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Friday, 14 January 2011

Rediscovering your Identity after Having a Baby: How Real Mum's feel

When I discovered I was pregnant, my whole life changed. I knew I would never be the same carefree university student I once was, but at the same time I didn't really know the person I would be. Even after I had given birth I struggled to find the new person I was. I didn't feel I was like my friends anymore and friendhsips struggled and a few friends even dropped away completely during my pregnancy and after Cameron's birth as my friends struggled to understand me anymore. How could I expect them to understand the new me when I didn't even know who I was myself?

I found myself gravitating towards new friends who had only known me after I found out I was pregnant, mainly my 'more' girls as I call them. These girls have been my rocks over the last year! They have listened to me moaning and have made me feel less of a weird lost soul as to them I was just Emma-Louise, the once pregnant, now mummy.

That's not to say that the friends I did hold onto are not true friends. They are the ones who have managed to keep hold of me as I changed into a mum.

The problem is, being a mum doesn't define me. I am a mum, I can't, and don't want to avoid that. But I am not JUST a mum. It is what I have found the hardest thing to come to terms with, not really feeling like I had an identity after having Cameron.

It doesn't help that I am a single mum, that has to be said, as it has made it harder for me to feel like a woman as well as a mum. Though this doesn't necessarily make it any easier.

I also haven't really had any time to myself to work out who I am as I went from having Cameron to a week later starting Uni in my fourth year of my degree and working on assignments in every spare minute I've had. I feel disconnected from people my own age who are studying at University but don't have the huge responsibility I have in the form of Cameron.

I find myself being slightly resentful of those who don't have this huge responsibility whilst as the same time, loving the fact that I have something that they don't. Because a mother's unconditional love is something you cannot even imagine until you become one.

I was really relieved to find out that I was not alone in feeling this way. As well as finding loads online on pregnancy and birth forums about the problem with finding your new identity after becoming a mum, I also had a huge amount of feedback when I mentioned online that I was going to write this blog and many mums came forward with their stories on how difficult it is to find yourself after such a life altering experience.

My Panel of Mummys:

Danielle, 22, Newcastle, mum to Bobby, 21 months and Noah, 4 months

R, mum to L, 3 years
Kira, 24, Liverpool, mum to John, 18 months

Felicity, 25, Bristol, mum to Eric, 25 weeks

Amy, 20, Newcastle, mum to Lola-Grace, 5 months

Katie, 24, Chessington, mum to Grace, 4 years

Kirsty, 23, Dundee, mum to Emily, 5 weeks and carer of Joe, 4 years

Frankie, 20, Swindon, mum to Hollie, 3 years

Samantha, 23, Gourock, mum to Ailidh, 15 months

I asked my group of mums what their first thoughts were when they fell pregnant and most were unplanned pregnancies so they were shocked.

"I remember thinking "OMG I'm pregnant, what do I say to my partner and what do I tell my mum."- Nadia.

"When I found out I was pregnant, we were both over the moon, completly shocked but we felt as if we had been blessed!"- Danielle. 

"I was 17 when I had her, my initial thought was 'I can't have a baby'"- Frankie.

"When I found out I was pregnant I was petrified! Its the end off who you currently are and its for keeps, you know" -Kira.

"I was the most shocked I've ever been finding out I was pregnant. I felt sick for days and like my world had turned on it's head. I felt a bit like my life was over and everything was completely out of my control, so I was very scared"-Felicity.

"I was totally freaked out at first, but I knew that it was what I wanted, as it all felt so right"-Amy.

"The baby was definitely unplanned as I had split up with Grace's father in the January....when I told him, he said "I cant afford it get rid of it"'-Katie.

Kirsty, however, was "over the moon, as chliche as it sounds".

Looking back to their pregnancies, a few of the mums mentioned how huge a change it was:

"I didn't have a proper job and worried about not having enough money or support around me when bringing up my baby" Nadia.

"I was terrified about becoming a mum as I'd never even held a baby and had never gone gooey over one or had a single maternal bone in my body, I was worried it wouldn't come naturaly to me and I wouldn't know what to do"-Kira.

Felicity was still finding it hard to adjust- "I gradually (and I mean VERY gradually, I still had moments when I freaked out right up to the end!) got used to the idea over the next couple of months"!

And Amy told me "I was amazed that I had managed to grow this tiny thing inside me, the best way to describe it would be pure pride!! Of course I was worried, but I knew my other half would look after the both us of...I was terrified I wasnt going to be good enough for her, that my life would be taken over, that nothing would ever be the same".

