Finding Yourself in Motherhood

So, you’ve had a baby in the past year.  You’ve read every parenting book, you know every method.  You have gobs of baby stuff. You are prepared for anything.  But somehow you are feeling uncertain about your role as mom, so what gives?

It was April of 2012 that I saw those two pink lines that would change my life forever.

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My pregnancy was pretty text-book. First-trimester was filled with morning sickness and strange cravings. We were living in a remote area of New Mexico and those strange cravings would occasionally demand Tom and his buddy get me Taco Bell…in a town forty-five minutes away…in the middle of the night. At about twelve weeks to the day I woke up and my morning sickness had mysteriously gone.  Second trimester welcomed me.

Second trimester was lovely. I started to feel my baby kick, my belly started to grow. Everyone, myself included, was buzzing with excitement.  I could hardly wrap my head around the idea that I was growing a baby.  It was so new and amazing I found myself in denial at every new phase of the pregnancy. Not like I didn’t want to be pregnant, but I just couldn’t fathom the change that was afoot. How could I? I had never experienced anything like it in all my life.

Third trimester came and went quickly while simultaneously lingering on into the eternity of pregnancy every woman feels in those last weeks.  Those final weeks were filled with that jittery feeling of excitement and nervousness; a longing to be done sharing my body with my baby while simultaneously feeling cautious about the uncertainty of labor.

{The day I met Landy}

Meeting Ireland cropped

The birth did not go quite according to plan, as sometimes happens. I had spent so much of my pregnancy planning how I would take care of baby once she was born. In doing so I completely neglected to do the research about what I would need for labor. I could have really used the support of a labor doula. It, also, would have benefited Tom if I had had a labor doula since he felt very lost as to how to help me. As a first-time mom I just didn’t realize the importance of a support team while laboring.  Because of that lack of support I felt completely abandoned.

As a side note, with our second child we took a Bradley Birth class.  During labor and birth there were three midwifes, one sibling doula, and a photographer present!  That birth went so much smoother as everyone had the support they needed.

After laboring for longer than the average person, with less support than the average person, I finally had the honor of meeting my amazing daughter who I’ll refer to as Landy.

{Postpartum Depression}

I loved my child but frankly, I was tired. More than wanting to hold and kiss my baby, I was angry and resentful. Feelings I was NOT expecting to have. Furthermore, I discovered that I suffer from a kind of postpartum depression rarely talked about but all too common. My postpartum depression expresses itself through thoughts of violence toward my children or myself. That kind of postpartum depression can be the most terrifying thing for a new mother, especially if she doesn’t realize it’s common, or that it’s treatable.

If you are feeling any signs of depression, anxiety, or thoughts of violence toward your child, yourself, or anyone, talk to your medical care provider immediately. I was afraid to mention my “scary thoughts” as Tom and I refer to them now, for about five days after LandyBit was born. I was ashamed to admit I was in such a dark place. Finally, I told my mom what I was feeling and that was the best choice, by far, I have made as a mom! Telling her made those scary thoughts lose their power. It was then that I was able to take steps back to health.  There is nothing shameful about postpartum depression.  Postpartum depression can be such a confusing and isolating thing. Communicating your feelings is the only way to get through it.  TALK TALK TALK and make sure the people around you know how you are doing.

{The Invisible New Mom}

After all of this, the hardest part of entering motherhood was all of a sudden hearing things like, “Oh what a cute baby!” “How old is your baby?!”   It was having adults walk up and immediately make eye contact with baby without giving the slightest acknowledgement that you, the mother, exist. Baby. Baby. Baby. Baby. BABY!!!!!

Now perhaps a non-parent is reading this and thinking, does this Liza person even have a soul?! Well, yes I do. And I assure you, I absolutely love both of my children. I also love when people love and pour into my children. But the feeling of being ignored and replaced doesn’t go away, even for a new mom.  To all of a sudden go from regular human interactions to people bypassing you to talk to your baby is dehumanizing.

Digging a little deeper into the shocking realities of the journey into motherhood, you’ve just given birth to this baby, and cute as he may be, you are taking care of this person night and day, day and night, without end. You might be in pain from a tear or c-section. You might be in a town or state where you know almost no one, as was my situation. You might be struggling with postpartum depression. You might be having an extremely hard time getting your baby to gain weight. Maybe you just adopted a child and are having a tough time bonding.

