One of the most unexpected things happened to me when I became a new mother. It wasn’t something that happened overnight. It was something that began to evolve around the second or third month postpartum and continued for close to a year. This was the unexpected grief over the loss of self. My pre-baby self, that is.
After I gave birth to my girl, I was consumed with being a mother (as I should have been). The only thing in the forefront of my mind was taking care of my baby and making sure all of her needs were met. I was reading parenting books, baby sleep books, breastfeeding books, researching baby stuff on the internet . . . you name it. It was all-consuming. This is how it is for new moms, right? I was functioning in robot mommy mode: feed the baby, change the baby, comfort the baby, find something to eat for myself, attempt to shower, and so on. Again, just going through the motions as many new moms do early on.
Understandably, I felt very locked up in the house in the early weeks following her birth. My daughter was born during the winter and taking a newborn out in the cold isn’t as easy or practical as, say, in the spring or summer. I am also not the type of person that feels the urgency to socialize a newborn into the world immediately. However, I did attempt to take morning walks with her in the stroller cozy, both of us bundled tight. Our success rate for walk completion was pretty low. She would often wake midway through, hungry, in need of a diaper change, or just unhappy.
A couple of mornings during the week, my mom would come over to spend time with us and give me a bit of a break. I loved having some adult company or being able to run an errand or two. The success rate for errand running was pretty low as well. I struggled just going to Target because 1) I felt guilty for leaving my daughter and 2) I always felt rushed because I was nursing and I knew she would be ready for her next feeding soon. No more marathon shopping trips to Target for me!
By the time the three-month mark rolled around, I started to feel even more isolated, like the walls were narrowing in on me. Spring was upon us by this point, but I had a host of issues which made it impossible to get out of the house for long. People kept telling me, “It gets better around three months,” but I just wasn’t seeing it. If I had a nickel for every time someone said that to me, my piggy bank would be full. I began to think this “stay-at-home mom” gig wasn’t for me.
Having my daughter, coupled with the decision to stay home, put a 180-degree spin on life for me. Instead of getting up at 5:30 am to shower, put nice clothes on, fix my hair and apply some makeup, I was staying home in sweats covered in bodily excrements from my newborn. I traded in my hairdo, makeup, suits, and daily routine for spit up, sweat pants, a ponytail, and the occasional shower. Applying makeup was laughable.
Beyond the physical aspects, I really started to feel like I didn’t know who I was anymore. I couldn’t identify with the new me. I felt like a bit of a shell, not sure who was living inside of it. I knew I loved my daughter and couldn’t bear to be away from her. At the same time, I didn’t feel like I knew who I was, as though I had lost myself. I wasn’t convinced I was giving my daughter the best version of me, or what I had envisioned. In hindsight, I know these are all normal new mom feelings. People say it all the time — having a baby will change you. You know they are right, but you just don’t understand it until it happens. Going in, we aren’t really sure of the ways in which it will change you and for everyone, it is different.
For a short time, I thought maybe going back to work a couple of days per week for a few hours to do something less demanding than my previous job would help. I thought what I was missing was routine, some sort of peek into my old self. I found a part-time opportunity to test on a trial basis. Well, no surprise . . . it was NOT what I wanted to do. Sure, the work was fun, not very demanding, and I was around other people. But all I did the entire time I was there was think about my daughter. I cried all the way home and I knew it wasn’t going to work out for me. Some people told me it would just take practice and get easier with time. In my soul, I knew it was not what I needed and going back to work wasn’t the answer for me. It wasn’t going to fill in any missing pieces of my old self, or what I thought I was trying to identify with.
