I wanted to share my original submission for the Happy Birth Book as I'm thrilled it made the cut! It's quite long so there's quite a lot that ended up getting cut out in the final published version but the full version is below:
You, and your identity now that you're a mum
Your sense of identity is a very complex thing, and never more so than during huge times of change. It doesn’t get much bigger than the momentous shift to motherhood. In theory, you’ve had nine months to get your head round it, but really nothing can prepare you for the complete and total reimagination of everything you thought you knew about yourself.
Identity, in coaching terms, is buried deep below the four other levels of our psyche, which are environment, behaviour, capabilities and beliefs. When you think about the transition to motherhood in these terms it’s no wonder that new mums struggle with what exactly this huge change means for them. Literally all of these 4 things change with the birth of a baby – many in ways you couldn’t have ever imagined they would.
As not just a coach, but also a recent new mum myself, I’ve spent a lot of time understanding these changes. Below are my coach/mum thoughts in the hope that they might help you through:
No idea what to wear?
Clothes, bags, shoes, car – literally everything you owned, wore, used before you were pregnant and created your little bundle of joy must now be reassessed in terms of whether or not it fits with your new way of life. For me for example, anything low cut is now a bra flash waiting to happen as my little man clings off my top at every given opportunity. High heels and skinny jeans prevent me from racing after him at speed and my mulberry has been consigned to the back of the wardrobe as I’ve realised that two bags is both impractical and pointless – I’m fooling no one.
Accept and embrace the new normal: My advice on this is to try and live in the moment as much as possible – acknowledge it, accept it and move on. Honestly, there are a million and one people waiting to sell you beautiful, practical new mum gear – have fun exploring and experimenting!
Shocked by the chaos?
Chances are, you’re horrified by your washing pile, out of control fridge or beautiful interior design choices that are now buried under piles of wipes and vests. Where do you put all this stuff? When will you ever have time to tidy up?
Mum knows best: My mum’s advice on maintaining a house was don’t bother tidying up until they go to school. I personally think that’s a bit extreme but seriously, next time you have a quiet moment, think properly about whether you really care, or whether you’re simply used to caring. Give yourself a break, you just made a person.
Conversation? What conversation?
As soon as you are able to come up for air, you will start to crave adult conversation. This happens on a few fronts: your new social circle will most likely be your antenatal group with whom the only thing you have in common at the moment is babies. Secondly, you will find yourself unable to ever reach the end of a conversation with anyone as your attention will invariably be swiped by a baby or monitor. Thirdly, you will go entire days without speaking to anyone but your little bundle of joy. This, as I’ve found from talking to lots of mums, is one of the most difficult bits to get used to. Why is this? Because talking is our way of processing things, the way we say things makes us who we are.
Go with the flow: I’d be a fool to try and give you any other advice on this than just ‘go with it’, get your kicks where you can and make sure your partner knows that you will need to hear about their day, no matter how boring, when they get home. Your brain will not turn into a ball of mush from misuse, I promise.
Uncertainty is the new normal
You are, on the whole as an adult, pretty used to knowing the answer to most things. There will be the odd times when you don’t but let’s face it they are rarely life or death. Or at least they WERE. Now, on the other hand, you feel like you don’t know anything, and on top of that, what worked yesterday doesn’t today. You are not alone! Every mum has felt this way, even the ones who seem to have it completely sorted.
Basically, don’t sweat it -
- accept not knowing
- no one is expecting you to know everything
- your baby doesn’t know any other way
- there is no right way to do things
- you will get through
The less energy you waste wondering if you’re doing a good job, the more energy you’ll have to actually do it. And talk, talk, talk to other mums – the best comedy value is definitely not in the success stories, some of my best mum moments so far have been laughing about my worst ones. Remember that point about talking being our way of processing, it applies here too.
Your idea of a mum VS You as an actual mum –
You will have, from your upbringing, a pretty fixed idea of what being a mum is all about. Chances are if your friends and family have had kids, you’ve made judgments based on these beliefs about whether or not they’re doing it right. You will probably also have decided what sort of mum you’re going to be, and who you’re not going to be like as well. And now, you’re faced with the reality, and finding out that this is different from what you thought it would be can be a huge blow. Anything that shakes our beliefs is difficult to deal with because they are there for a reason. They give us a framework within which to operate so that every decision in life doesn’t take forever. Our beliefs give us psychological breathing space. For someone who is dealing with everything else that comes with being a new mum this can be one of the most difficult things to deal with. The way you cope with this will have a huge bearing on how you feel ongoing.
Seek out and Talk to PLMs (People like me): Focus on the people you identify with most now, seek their advice, talk through what you’ve got going on and ask how they deal with it. And try to embrace the uncertainty if you can because each time you nail something, your confidence will grow and you’ll feel incredible about it.
All of the above wraps up into your wider identity but what of the more fundamental elements of what it is to be you. What has become of the person you were before you were ‘expecting’? One of my best friends said recently that one of her biggest challenges with becoming a new mum was that no one ever called her by her name any more. She became simply Edward’s mother. And along with this comes the fact that suddenly you are judged on the behaviour of another person, one who despite many people’s assertions to the contrary, you have limited control over, especially in the very early days. You also start to realise that all the things you thought you couldn’t wait to do again once you’d had the baby suddenly seem a lot less important than they did. All of these things relate to the simple, but pretty scary question – who am I? It’s not a question we have to ask ourselves very often, and it’s not a question that many new mums even know they’re struggling with. They just feel a vague but deep seated sense of uncertainty that they’re really not used to. This can affect their relationship with themselves, and other people as they wrestle with this unknown, unfamiliar person they’ve become.
Be ready to adapt: As you take time to get to know your baby, you also need to take time to get to know the new you. Acknowledge that things have changed, but also think about the things that are still really important to you and make time for them. If it’s exercise for example, get back into it as soon as you possibly can, even if it’s just creating a routine that involves a brisk morning walk. The key to balance is about constantly reassessing the different variables and shifting things around to accommodate any changes. Spending a bit of time thinking this through will help you to get there quicker. When it comes to the other stuff, you can try and change the world when you have time again. In the meantime, my advice is just to accept it. There’s plenty of time for people to use your name, don’t sweat the small stuff!
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