{Crappy- Dad Syndrome}

On top of that you may be dealing with crappy-dad syndrome.  Crappy- dad syndrome: your spouse is not the super dad he will be in a year because he is young and naïve just like you. He didn’t push the baby out which is what pushed you into being the adult you must be to keep this little baby alive.

It will be at least a little bit hard for every mom to enter into parenthood, no matter the means (i.e. natural childbirth, adoption, surrogacy) . So not only is everyone ignoring you and replacing their concern for you with concern for your child, they are doing that during the hardest transition of your life.  Early motherhood is a time where moms need support and care more than ever. It is defeating to say the least.

And if you didn’t think it couldn’t get any worse, the clouds now break open and it starts to rain, and rain, and rain……………………..

{Let the unsolicited advice and condescending looks fall down upon you like acid rain…..}

Blogs and books and Facebook oh my! Oh, and don’t forget the mommy group:

“You’re going to poison your baby if you formula feed” “Cover up, no one wants to see a baby breastfeed!” “You’re going to kill your baby if you co-sleep” “you’re going to kill your baby if you have them sleep in a crib” “you’re going to ruin your child if………” fill in the blank. These are the things that a new mother of the 21st century hears.  Trying to follow everyone’s advice only left me stressed, panicked, and angry.

And don’t worry, this will only continue for oh, lets say… forever. You will henceforth and forevermore be doing something wrong in the eyes of almost every person you meet: other parents, non-parents, your grandma, your in-laws, your siblings, your parents, strange men in a random laundromat who you’ve never met in your life and you’d prefer he not talk to you at all let alone critique your parenting decisions. Welcome to parenthood.

{It seemed our culture had sucked all the fun and joy out of parenting.}

Knowing so few people in town was quickly amended when I started going to mommy groups.  They had their good points, but mostly, left me in the midst of a million different strong opinions, and women seemingly out for blood if you didn’t agree with them. I will say that the mommy groups did teach me some parenting advice that I am extremely grateful for. They also introduced me to a couple of friends whom I cherish and invest my love and time into. Mostly though, the mommy groups left me feeling I was caring for my child all wrong, and fearful that I would lose “friends” if they found out I wasn’t parenting exactly like them.

{The day I got my life back was the day I remembered who I was before my kids were born.}

I’m not certain what day this happened, but one day I just felt I had hit rock bottom and asked myself, “What has happened to me?!”  I had been such a happy person before my children were born.  And what was more confusing is that I have always loved kids and wanted to be a mom.  I started babysitting at age eleven because I thought it was fun.  I had been a nanny for many years.  The thing was, I did love my family, I had just lost sight of who I was!  I finally asked myself “What did I enjoy before my kids were born?”.  I was essentially asking “Who am I?”.  Remembering who I was propelled me into healing and I began to walk out of the aftermath of the harder parts of motherhood.  Here are the epiphanies I had  along the way:

Epiphany #1: The decisions you make regarding how you care for your kids do not define you. Furthermore, as children get older parenting strategy must change in order to be developmentally appropriate.  For the most part, the way you parent is an ever-changing work-in-progress, with constant adjustments made according to the needs called on by the moment.

Epiphany #2: You are still the person you were before! You’ve just now added a new and amazing piece to your repertoire: mom!

Epiphany #3: Being yourself in motherhood makes loving and caring for your children so much easier and joyful!  If you are stressed and angry because you are trying to implement some parenting strategy that just doesn’t jibe with you, you will never be successful. Even if it is the very best parenting strategy from the very best parenting book ever written, if you are uncomfortable with it you will just feel angry.  A mom recently said to me “The best parenting strategy is to do whatever makes you least crazy.”

Epiphany #4: There are many RIGHT ways to parent!! Just because someone else is giving you unsolicited advice doesn’t mean:
-that your way is not a good way
-that their way is not a good way, it’s just not your way!
-that you have to take any of it to heart (my personal favorite)
The fact is, you can’t control other people. People are going to say what they will. You CAN control yourself, though. Which means you can smile and nod and say thanks and that it’s a good idea. Hey, it probably is a good idea, but you don’t have to implement it because you already have your, also good, way of doing things! So put on the blinders and be the person you are without reserve or remorse. You are unique and that is beautiful!!

