One of the hardest things I found about motherhood was that it seemed somehow all consuming. I was such a perfectionist back when I had my first child that the thought of getting it wrong or more importantly being judged to have got it wrong was terrifying.
I’ve always been a fiercely independent person, with a strong sense of identity but motherhood felt like it swamped that identity with fear. Even during your pregnancy there seems to be a shift in how you’re treated, societies expectations of you, what you should be buying what you should or shouldn’t be consuming, the tasks and types of preparation you should be making. If someone asked whether we’d bought a particular item and we hadn’t, often the look was one that made me feel they were about to place a call to child protection. I felt like I had to justify my approach to everything and the baby hadn’t even arrived at that point.
Obviously once my beautiful daughter did arrive, a whole new set of pressures and anxieties kicked in and these welled up to drown me at times. Everyone had their bits of advice, everyone was an apparent expert, and everyone was trying to be helpful but often were the exact opposite. In the end I didn’t want to leave the house or discuss anything other than how well everything was going (it wasn’t). I also had to get over the fact that people came to visit the baby, not me. If you were walking in the street people talked to, acknowledged, smiled at, the baby. I was just the baby pusher, the personal chauffeur and milk supplier. I suddenly felt myself become invisible, a silent add on to my baby. The mother.
What I found was there were a few things I could do to claw back my personal identity beyond motherhood.
- I made time for myself. Alone time where I could think. Sometimes I had to compromise and have bubby with me. But as she slept soundly I would go to a cafe and think about how things were going, reflect on what was working and make decisions about what I wanted to do.
- I rediscovered my love of drawing. Although I dabbled in it and didn’t pick it up in any big way, it gave me a creative outlet and helped me tune into myself.
- I relied on my confidants. Both my husband and best friend were immensely supportive. They helped let me be myself and let me talk through all of my doubts and fears free from judgement. It was my best friend who got me to leave the house with bubby for the first time and supported me whilst I tried to come to terms with the logistics of breast feeding outside of the home with a still very young bubby (we were still learning the whole how to breast feed thing so it was terrifying). My husband would go out of his way to give me whatever time and support I needed. This support and freedom to talk through my feelings helped me get in touch with the kind of person I wanted to be.
- I listened to my instincts around what felt right. I read widely and critically, sought advice from others, but ultimately went with my gut on lots of things. Listening to your gut is all about being your true identity.
- I gave myself permission to be an individual who had different roles; mother, wife, friend, woman, teacher, daughter, etc. These roles were all part of my identity but they weren’t allowed to become all consuming and I let myself be ok with that. I didn’t allow myself to feel guilty if I wasn’t meeting someone else’s expectations of what any one of these roles should look like. Because I followed tip 4, and listened to my gut, I knew I was being the best possible person I could be with the resources and knowledge I had. It didn’t mean I was perfect but it meant that I was comfortable with my imperfections and knew it was all a work in progress.
I love being a mother, I love my children, I love the complexity in life that these roles and relationships pose for me. Motherhood is a big part of my life but it is not the only part of my life and that’s important for me. I disappeared into motherhood at one point but I’ve got a stronger sense of identity from having to find my way back and funnily enough I’m a better mum because of it.