Being a mom can be an amazing and transformative experience. But often you can struggle with a loss of identity, and even postpartum depression, after having a baby.
You can feel like who you were before the baby arrived, is gone. The person you were, is swallowed up by being a mother.
When recently reading this post on @heymamaco it really resonated with what I felt when I had my twins Iggy and Chloe:
"Some days and nights still feel so empty. Like who you were is gone. The life you had is gone. And what your identity was, has completely changed.”
Does this strike a chord with you? The shifts in how you feel after becoming a mom isn’t just about changes to your emotions. Your body has just been through the wringer - giving birth is no walk in the park!
And suddenly you become a feeding machine for a squalling, balling entity, that is now governing your every waking moment. And while yes, your new identity as a ‘mom’ can be empowering, it can also be overpowering.
Especially on those occasions when you’ve been up all night, and you stare at your tired and worn-out reflection in the mirror. You ask yourself in those moments when you hit breaking point: ‘Who am I?’ And that loss of identity after having a baby is very, very real.
The Changes You Experience As A New Mom
In the post on @heymamaco, the mom shares:
“After a hard night the night before and in the middle of a rough morning. I was at my breaking point, crying while feeding and texting Chase saying, “I can’t do this.” Because at the time I didn’t want to.
"I looked back at this picture after taking it, though, and saw 'Mama' written on my shirt. And the chain of my necklace tucked beneath my Mama shirt that says 'Eli' on the pendant. And I remembered that I not only CAN do it, but that I AM doing it. And WILL continue to do it.”
She goes on to say this is what makes motherhood powerful. How you manage to just keep on rallying when you are in your darkest moments. Because this tiny being is completely and utterly dependent on you. They are defenseless in the world. And you HAVE to rally whether you want to or not.
I will never forget the first thing the nurse at the hospital told me the second I woke up from my first nap after surgery.
Instead of telling me to rest. she ordered: “You got to pump every three hours. If you don't, your milk won't come in.” I thought, ‘For God’s sake, I just had major surgery!’ Then, the next thing she said was, “You have to put your babies to nurse. Otherwise, they will get used to bottles and won’t latch on.” My goodness, I could barely get them to ‘latch on’ on to me, I was so weak!
It made me feel like I just couldn’t do it.
When I was struggling with keeping positive, there were two things that were really key.
I would always make sure I was very excited to be with my twins during the day. Even if I hadn’t had a lot of sleep the night before. I just ‘switched off’ the part of emotions where I ‘felt tired.’ However, I do believe this led to a certain degree of postpartum depression. So from my experience, this may not be a good idea.
In hindsight, I think it’s better to express your exhaustion! Now, if you have the ability to keep on rallying when you feel you are in a dark moment, it may help you overcome that overwhelm.
The second thing that was key was I didn’t have the? fear to ask for help.
There is a saying: ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ I was lucky enough to have TWO helpers when it came to looking after my twins in those early months. My night nurse helped me three nights a week. And that turned into my double shift nanny.
I truly do not think it's humanly possible to look after twins with no help at all. I know I was very lucky. So many of you new moms are dealing with this all on your own. And you’re doing an amazing job. Please comment and share your stories with our community and you are not alone.
What stuns me, when I look back, is even with all that help. it was still only covering 80 hours a week. Newborns are 24/7. That’s 168 hours a week. I still had 88 hours left to handle my twins on - my own! I don’t have any siblings, and my mother was in Hong Kong. And my nanny became more like my sister. I had twins. She was my only solution. And I have no shame on sharing the fact that I found my twins a ‘second mom.’
The key is to learn and understand, how to turn what is essentially the very hard work of looking after a newborn into a passion. How do you change that 168-hour working week into a time of care and enjoyment? And that in itself isn’t easy.
Matrescence: What Is It?
Turns out, there's a term for this transitional period: matrescence.
It sounds very similar to ‘adolescence.’ And there’s a reason for that. Coined by Dana Louise Raphael, she determined everyone knows that "Moving from being a child to a teenager is hard." There are mood swings, and changes in your body. Teenagers feel confused and it’s a universal truth being an adolescent isn’t fun. But when you are transitioning to being a mom, you’re expected to be thankful, happy, and practically beatific as you embrace your newborn.
