Maintaining your identity as a parent
Motherhood is all about sacrifice. You can give up so much to grow and raise a child, but it’s important you don’t lose your sense of self.
From the moment that little pink line emerges on the plastic panel of a pregnancy test, life isn’t just about you anymore. And when your baby comes into the world there is suddenly so much to do, so much to learn and so little sleep.
Motherhood can be all-consuming at times, and when your baby’s little and their needs are great, it’s easy to become lost in a world of never ending nappies and feeds.
So much has changed; your body, your home, your priorities and your emotions. You might not be able to remember the last time you did something for you and you might start to question who you are - wanting to be more than a mother. The identity crisis of motherhood is real.
But how can you keep a sense of you alive when there are days when you’re just struggling to keep your head above water?
Di Halloran, a pediatric and child health nurse and senior project officer for the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute’s Centre for Community Child Health says trying to find time to do the things you enjoyed before having a baby is important for both parents.
“For women to ensure they maintain their identity and get to enjoy the things they used to do it takes good communication with their partner and good planning,” says Halloran.
“You need to talk to your partner and put a plan in place to go to a fitness class you used to go to, or go to the library to read a book or meet your girlfriend for a coffee or a wine, whatever it is you like doing it’s about making sure you take the time.”
While it is important new parents have time to do what they enjoy, Halloran believes there is a lot of unnecessary pressure on women to get ‘back to normal’ after having a baby.
“You see it on [social media]… people present themselves in a way that they look amazing, before you know it, they’re back in clothes they were in before and they’re out and about,” she says. “But what you don’t see is that there are a whole lot of people around them actually supporting them to get to that state.”
“There is almost an unrealistic expectation set up that you have a baby and then just resume being the person you were beforehand,” says Halloran. “Often that can take months and months and months before you get a chance to even start exercising again.”
Halloran says it’s also important to acknowledge having a baby will change you, and that’s not a bad thing.
“You will not be the same person once you have a baby, but I don’t think it’s about losing your identity, it’s about finding a new identity because you actually evolve and change.”
“We learn new things through each human experience and motherhood actually teaches us a whole lot of things that we wouldn’t have learned if we didn’t experience it.”
If you find yourself lost for words in a social setting because you’re living in a sleepless haze of nappies, feeds and sleep cycles, Halloran says it does not mean you’re not interesting anymore.
“It is an intense period of your life, and it’s about acknowledging where you are at and owning it.”
“I think we need to be honest and say something like ‘listening to you guys talking makes me realise I have had my head underwater lately’,” she says. “Most people are empathetic to the transition to motherhood and the demands it has on us.”
If you are in need of some mental stimulation, Halloran says podcasts can be a godsend for tired mums to catch up on news and current affairs, hear interesting stories or keep abreast of developments in their chosen profession.
She also recommends getting out of the front door every day.
“Even if it is cold and wet, make sure you and your baby are warm and get outside and get some fresh air,” she says. “It’s a good habit to form because we know physical exercise is good for our mental health.”
Halloran says setting up support networks around you is also really important to help get you through the first few months.
“Often people offer to help and we say no, we think we need to do it all ourselves, but babies are meant to be raised by a community.”
“Culturally we often underestimate how amazing mothers are, and parents are, and we need to celebrate that,” says Halloran. “To do it well it takes so much effort and a lot of selflessness, but that doesn’t mean we have to lose our sense of who we are.”