There are many things that you can physically prepare for when you know you are going to have a baby.
There are the obvious things like preparing your house and buying the seemingly endless amounts of equipment required to keep a tiny human alive and sorting out a plethora of outfits to dress your bundle of joy up in.
You can mentally prepare yourself for the physicality of giving birth and the reality of what that entails. You can mentally prepare yourself for the physicality of your post-birth body too.
You accept all of these things because you are going to have a baby!
To a certain extent, you can mentally prepare yourself for the arrival of your baby. You read up on “baby blues”, the signs and symptoms of PND and the inevitable lack of sleep.
But, what no one seems to warn you about is the feeling of a loss of identity that often comes with having a baby.
As I’ve mentioned before, BG arrived earlier than expected which was more than a slight shock to the system! One minute I was running the ICT & Computing department in a high school, sternly telling a student off stating that if they weren’t careful I’d be having my baby early… I actually went into hospital the next day… the next I was at home with a tiny baby to look after!
The first 4 weeks went by in a whirlwind really. My husband was at home for 3 of those and when he returned to work after Paternity Leave, my mum came to help me during the ‘transition’.
It was only when everyone else had gone and I was at home on my own that I really started to feel what I would describe as a mild identity crisis. I wasn’t really sure who I was anymore. A wife? A mother? Was that it? No one ever seemed to ask about me anymore… it was always all about BG. How was she doing? How was she sleeping? Was she feeding well? The inevitable “Is she good?”. I’m almost ashamed to say that at times I was a little jealous of her… someone ask about me! Please! How selfish was that?!
At first I had struggled with adjusting to not being at work… I had had to take maternity two weeks earlier than planned, somewhat forced by BG’s excitement to be out in society and I felt as though I had left things unfinished. A concept I found incredibly stressful! After being told several times “Stop working. Stop worrying. We’ve got this” by my wonderful colleagues, I finally started to relax a little more into the idea that I would be at home for a little while. A few months in I suppose is where I began to feel a little bit lost. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore outside of being BG’s mum.
It was ok for my Husband… he could go out to work! He could be normal! He could go all day without having to deal with a nappy (I’ll point out he did his fair share of night time nappies!). He could speak to other grown ups… about things other than his new baby! Me? I met up with my lovely Mum friends almost daily, I went to mum & baby groups, I went out and about… but everything was about our babies. What about me? Won’t someone talk to me about something other than my baby?
After those thoughts of course, you get smacked in the face with a massive side-order of Mum-Guilt and you feel totally awful… but why can’t we still be ourselves? Being a mum is PART of my identity – it is not my WHOLE identity!
I am a teacher, I am an individual, I am a career woman, I am well educated (on paper at least!), I am a wife, I am a daughter, I am a sister… I am lots of things AS WELL as a mother.
Having a baby became an addition to my life… and a great one. I can’t honestly imagine my life without her. She is amazing (mostly. When she’s having a tantrum – not so much!). She is very much my world. But my world also includes my career and my life outside being a mum.
I’ve used the picture I have for this post as it’s a little symbolic for me. It was a family holiday to the Scilly Isles just before I went back to work. I was excited to be returning to work full time. I couldn’t wait to be “me” again and doing the job that I loved. I was starting to feel like “me” again. I couldn’t wait to get back in the classroom, see all of my students again, get back into the highs and lows of middle-management in a high school. Yet, upon my return, all that people could ask me about was my child, as if by having a child I somehow wouldn’t care about work and the career I’d worked so hard at. Cue another minor identity crisis. Was I wrong to want to go back to work? Should I have stayed at home longer? Was I a bad mother for ‘wanting it all’?
The answer to all of those is “No. Of course not” and yet there I was, questioning who exactly I was.
@mushmums hosted a #mumday event yesterday entitled “Bunk off bedtime” and the theme of the evening was identity… lots of great speakers talked about how your identity shifts when you have a baby, but that you can still be you AND A MUM. It was brilliant. The choice of speakers was amazing and if you’re not already signed up to mush then I highly recommend downloading the app and getting started (https://letsmush.com/). If you don’t feel that you’ve connected with your antenatal group or you want to have a wider group of mum-friends, it’s a great place to connect with other mums in the same, or similar, situations to you.
I have to say that my NCT group have been so vital in helping me find my ‘adjusted’ identity… I’m still “me” after all, just with an extra dimension! When quickly googling edgy and quirky quotes to add into this post I found “Motherhood stole my identity, other women brought it back – Quartz” and I feel that in my personal situation that is so very true. We have our regular Mum’s nights out which help us to be the Prosecco glugging women we were prior to having children! We can go out and moan about the menfolk in our lives, moan about work, catch up on life in general and just be ourselves! (Sounds awful in a way… to clarify none of us are ungrateful for our children! We love them very much! We also love prosecco though).
My absolute best-friend has also been a major grounding rod through the past year too! We have had our regular “bestie days out”, just us. We’ve had equally as many days with BG in tow too (the Bestie is one of BG’s Godmothers so she’s duty bound to do this!) – but she, like my new mum-friends, helps me to feel like I’m “me” again. She will always ask me how I am, how I am doing… as well as asking about BG and getting an update on her. I love her for this. (Thanks Dude!).
I am not sure how well I would have coped without such a supportive group of friends though (and family… my mum in particular… but their help and support and thanks is being saved for a separate post!). I wish someone somewhere had prepared me for the wave of emotions and feelings you can experience as a new mum, as a first time mum, having never done it before… how to adjust to your “new life” and your new identity. It would have been such a comfort to have had some preparation for the identity crisis I felt I was having!
I can safely say that nearly 14 months on I feel more or less like “me” again. I hope that other Mums out there are finding their own way of being them again too… and if you’re not there yet, start this conversation with someone – if you’re sat thinking that it’s just you feeling this way, you’ll be surprised to find out that it’s not.