As a new mom, you hear quite a bit about identity loss. It's probably the thing that many new mamas struggle with the most. The sleep deprivation, feelings of total ineptitude and leaky boobs have a life-span, an expiration date, but the identity loss? Well, as I have discovered 14 months after the birth of my little thief, it has a much longer shelf-life.
While pregnant with our daughter, my husband and I were so confident that she wouldn't change our lives—she would fit in with them. A position that seems quite common amongst today's older, independent and ambitious parents-to-be.
I only half-listened to my mom's concerned warnings that everything was about to change. She nagged that I needed to be prepared, and I dismissively nodded, comforted by the notion that she was "from another generation." I was going to have my career, frequent holidays, crisp white shirts and a beautiful baby. She was just being old-fashioned.
Well, never again will I doubt the almighty wisdom of my mom.
When my daughter arrived and my world flipped upside down overnight I was totally knocked out of breath. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. And I continue to be on a daily basis.
Yes, pregnant women do learn about cluster feeding, mastitis, sleep deprivation and falling into a time vortex, but when you're sitting in the antenatal class with your excitement as big as your bump, these are just words. Small inconveniences that you won't even notice once you have a tiny baby in your arms. For some women, I am sure this is the case. But for others, myself included, these "words" turn into insurmountable challenges they are totally unprepared for.
I struggled with all the normal things—loneliness, exhaustion, raging hormones, self-doubt and being overly critical of myself. I missed my friends. I missed exercising. I missed eating with a knife and fork. I even missed work. A lot.
Overnight I transformed from a successful, smart, fun-loving woman, into an emotionally incontinent wreck, called "mama."
It took me several hours to leave the house for a 20-minute stroll.
I was incapable of having a conversation that didn't start with "My daughter…" or "I only slept for…"
I forgot what it felt like to be alone with my own thoughts.
I plowed through junk food like the hungry caterpillar I stared at on the wall of the nursery.
I felt devoid of interests—I just watched Netflix on the sofa with a large barnacle attached to my boob.
Those first few months passed in a bit of a blur. But as I started to emerge from the fog, and get some time sans-barnacle, I began searching for my former self. (And boy did I spend a lot of time searching.)
I looked for her at the gym. On nights out with my friends. Date nights. I tried to rouse her through my old wardrobe. High heels and running shoes. I spent a lot of time during the first year of my daughter's life trying to find the old me. But nothing worked. And in fact, she's still missing in action.
Now while that may sound a little sad and depressing, in reality, it isn't. I haven't lost my identity, I have gained a new one. One in which much of my old self still exists, just with a few adjustments.
I am more patient.
I am more generous with my time.
I have a perspective.
I see the big picture, which means less stress and negativity.
I can laugh at myself.
I accept myself and my failings.
I find joy at the breakfast table and at 6 am under the covers with my family.
I can run for five minutes and feel as free as a bird.
I am grateful for a quiet coffee, a shower by myself, a glass of wine with a friend. (I no longer expect these simple pleasures, which makes them feel even more indulgent.)
I have made new friends. I have launched a business, which never would have happened had I not given birth.
The thing that actually is sad is that it has taken me 14 months to realize this. Fourteen months of denying the unavoidable and undeniable truth that becoming a mother has changed me. And while not all of that change is immediately positive, being able to accept it, and even welcome it, makes me much happier. And I encourage all new moms to try and find the courage to do the same.
You don't just "have a baby," you become a mother. A new role. A new challenge. A new identity. And despite what society might have you believe, it doesn't happen overnight. It takes time. It's taken me a year. And just like the hungry caterpillar, I have had to learn to use my new wings before realizing their beauty.