Epiphany#5: I was becoming friends with other moms simply because we had motherhood in common. Before motherhood I became friends with people because we had common interests, ideals, values, and could laugh about the same things. Most importantly, my friendships before motherhood were founded on trust that we could disagree with one another on anything and the friendship was not at stake!
So if you are downtrodden, discouraged, feeling inadequate and forgotten in your new role of motherhood because of all the above mentioned, try this:

{Dig Deep and Find Yourself}

Close your eyes (not yet, keep reading) and ask yourself, “Who was I before I had my child?”  “What did I enjoy before I had my child?”  Then decide how you will implement those things now.  It will not be exactly how it was pre-kid but I assure you it makes all the difference in your day-to-day.

I came to the conclusion that I needed to regain a sense of self apart from my children. It might seem simple but it can be so easy to drift away into the sea that is parenthood and leave yourself on the shore.

I’m sure that most people would consider their job what they do and not who they are. Similarly, the way we parent our children is something we do, not who we are. Although, the relationship between mother and child is a strong one filled with love we must not forget that it is a relationship. It takes two distinctly different and separate people to have a relationship. You are not your child and your child is not you. It is important and healthy for you to have an identity that is separate from the children you nurture. And I don’t know about you, but I think my children will benefit from knowing they have a mother who is human, with interests of her own, talent, and personality.

Here is my list of things I love:
-sewing
-speed skating
-ultimate Frisbee
-outdoor adventures
-ballet
-fashion

Six weeks to the day after my second child, Bo-Boy, was born I signed up for a gymnastics class. It wasn’t exactly what was in my list but it fit well enough into my love of sports and dance. It was fun. It was non-committal so if I had to miss one or many classes it was no big deal. It was on a weeknight so my husband could care for the kids and I didn’t need to get a sitter! I will write another blog that goes more in depth on actively implementing your own true self as a mom and living life free of mom guilt.

I tell you the truth, understanding who I am as a unique member of society makes it so much easier for me to love my children and enjoy our time together. When I was simply momming with no sense of self I was crabby and resentful toward my family. When I look back on my life I want to be able to say that our house was a fun and freeing environment, and being myself is the only way to accomplish that.

Next, ask yourself “what parenting choices am I comfortable with?” And own them. Shut out anyone who is telling you that you should be doing something else. I figured out that I was parenting my children to try to please my peers. The thing is, it is impossible to please two masters. I was feeling so stressed-out trying to make other people’s parenting philosophies work that I was tyrannical in implementing them. When I took a deep breath and decided to do what I thought was best, I relaxed and was a calm mama, and my children are thriving as a result.

Third, invest your energy into people who will stay your friends even if you disagree. I think it is extremely important to hear opinions that are different from your own because it promotes growth and learning. But if someone is saying things like “I don’t think we can be friends because so-and-so does…….” that is not a safe relationship so get out of it and find people you can be you around!

You are you, and that is beautiful!

16 thoughts on “Finding Yourself in Motherhood

  1. It has been a common practice of mine for years, as a non-mother who has observed this phenomenon, that whenever I run into a friend with kids, I smile at the baby (how could you not), then ask the mom something about herself that has nothing to do with the children. I always get around to asking about the kids. But I’m very intentional about it never being my first question.

  2. Indeed, motherhood changes every woman. I know many friends who have revisited their priorities ever since they became mothers. Great anecdote.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post. I’m not yet a mother but losing my own identity when I do have children is something that really terrifies me. I’m so happy to hear that you’ve found yourself again and I’m sure you are great by your own accord, as well as being a great mom 🙂

    Rosie | http://www.rosieromance.com

  4. Motherhood is really life-changing. I am only 18, so this shouldn’t be my concern but on the other hand it really should be, it should be a concern of every girl and woman. You can never be fully prepared for it, but reading something real as this helped me make an image in my head.

  5. We all have different parenting styles and it’s important that you shield yourself from all the unsolicited advice and the negative mindset that’s going to be thrown at you the moment you get pregnant. A lot of people will they know better and it’s never easy for the mother to bear.

  6. Great post. I’m not a mom…yet..but I love the realistic picture you painted of how your life changes from the moment that double line showed up. Beautiful and congrats!
    xx
    A

  7. yes parenting can be a very taxing occupation especially if you loose sight of the person you once were and still are inside. I am a mum with older children now and can tell you , you are not alone when it comes to depression and small children. I certainly suffered from it to some degree and all of my friends too. Your doing a great job. Well done!

  8. Wonderful post! I think that motherhood is one of ‘these’ life-changing moments. Thanks for sharing it with us! Happy weekend! Sending a lot of positive vibes!

  9. Great post, i really enjoy reading it! I’m not even close to being a mother so i can only imagine how different everything is compared to life when you didn’t have a child 🙂

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