'What I didn't know and wish someone had told me about'... Losing Your Sense Of Self.
There are a lot of things I wasn’t prepared for when having my first child. He didn’t latch for the first six months. He didn’t sleep through the night for two years. The whole birthing experience was… rough. But perhaps the most insidious thing about becoming a mother was the way that my identity was extinguished when I brought a human into the world.
Like some terrible Survivor re-run, it was as if “the tribe had spoken” and my flame, the one that signified who I had been those last 27 years, had been snuffed out.
The transition from woman to mother isn’t only physical, it’s social. No longer are you defined as the hardass manager, the loyal friend or the witty colleague. Instead, you become someone’s mum. You’ll be guilty of it too. You’ll forget the name of the woman at the playgroup who you chatted with over a cup of tepid coffee, but you’ll remember the name of her kid. Somehow your value transitions to purely being Little Timmy’s mum.
Of course, the issue with this is that being defined by motherhood isn’t particularly fulfilling. There’s no benchmark on what makes you a “good” mum, which is why so many of us fall into that early trap of trying to prove our worth with Instagram-worthy, organic, home-made, toddler meals and declarations of what we believe is the “right” way to parent.*
*Hey, no judgement. I’ve been there. Trust me though, all it takes is a strong-willed (read: feral) second child for that line in the sand to be quickly washed away.
Before you can say “Mr Tumble’s spotty bag”, we’ve defined ourselves by the choices we’ve made as parents. We're breastfeeding, gentle-parenting, baby-led-weaning, wearers of wraps and haters of dairy (personally speaking).
Even our sense of style is displaced. How many of us bought our first breton stripe top post-children? Head to toe in Joules, we adopt a “mum-wardrobe” that feels safe but strips us of our personality. Do I paint too dramatic a picture? I don’t think so.
It was after two years of motherhood that I finally realised I was entirely defining myself as a mother and had lost all sense of self. I started taking steps toward a new me. Not the “me” pre-children, for becoming a mum isn’t something to diminish or wish away, but a version of me that was more than JUST a mum.
I played with new styles of clothes, finally deciding that what made me most comfortable was jeans, trainers and band t-shirts (yes, I’m that mum). I bought CDs of the music I used to love. I went along to WI meetings, local book clubs, board-game evenings, eager to discover interests that weren’t parenting related. And guess what?
I found myself.
I may not be perfect, I may not be to everyone’s taste, but I’m complete.
My eldest is six now, and I’m finally at a place where my wardrobe represents me, I have interests outside of CBeebies and I feel more at peace with myself than I perhaps ever have.
There are a million reasons you can justify putting yourself last when you become a parent. Guilt at enjoying time on your own, the martyr effect of feeling as if the more you sacrifice, the better a mum you’re being, or just pure exhaustion (this too shall pass, I promise). But take this piece of advice from someone who had to learn the hard way… you can’t pour from an empty cup.
As much as I loathe the phrase “happy mum, happy baby”, there’s more than a grain of truth to it. You’re doing an incredibly important job. Your physical and mental wellbeing are more important now than perhaps ever before. Please, please, take care of yourself.
Motherhood is a wonderful, amazing, precious thing. Something that I’m eternally grateful to have the privilege of experiencing. Motherhood is the beginning of a new chapter of your life - but it isn’t the end of the book.
Originally from New Zealand, Sarah is a mother to two boys and has lived in the UK for the past 10 years. She is a home-educator, freelance writer, Netflix-binger and has a penchant for strong black coffee.