Your identity goes through a lot of changes in the 9 months it takes to grow a baby. Suddenly your life is in transition as you go from being simply ‘you’, to being an expectant mother. Pregnancy gives you time and space to adjust to this new idea of how your life is going to be after having a baby, but it won’t be until your baby is here that the full impact of this transformation really hits home.
Accepting the new you can be challenging at times. You are suddenly a mother – but what about the rest of your identity? The ‘you’ aside from the caring role of mum? You may still have the same opinions and passions but the chances are the time you have to be freely yourself, are pretty limited these days. It takes a long time – at least 9 months, to adjust to this new lifestyle and identity.
Becoming a mother is a journey that takes time, effort and patience. I advise mums to expect to feel disorientated in those first months and although it’s different for every person, it’s undeniable that at some point you’ll have to face up to the fact there are two versions of yourself – the one before babies and the one after.
There are so, so many changes in your life after having a baby. There’s the emotional transformation and the physical transformation and usually such huge changes are accompanied by a heavy dose of worry. “Will things always be this hard?” “Will I ever sleep again?” “Will I ever feel body confident?”
If having a baby wasn’t exhausting enough, all of these added issues can cause mental and emotional fatigue.
A lot of new mums I work with have similar worries. Topics that come up again and again include ‘getting their pre baby body back’ or ‘being the same version of cool’ as before their baby, coping with baby brain, sleep deprivation, reduced sex drive, new relationship dynamics and post partum symptoms. There’s no end of things that are cause for concern, so how do you take these in your stride?
Prepared for change
It’s impossible to underestimate the importance of preparation. In lots of ways having a baby is like an exam – you have to prepare for it mentally, even if you don’t know what the questions are going to be.
During pregnancy it helps to visualise what your new life is going to be like, or talk to other new mums to find out about their experiences. It’ll make you feel more ‘normal’ when you’re questioning who you are and how you got here, during endless night feeds.
Everyone and everything is different
It’s worth saying that every woman is different after having a baby – and a mum who has multiple children may find herself dealing with different identity issues or the even same ones, each time she adds to her family.
Psychologically it’s vital to realise that things cannot and will not be the same. Your life is forever altered as soon as you meet your baby. You are the centre of their world, and that means a lot of responsibility and lifestyle changes. Babies unfortunately, don’t just slot into our existing lives. They turn them upside down and inside out, so don’t make the mistake of expecting your baby to just fit into your pre-baby lifestyle. It’s a nice fantasy, but it’s not real.
It’s inevitable that you won’t be able to be the same version of carefree and cool that you used to be – you have a baby to consider now – so rewrite what you consider ‘cool’ and make peace with the fact that you and your life is evolving every day.
Expectant mums and new mums worry a lot about their postpartum body. The aim is always to return to their pre-baby body as quickly as possible, and it makes me so sad to hear women beating themselves up for not looking how they expected. I fully understand how important this worry is for new mums, but I think it’s even more important to focus on settling into your new body, so that when the time is right and you have the required support, you can work toward getting a body that’s stronger and healthier. I always tell mums to cut themselves some slack, their body is capable of so many amazing things, but after having a baby, transforming instantly back to pre-baby you, isn’t one of them. The post baby body is never going to be exactly the same as a pre baby body – physiologically it’s just not possible.
That said, some women find that they are able to achieve a body that’s in the best shape of their life after focusing on their health after having a baby, but it’s all about accepting that you can’t go back in time – you can only go forward.
A lot of new mum angst can come from the huge changes involved in your relationship. The one thing that was a massive source of stability, can suddenly seem unrecognisable as you barely get a chance to talk properly, are constantly stressed with the strain of sleep deprivation, and no longer get intimate as your sex drives take a stress or fatigue-induced nose dive.
These changes are all normal, but they won’t last forever. Just like you need to find yourself after having a baby, your couple needs to as well. Eventually you’ll find a new dynamic, remember – nothing is permanent. One day your baby will sleep through the night. You will be able to go out again. You will be able to be intimate.
The reality is, that after having a baby, you look at most things slightly differently. The world makes sense in a different way, and it soon becomes clear that life is all about constant change. From pregnancy to giving birth to feeding your newborn to weaning, walking, talking and beyond, your life with your baby is always evolving – and so are you.
Don’t expect to feel like you’ve got it all figured out to begin with. Accept that you’re going to have days when you look in the mirror and wonder what the hell happened to the carefree person you were a few years ago. Accept that the moment is brief, and that things are always moving to a new phase or stage.
Finding your new self involves remembering that every few years we enter a new phase of life – whether it’s marked by a significant birthday or life event. From girlhood we’re always changing as women – from our first period and puberty to the first time we have sex, the first time we fall in love or get married or have a baby. Every breakup or divorce, new job or relocation moves us forward into a new space in our lives and opens up a new opportunity to evolve and find out more about who we are – now.
Life is full of challenging and positive milestones, and each time something significant happens we have the opportunity to grow. Finding the silver lining in amongst all the turmoil can really help you feel more confident about embracing the new and the unknown.
Adios old me?
In a way, after having a baby, a lot of mums feel they have to say goodbye to the person they were before. They aren’t able to do or be or think all the same things they did prior to motherhood, and it can feel bittersweet acknowledging that a critical part of your life has ended. Instead of grieving for what’s lost, letting it go gracefully and embracing the new will make your new life easier and more enjoyable, especially if you can remember that no matter what phase of life you’re in there will always be good days and tough days too.