a liar, so try really hard to ignore it. For me, this was starting an amateur tennis session on a Tuesday night. I am horrific, but nobody cares and I while away an hour smacking balls over fences and aggravating my knackered back, but it’s bloody brilliant for my brain and my stomach muscles are basically iron clad from laughing.
Self care is almost non-existent but it’s crucial you take some time out when you can to have a bath, shave your legs and generally clean yourself up because you will feel a million times better for it, but also it’s hard to sleep with prickly pins and lord knows we don’t need another reason for a sleepless night.
The most important thing though, is to ASK FOR HELP. Seriously. Ask, because we are all guilty of reading a text and replying in our heads, thinking about checking in on someone and then forgetting or promising a meet up that never materialises, but I know without question that if any of my friends said “I’m struggling” then I would be there like a shot with a squirming toddler under my arm and a pack of Hobnobs at the ready.
They say it takes a village, and it really does, but sometimes all of the villagers are crazy busy trying to navigate the utter lunacy of Motherhood that we forget we’re all in it together and that we all want to remember who we are aside from someone’s Mum.
Be together, Mamas, because the loneliness really does encourage that narrative of lost identity. It’s hard to think about who you are when your brain is constantly on baby’s needs and a negative loop of how much needs to be done. Be together outside, inside, in your pyjamas if you have to - but hold each other up because we are all carrying the weight together.
And let’s be honest here, sitting back with your stubbly feet up is so much nicer when you’re sharing a lukewarm cup of tea with a fellow unwashed female and their small person.