"The pregnancy was unplanned... We were still living at his dads, finance problems galore so it was a very scary time but something to look forward too. We werent sure how we were going to cope and pay for everything"-R.

For Kirsty, the "step into motherhood was diffrent from most as (I) was 3 month pregnant when my nephew was placed in my care so starting motherhood with a 3 year old and a bump.... Very hard". 
Some, like Danielle, Kirsty and Katie believed they were always destined to be a mum-

"I embraced motherhood because I always knew I wanted children"-Danielle.

"I was not worried becoming a mum as I have always wanted children at a young age and I have always been around children"-Katie.

"Being a mum is the one thing my entire life i had my heart set on"-Kirsty.

Felicity also said she always wanted children "I knew I wanted to have a baby one day, and everyone says I'm good with children so I hoped it would be ok, but I was worried about how the sleep deprivation would affect me when the baby was here, I was worried I would go mad, and I was soooooo scared of birth!"

All the mums agreed, though, that any worries or fears they may have had before having their children disappeared once they were born...

"When I had Indiana all those worries just dissapeared and I had this overwhelming feeling of love and protection for my new son (I'm sure all mums will know how amazing this feeling is!)"-Nadia.

"But now I've had my daughter I honestly believe that it was meant to be"-Frankie.

"Of course when I got settled into life as the 3 of us, all my worries changed"-Amy. 

 I asked them whether they felt they had changed as people since having a baby and many said that yes, they had. 

"I felt I became a new person, my baby was the most important thing in my life and was my priority before anything else. I think having a baby changed me for the better, it made me realise I'd taken so much in my life for granted and now I had this new life to look after, he didn't have anybody else and it was down to ME to make sure he was looked after"- Nadia.

"I think I have changed as a person as I had to grow up very quickly and my whole lifestyle had to change. I gave up work, gave up smoking, drinking, out every weekends"-Katie.

 "When you're trying to teach a toddler about manners and stuff you start to realise stuff like that a bit more and become a nicer more caring person I take other people's feelings into consideration more aswell. But I must say that I am less selfish, before kids I would be like ooooo I want to buy this and I want to do this and go here, you have so much freedom to do what you want when you want but when you have kids it's all about them"-Danielle.

"Things have changed since having my daughter but I've only become more 'responsible' obviously due to having a huge responsibility of a child! Everything I do now I think how it would affect Hollie, even though I'm a single parent I'm back at college full time, I think it's setting a good example for Hollie"-Frankie.

"I do think I've changed since having john. In some ways I am so much more confident, because I have to be. I'm much more cautious as its not just me any more. And I am so so proud that I've made such an amazing little boy...I just feel like a better person"-Kira.

"Ive changed big time! i used to go out party every other night buying a new dress each time ( I would NEVER dream of wearing same outfit twice! ) i couldnt go out without my hair extensions fakse lashes false tan acrylics and heels i was so plastic and up my own arse! now im lucky if i can buy a magazine! and really lucky if i can get out!"-Kirsty.

Felicity disagreed that she had changed since having a baby but explained that "I've always been a caring, nurturing person, but now I have someone to be caring and nurturing for so I can really let that side of me shine and have a lovely outlet".

Amy agrees with this, "I still feel like i'm the old Amy, but with a bit more responsibility, my life isnt any harder, you get used to the sleepless nights and the feeding, dirty nappies and the tantrums".

When asked whether they found they had to discover a new identity, there were mixed results. Some, like Danielle and Frankie felt that they didn't so much have new identities to find but that having kids became a natural progression in their lives.

"Even if i didnt have bobby lots would have changed anyway. But you start to realise that you've changed for the better, you start to take responsibilities and feel more grown up...I didnt go out much (before), so it all worked out perfectly"-Danielle.

"I don't feel I've lost my identity as such, just found a new one to combine with the old one"-Frankie.

On the other hand, some of the mums definitely felt they had a new identity.

"I didnt feel i lost my identity more like i found a new one. A new me.""-Kirsty.

"I think my identity totally changed, appearance, personality and my social life wise. I changed my hair from long to short, changed the way I dressed, to a bit more dressy"-Amy.

"I did feel as though I'd lost my identity after having him and still do a little. Before I fell pregnant I pretty much partied and worked, both of which I no longer do now. I went from being 'Kira' to 'John's mum"-Kira. She went on to describe how she "gained 4st with john and after 18months I've only lost 1st of that... I don't recognise my body and it doesn't feel like it fits me anymore. I'm dissapointed in myself for not getting my body back and I'm disgusted with myself for caring so much when it had produced my son". 

