Monday, March 4, 2013

The Mummy Diaries: Motherhood and Identity

No matter how much or how long you've wanted to become a mother before you actually have children, I don't think anything can completely prepare you for what it's going to be like, and how it's going to change your life; how it's going to change you.

Marriage already showed me that when it came to the crunch I wasn't always as selfless and patient as I thought I was, and there were some things I needed to work on about myself. And I do it because I love my husband, and that love is worth it.

The becoming a mother, taking this real little person home from the hospital, the world entrusting you to care for her... that's a whole 'nother level.

After 9 months of giving over my body to grow this little human, I was looking forward to the relief of getting my body back for myself. Little did I know that now I would be giving a whole lot more.

In those first weeks and months everything you do is for that little helpless person. If they need you to hold them, feed them, rock them, soothe them 24/7, you're there. You're doing it. You'll give them everything you've got, because you love them with every fibre of your being.

Then things start to settle down. They'll continue to need you, but you find more moments apart. When they go longer between feeds and they start to be able to play, and others entertain them for a while, then you start to find some breathing room.

The first time I left the house and drove the car to the supermarket all on my own felt so strange. The last time I had walked down a supermarket aisle I had been waddling like duck, a fat, pregnant duck. And my feet had hurt after roughly 3 and a half minutes.

And this was the first time I had left the house without my baby in over 10 months.

For those 10 months of pregnancy and new motherhood, I had been defined by this baby. Everywhere I went, she was with me. She affected how I felt, what I did, what I ate, how people responded to me, the decisions I made about the future...

It affects you in big ways obviously. You know your life is going to be different - work, socialising, sleep. You know, at least in big overarching terms, your life is going to change.

But it's the little things you don't always think about.

In a subsequent lone shopping trip, I was driving my car listening to a playlist from my phone plugged in to the stereo, and I had a memory. I remembered how I used to drive to work every day in this car, which had once been 'my' car, and listen to music. Half and hour there, half an hour back.

Now I don't drive more the 5 minutes away alone, I don't go to a job every day, and even the car isn't 'mine' any more since we now only have one car and it's 'ours'.

It's not even that I loved my job or that it defined me, but it was those little things that were mine, that made up me. And now they are different. No wonder some days you feel all upside down and back to front. Even those little things have changed.

These are not necessarily bad changes - but if you aren't aware of them, they can one day sneak up and smack you down. You don't even know why, you just don't feel yourself anymore.

So we need to acknowledge the things we use to define ourselves, the things that have made up our identity. Look back and think of the things, big and small, that used to make up who you were and acknowledge that they have changed. Now look at what you have now, and the new things that make up your day to day life.

Then the next step is the most important - decide that these little daily things don't define you.

This is important for several reasons. One, if you let all those daily things you do define who you are, then when they change completely, like when you become a mother, it's like the carpet has been ripped from under you.

And secondly, if the things you DO solely define you, then when you feel like you can't manage to DO anything some days, you will feel like a failure.

And let me tell you, you're not a failure. You have produced and are keeping alive another human being. Some days you won't feel like you've done anything productive other than feed and change diapers. And hopefully feed yourself a little, even if it was on chocolate bars.

In all times of life, and especially in motherhood, we need to define ourselves not by what we DO, but by who we are.

If you define yourself as a person who keeps the house spotless and runs her life like clockwork, then when you can't do that, you'll feel like you're failing. But if you define yourself as someone who loves her family no matter what, then even when the house is chaos and you're about 5 days behind schedule, you might feel worn out but you know you still love your family with everything you've got.

Define yourself by your love, your faith, your values, and the way you treat others. No matter the daily circumstances, the minutiae of life - even if the life you live now looks nothing like who you were 1 year ago - those foundations don't change.

Your labels might have changed - from just wife, career woman and fashion lover to nappy changer, milk machine and midday pyjama wearer -  but your identity can stay rock solid.

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