Do you feel like the “new you” is so far off and different as the “old you”? Does your role as Mom seem to keep all your other roles and identities (wife, sister, author, creator, friend…) buried inside?
As a licensed professional counselor I see many new moms struggling to reconnect to who they are beneath their many roles. This is such an important topic and yet one that doesn’t really get addressed in any formal way. To delve deep into this struggle, I found myself reaching out to some of my wise mama friends to hear their stories of re-discovering themselves. I was incredibly moved by their vulnerability and strength and deeply appreciative for their wisdom. I’ve gathered and summarized our collective wisdom and have come up with seven ways to find yourself again after giving birth in hopes that it resonates for other mamas, dispels shame, normalizes challenges, helps you feel more connected, and offers some helpful tools and practices.
It is normal to feel disoriented or disconnected from yourself after becoming a mother. You’ve gone through one of the biggest life changes you will ever go through and you’ve spent the first several months (or years) focusing all of your attention, putting your wants and needs on hold, so that you can nurture this little being who you love more than anything.
Many of the mothers I’ve talked with shared that they didn’t even really start thinking about their identity until after the first year or so…for so many reasons: lack of sleep, worrying about other things, hormones, juggling work/family/baby, and a general lack of energy. That said, there are things you can do to support yourself in feeling more connected to who you are. The foundation of re-establishing your personal identity is in attending to and nurturing your relationship with yourself – and there are many ways that you can do this.
- Cultivate Support: Support can come in many forms – from family, friends, new mom support groups, your partner, professionals. For one of my friends having a supportive partner who encouraged her to take time for herself and to make trips to visit her friends was one of the most important forms of support. The challenge: Receiving support! Not only is it hard to feel vulnerable, but it is also challenging to let go of having to have things done our way and allowing someone else to do them their way, trusting that it is good enough.
- Cultivate Connection: The value of connecting with other mothers who can relate to your experience can be the bridge between getting through the day and loosing it! This transition into motherhood can feel so isolating – whether we have a supportive partner or not. One mom shared, “I believe having the support of other women who are grappling with their own and likely similar experiences as they step into this transition, into motherhood, offers something that most women cannot gain from the men in their lives or even the same sex partners in their lives who are not breastfeeding, recovering from birth, etc.” Connecting with other mothers who can relate is different from connecting to a partner; there’s a different level of empathy and sense of camaraderie, because we’re in the same boat.
- Give yourself permission to acknowledge the grief involved with losing your old lives/identities. The transition into motherhood is perhaps one of the biggest transitions of our lives – and with any transition, there is a loss (and with this transition a lot of beautiful gain as well)! “I think a lot of new moms repress this [grief] because it feels too dark, or they think it makes them ungrateful or a bad mom to acknowledge that there is part of their former life that they miss; [like] their pre-baby body, being able to be spontaneous, thinking of themselves first, going out with friends, having the energy to go out with friends, being able to have sex with their partner when they want to, sleeping in, anything really.” There are many ways to work through grief, but the most important piece is to just allow yourself to feel whatever feelings come up without judging or suppressing them.
- Offer deep compassion to yourself. All of the mothers I spoke with talked about the importance of being compassionate and patient with themselves – that this was one of the key components to reconnecting to who they are. It is okay to let some things go at the end of the day. We are typically our harshest critics so it’s helpful to have others who can remind us that we are good enough.
- Open communication between partners. Having a newborn or older children in the house often causes they way we communicate with one another to shift. Add in exhaustion, changing roles, and new demands and expectations – what once may have been a strength now becomes a weakness. When we acknowledge that we are each struggling in these new roles we can communicate more openly and honestly. It’s critical to communicate openly so resentment doesn’t burrow inside and so partners can both get the most our of their relationship as a couple and as parents. This takes a lot of courage, but it’s easier to have compassion for one another and feel connected as opposed to separate. This helps bolster our resources and resiliency.
- Make time to do things JUST FOR YOU! Another of the most important tools for re-establishing your identity is to make time to do things just for you; things that make you feel alive, cared for, energized, or calm. Prioritizing time for taking care of yourself also tends to be one of the biggest challenges for us mamas–so I want to take a minute to acknowledge the challenges.Challenge #1: “No one can do it as good as me so it’s easier to just do it myself.”Challenge #2: “I should be with my baby or doing something else productive. AKA mom guilt.”Challenge #3: “I don’t have a supportive partner or anyone else to allow me time for myself.”Challenge #4: “I’m too tired.”
Challenge #5: “There’s too much to do–I don’t have time.”
We can all relate to some of these (or perhaps all of them), right? It helps to name these so that we can more easily work through them because finding ways to attend to and nurture ourselves is critical. Often times when we say a challenge out loud, we realize it isn’t actually true and when it is true, e.g., “I’m tired,” it’s easy enough to find a self-care activity that we can do even when that challenge is present.
Here are some examples of self-care that we can offer ourselves when we’re faced with challenges like not having time or energy.
- We can take time to pause and breathe deeply – even just three breaths can help us feel like we have more space.
- When we don’t have time away from our little one, we can incorporate them in activities that help us feel calm or alive link putting on our favorite song and dancing together, lying in the grass and watching the clouds, going on a hike or to a river, riding and watching our emotions like waves, knowing that they will pass. These mothers highlighted the importance of prioritizing self-care over productivity and perfection.
- Take time to practice grounding, doing yoga nidra, exercising, stretching – things that help you to feel embodied and strong and at ease.
Maintaining these practices, even for just five minutes, helps new moms to feel anchored and more connected to who they are.
7. Lastly, it’s so important to acknowledge that although you are now a mother, that is not all of who you are. It’s easy to get lost in your roles and all of the things you juggle as you become a mother. Know you are not alone and you are much more than any of your roles and you are perfect in all of your imperfections. By carving out space and time for you, allowing yourself to feel all of your emotions (knowing they will pass), reaching out and connecting with others, and offering yourself presence and compassion, you will come home to yourself.