I promised someone this post would be something from the perspective of the psychologist in me. Initially I was thinking to write something about children or parenting but I think something about me and us as mothers is more fitting for now.
Becoming a mother is huge in a woman’s life. It’s so huge we rarely realize what has happened and all the aspects of it. We focus on the baby and our daily tasks but we don’t have so much time to ponder how our sense of self is morfing. And this is something that hit me during pregnancy and even more so after birth. Being a parent is a very binary thing. Yesterday you were 0% parent, today you are 100% parent. I was one person up to the birth of my child and then I stopped being that person without really knowing who I had become. I just knew it wasn’t the same me. I think what happened really is I lost my identity. I needed to reshape it and integrate this whole new side to myself that was born along with my baby.
What were the stages and elements of this identity change? First, the loss of my old one. I felt so lost in the beginning, I hated all of my old clothes, didn’t want to continue living in the same apartment (we moved 3 times), couldn’t do any of the things I used to do that made up who I was. I was never alone anymore. I couldn’t relate to my friends the same way (or at all). Emotionally, it felt like the person I was before had died. Weird, right? Birth if baby, death of self. But it makes sense.
Throughout our lives we build an image of our Self. Experience and our perception of it give us an understanding of how we function. We know we like coffee with a spoon of sugar but dislike milk in tea. We know what kind of people we will probably hit it off with. We know we get super annoyed when someone cuts us off in traffic. That we cry at movies and so on. We then have a system of beliefs in place that guide the way we make decisions and the way we react to things. This system becomes more stable over time and when you are an adult you are less likely to act in a way that is out of sync with this system then, for example, teenage. This is because, as adults, our sense of identity is clearer and more fixed. And then you have a child. And, suddenly, you are faced with decisions and situations that have no correspondent in your belief system or experience. This is why so many of us become our mothers. It’s because that is the only other woman we know exactly what she did and what kind of parent she was. Or we have ideas and opinions we stick to stubbornly although we have no proof we are right. We NEED to hold some control over the quicksand that is now our life so we grab it wherever we can. At this point, being sure is more important than being right.
The sense of loss of control and identity have made me think a lot about death since I gave birth. I sometimes see danger at every step and think about situations that are extremely sad, which include losing the connection I have with my baby. Maybe this is because we are now linked in a way which is so profoundly human and the link can only be broken by death. There is just so much at stake. Your children depend on you know and you have to find it somewhere within you to care successfully for another human being that is not entirely separate from you. All of this has huge psychological impact on a woman. And I say a woman, not a parent, because men don’t go through the same experience. I would love to read a blog about theirs though, I am sure it’s fascinating and equally as hard. But this bio-psychological bond I am talking about here I believe is very much female in nature. It’s our joy and our curse. It makes me feel important but also extremely alone. No one can share this with me. I wonder if the much dreaded post-partum depression isn’t actually us mourning the loss of who we were and preparing the terrain for a new person to emerge from the ashes. It’s super hard to talk to other people about this because we expect new mothers to be overcome with joy and excitement over their baby. I am curious how many of us would honestly describe their experience at the beginning of motherhood only in joyful words though. I assume not many. And that’s ok, no human experience is purely joy or sadness, we are not such simple beings.
I think it’s important to think actively about who we are becoming, decide on who we are post baby. There is nothing wrong with following our mothers leads but I, for one, don’t want to repeat everything she did with me. I want to pick what was good and to that add what is unique for myself. I want to have a say in what this new me is all about. It’s a long process, I am just beginning to feel like my head is clearing up a bit and I can start doing this step by step. New beliefs, new views, new life. And that’s ok now.