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When I was pregnant with my first baby I was filled with an intense happiness for what lay ahead. Those nine months of anticipation and excitement were among the happiest of my life. I was lucky to enjoy a relatively easy, healthy pregnancy, and I just couldn’t wait to officially become a “mum.
Admittedly, I knew it wasn’t going to be all rainbows and daisy chains. I had watched people around me become parents, and I understood it was going to be life changing. But I don’t think anything can truly prepare you for motherhood. And you can’t fully understand the many and complex ways in which life shifts.
New motherhood involves many changes. Aside from exhaustion and confusion, it rearranges your priorities and demands sacrifice. Lots of it. There are the obvious casualties like sleep, sex and bladder control. But there are other changes too, particularly around identity.
In an endless cycle of feeds, nappies, and laundry, we are suddenly thrust into a new role. And the adjustment can be jarring. The early weeks and months are particularly challenging as baby’s needs are all consuming. And quite frankly, it’s all about survival. It’s pretty overwhelming being responsible for a tiny person’s life.
One of the hardest adjustments for me was not related to boob troubles or fatigue (though breastfeeding did not come easily and my fatigue was notably bone crushing!). By far the more difficult adjustment for me was the way motherhood altered my sense of self and space. My identity felt confused and my “space” was obliterated, along with my pelvic floor!
I have always been someone who enjoys time on my own. I am comfortable with my own company, and though sociable, I don’t need people around me a lot of the time. I love my own time to potter, ponder, and daydream. Once you become a parent, “time” is something that has to be negotiated and for mums there is little in the way of “me time.”
My first-born was a “Velcro” baby and toddler. While it’s nice to be wanted and needed, I felt suffocated and drained. So tight was her grip on me that I had nothing left in the tank. Physically and emotionally I felt wiped out. At night, my brain was both weary and wired. My mind raced with endless thoughts and decisions. Nobody had told me that being a mother was all about making what seemed like thousands of tiny decisions every day.
And then there was my career. While I didn’t miss work as such, I did miss the person who went to work. I missed her spark and her mind. Conversations with my husband were reduced to how many times my baby had pooed that day, or which of the Wiggles had the best vocal chords. Having been responsible for organising conferences across Asia and USA, diarising my daughter’s bowel movements to the internal soundtrack of the Wiggles was hardly cerebral.
But slowly I found a new rhythm and discovered that I could still be a wonderful mum while nourishing my own self too. I made time for exercise, rediscovered books, and I embraced my new life. At the end of my maternity leave I was in no conflict about my decision. I was not going back to work. Besides, I was already half way through my second pregnancy! My second baby was born just 17 months after my first and while life was busier, I knew I was where I was meant to be.
Life is infinitely more complicated once children arrive. The First Thousand days are especially tough and it often feels like a nuanced experience – joyful but gruelling, fulfilling but monotonous. It can feel a little dull when you’re deep in the newborn trenches, but there’s really nothing ordinary about caring for and raising another human being.
A new me
Becoming a mum is life changing. There is a catalogue of things you sacrifice, but it’s important to reflect on all the things you gain, and fortunately that list is long too.
Each time I have a baby I feel I grow as a person. Once the newborn fog clears I emerge a new me, perhaps an enhanced version. I feel more confident now than I ever have. I feel calmer. This self-awareness and examination is an exciting part of my motherhood experience. No one is ever fully prepared for parenting but I was least prepared for these self-discoveries. Motherhood is the greatest expression of who I am. I haven’t lost my sense of self, rather I have expanded it.
How did you find new motherhood? What was the hardest adjustment for you? Was it sleep deprivation, breastfeeding troubles, loss of identity?
Be sure to follow NASD on Facebook for advice, tips and musings on the rocky ride that is motherhood. And the NASD Private FB group offers a supportive community for mums and is strictly a non-judgment zone.