"I believe I have definitely lost my identity" says Katie, adding that she has "changed to someone who very rarely goes out socialising at weekends", finishing by saying that "everything I buy and do is for my daughter and I will never ever be just me again".

Nadia describes how she became fed up with how she couldn't wear her old clothes anymore and that she "decided to get fit again and... had breast implants to boost my confidence and dress how I did before I fell pregnant." 

"I definitely felt like I'd lost my old identity when I had Eric, and it was confusing who I was 'meant' to be. I couldn't put the 'old' me in context with the 'new' me, and felt the new me was lacking"-Felicity. Felicity goes on to explain that "slowly over the months I've started to feel more like me again, the old me and the new me have merged together and I just feel like the old me but who is now a mummy too".  

Talking of their friends, Frankie says:

"all my friends have stuck by me and haven't stopped seeing me just because I now have a child, they all love Hollie and I know if I really need some help then they would". She goes on to say that she has "also made some new friends from having a child who also have children and I probably wouldn't have met them if I hadn't of had Hollie" She sums it up: "I've been lucky enough to keep some of my 'previous' life and also the addition of a new one".

"My social life totally changed, where as before, my closest friends were mostly male, my female friends have been the most supportive and now i'm finding myself wanting to spend more time with other women with babies"-Amy.

Kira describes a different experience explaining that "Its pretty lonely being the first of your friends to have a baby after all the initial first asks about you or invites you out as they think you won't be able to or that you'll be so consumed by motherhood you don't want to do things".

Meanwhile, Katie describes life as a single mum as "very VERY lonely. Ok you have a child with you 24/7 but you still need that adult conversation and to socialise", she adds that "many friends don't have time for you as everything you do you have to do as a package. Meeting people at play groups was great fun but even then you drift away from people when your child leaves play group to go to school/nursery".

R admits, "I have no friends, no outside life really since having my daughter".

However, all the mums agreed that becoming a mum was an amazing thing.

"The change for the best has to be that I'd take all this bad feeling and negative thoughts to have my son"-Kira.

"I think being a mum is the best job in the world"-Nadia.

"I believe bobby was a total blessing and he helped me through the hard times, he was my focus on life and without him I wouldnt know what to do"-Danielle.

"I'm very happy with how our life is right now and wouldn't want it any different"-Frankie.

"I couldnt imagine my life now without her"-Amy.

"Would I change having her? No!"-R. 

"But worth it? every sick covered, pooped on, tantrums throwing second!"-Kirsty.

Kira does well in summing things up: "I'm still trying to remember who 'Kira' is but without losing 'John's mum'... It must just take a while to redress the balance".

And it is refreshing to know that it isn't just us 'normal' women who find having a baby a huge change. When researching online I came across something about new mum Danni Minogue in an interview:

Dannii Minogue's style has changed since becoming a mother. The Australian beauty, who gave birth to son Ethan in July, admits she is surprised to be suddenly more drawn to wearing garments that she would never have considered before.

"I am wholeheartedly embracing the feminine looks that we have seen all over the catwalks," she said. "Being a new mum
, I have, for the first time, connected with my inner earth mother and I love the sheer softness that envelopes curves rather than hugging them - tremendous for hiding baby bellies!"

"It's not a style I've been drawn to in the past, but I think fashion reflects how you feel on the inside and I'm definitely floating right now. Chiffon, chiffon, more chiffon, sun ray pleating and ruffles - divine."

Now, admitably Danni was referring mostly to her change in fashion, but the article went on to say:

Dannii also admitted she is struggling to find the time to fit in her previous grooming rituals as Ethan keeps her so busy when she is at home.

Becoming a mother is such a life changing experience, it is not surprising that many of the mums I spoke to, as well as myself, had trouble identifying the 'new' person they had become. What I can see from all the mums I spoke to is that, no matter how much of a shock, no matter how hard they found it adjusting to being pregnant or becoming a mum, whether they lost friends, gained them or kept their old ones, whether they suffered from Post-natal depression or other problems during these times, they all shared one thing. They all wouldn't change having their babies for the world. And neither would I.

So, if you are a mum and are sat reading this and feeling you have lost who you used to be or don't quite know who you are anymore, then please try and take comfort in the fact that out there are thousands of women just like you, feeling the same way. You will find that new you, or just rediscover the old you, sometimes it just takes time!

If you are struggling and would like support why not visit one of these great websites:

And for those new mums that may be finding they have lost some of their old friendships:

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog on identity crisis after having a baby. I am interested to know what other life changing events can cause an identity crisis (perhaps getting married?) so if anyone has any please get in touch. I would be very interested in linking a 'guest blog' in on these other experiences.

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