A great deal of my internal struggle was not getting out of the house. However, our girl was not the best sleeper, so it wasn’t like I could just put her in the car and zoom off while she rested the afternoon away peacefully in her car seat. (And before it disappears from my mind, let me say she was not having any of the baby wearing business I had dreamed and longed for. Ix-nay on the baby wearing. Oh, I digress . . . ) Let me be real: her sleep was TERRIBLE, poor kid. Her naps were dreadful and unpredictable until she was seven or eight months old. She also did not sleep a full, uninterrupted night of sleep until her first birthday . . . a gift, indeed. Yes, I know there are parents out there who struggle beyond that to get their wee ones to sleep. I have met quite a few! My point is simply that taking her out and about to shop or stroll or run errands was more stress than it was worth for this new mom. She was beyond fussy and it created a huge amount of anxiety for me rather than relieve my need to get out of the house.
As I mentioned earlier, my mom was coming over a couple of times per week to spend the day with us while my husband was at work. While this was great company for us and I was able to get out for short periods of time, it wasn’t getting me out of these four walls nearly enough! Nor was it fulfilling my desire to have my daughter with me. I eventually had a light bulb moment! Rather than mom coming to us, why didn’t we go to her? Why didn’t I think of this earlier in the game? Oh, wait, I remember . . . I was sleep deprived, hormonal, and not thinking clearly.
This simple switch-up ended up being so therapeutic for me. It meant I could get out of the house and be around someone that loved spending time with both of us. An added bonus was that my husband worked very close by and was able to come have lunch with us when his schedule permitted. My daughter could sleep comfortably in her pack and play at mom’s and there was a spare room where I could also rest. Plus, it was another set of loving hands to help with my daughter when I just needed a little break. Moms really are the best, aren’t they?
Eventually, I was able to use an hour of the time I spent at my mom’s to go to the gym and get some physical (and mental) conditioning in. The new and improved me was starting to morph. I was starting to find little bits and pieces of my old self and working those into my new mommy life while still being available and present with my daughter. Plus, as my daughter’s sleep improved, I was able to get out and about with her more and find some guaranteed pockets of time during her naps to do things the old me loved.
For me, three things were key to finding myself again and embracing the new mom within:
- Sleep. Lack of sleep can make a person feel and do funny things. When there is a newborn in the house, there isn’t much a parent can do about the lack of sleep. Accept it, own it, embrace it, and know it will get better. Once my daughter starting getting more quality sleep, I was able to as well.
- Getting out of the house. Pre-baby, I was a person that loved to get up and go. I have always been a very active person and staying inside for days on end has never been my thing. Getting out of the house gives me the chance to get some fresh air, see some new faces, and enjoy the world. Even if it is just going to Target or the grocery store. I’ve got to get out and about!
- Exercise. I particularly enjoy, walking, running, and yoga for clearing my head, though I like to do many other types of workouts to switch it up. Exercise pushes a reset button for me that day and gives me some time to myself to sort through things or burn them off. I really enjoy it most when I can do it first thing in the morning after my daughter has breakfast. Most recently, I have been walking and/or running with my daughter in the jogging stroller, which she loves. It gives us time together, but also independent time to explore the sights in our own way.
She is a champion napper now, for sure. Amazing what can transform with a little time . . . in both the babe and the parent. I have been able to get back to baking, cooking, doing some home decorating, and reading books that don’t involve parenting and/or babies. I am even working on some awesomely fun furniture makeover projects (stay tuned)!
When you are in the throes of infancy, it is so difficult to remember that it is just temporary. I can’t tell you how often people said that to me. I knew it was true, but when you are in the eye of the storm, you can’t see past the hurricane. We are simply living in the moment and doing what we can do just to make it from one day of the next. The first few months really crawled by for me, but now that my daughter is 21 months old, I can’t make the days last long enough to get in extra time with her. I can’t wait for her to wake up from her nap so we can make some type of mess in the kitchen together!
Now, I am so happy and grateful to have this new version of myself. I’m so thankful this 2.0 (or 3.0, or 4.0 . . . ) version of me morphed. I feel like I am who I always was, with some major life lessons and improvements along the way. The days of not knowing who I was any longer seem so long ago. I have so much to be grateful for and I am eternally thankful for the gift of self growth. My daughter has taught me so much about myself and will continue to do so. Patience really is a virtue.