But in actual fact, there are a lot of similar changes you experience to those you go through in adolescence. You are striving to understand and embrace your new identity, and it’s very hard.
Your Split Personality As A New Mom
When you become a mother, there are actual chemical changes that take place which can cause your feelings of confusion. Your brain creates chemical signals that make your baby the focus of your existence. But guess what? You don’t just forget the person you were before you became a mom.
This can make you feel anxious and doubtful about whether you can cope. Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D., suggests there are five stages of grief:
However, you don’t always experience your grief in that order. And this is exactly what you are going through – you’re grieving your old ‘pre-baby life.
The Difference Between Postpartum Depression And The ‘Baby Blues’
According to the Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, “as many as three of every four women will have short periods of mood swings, crying, or feeling cranky or restless during the first weeks after birth.”
These experiences can be a lot worse if you are feeling tired or anxious.
It’s usually known as the ‘baby blues,’ and will recede. Having the ‘baby blues’ after giving birth is very common. It usually starts in the week after you’ve given birth and stops by the time your baby is around ten days old.
A lot of these feelings are normal and are a result of your body getting used to not having your baby inside you anymore.
You don’t need any treatment for the baby blues, but it can be helpful to talk to someone about how you’re feeling.
However, if these symptoms persist, and you cannot sleep, or you feel like you cannot take care of your child, then you could be suffering from postpartum depression.
Symptoms of PND can include:
*Bursting into tears for no apparent reason
*Feeling emotional and irrational
*Feeling irritable or touchy
*Feeling depressed or anxious
You have overwhelming feelings of sadness, hopelessness, guilt, or self-blame. And these can go on for weeks or months after you’ve given birth.
According to The Effects of Pre and Postpartum Depression on Child Behavior and Psychological Development, post-natal depression affects between 5.2% and 13% of mothers in developed countries and possibly up to 20% of mothers in low and middle-income countries.
How To Recognize If You Have Postpartum Depression Or Anxiety
You may have postnatal depression if you have:
* Lack of appetite
* No confidence
* Feelings of agitation
* Feelings of apathy
* Being sad or low
* Issues with sleeping, or struggling to get back to sleep after feeding your baby
* Lack of enjoyment in life in general
* Guilt and blame on yourself
* Thinking about or even planning suicide
*Difficulty concentrating and making decision
Now you may not feel all of these symptoms, or they can come on overtime. Or you may feel sad suddenly.
In a few cases, some moms even feel like they can’t carry on. If you feel like this, it’s very important to tell someone. Don’t cope with these difficult feelings alone.
You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline on 800 273 8255.
Why Do You Have Feelings Of Loss Of Identity When You’ve Had A Baby?
As humans, we are used to making our own choices.
New mom’s tie previously their sense of identity to a variety of choices and values:
* Time to do what they want to do – hobbies, self-care
* Time with family, friends, and partner
* Value derived from working life
* Social Life
* Financial Independence
* Sex Appeal
This is now snatched away. You don’t feel sexy when you’ve not even had time to take a shower or brush your hair!
And meeting friends for brunch is off the agenda as you’re generally too tired to make your own breakfast at home never mind getting ready to leave the house.
Something that has now become a two-hour military operation just to get the right things together to get out the door.
What You Can Do To Cope With Loss Of Identity And Postpartum Depression Concerns After Having A Baby
Look at the positives –
Don’t think about having a baby as a negative thing.
Being spontaneous is definitely a thing of the past. And you can’t be as carefree as you were. But now you are becoming more selfless, and more understanding. As well as patient! And these are great attributes to have.
Meanwhile, while weekends away are not going to be happening any time soon, organizing a coffee with a girlfriend IS achievable. Take small steps towards allowing yourself some freedom.
Here are some things you can do for yourself so you can feel whole again:
*Give yourself a break
*Don’t compare yourself
*Give yourself some ‘me’ time
*Find old friends and make new ones
*Stop beating yourself up…about not being good enough
Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have great suggestions for other new mamas. Remember, we are a community. Your participation means the world to us.