Losing Yourself to Motherhood

55 Comments

lost

Losing yourself seems to be part of becoming a mother, almost like a rite of passage. The problem is, following a rite of passage people often expect you to be wiser and acknowledge your readiness for your new role. You’re given access to knowledge or tools you didn’t have before.

When you become a mother, all you get is coupons for diapers, a free can of formula (whether you intend to formula feed or not), and unsolicited advice from people who are a generation or two out of touch. You might get a bunch of pamphlets pointing you to local resources and telling you things like how to bond with your baby and when you can expect certain milestones to happen.

What they don’t tell you is that feeling like you have NO IDEA what you’re doing is normal. Or that the sleep deprivation might feel like it’s going to kill you, but it probably won’t and will (eventually) end. Or that if you don’t feel overwhelmed with love for your baby, that’s okay too, and if it lasts for a while and you really feel like you can’t cope you might want to ask for some help.

As a matter of fact, none of the pamphlets I skimmed through or the books I read or the prenatal classes I attended told it like it really is. Which is:

You will lose a part of yourself when you become a mother.

You probably won’t be able to do all the things you’re used to doing, at least not at first, and your husband or partner shouldn’t expect to either.

You will likely be transformed by this experience in ways you could never imagine and no one could ever accurately describe to you.

Some of those changes will be great. Wonderful. Magical, even. Some might make you feel like you’ve figured out the meaning of life, even if it’s 3 a.m.

And some of those changes will be hard. Really hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re a cashier or a cook or a CEO, being a mother will be the hardest job you’ve ever had.

That was certainly the case for me. I knew it would be hard, but I had no idea just how hard it would be. Some of the changes were absolutely not okay with me but it’s difficult, I discovered, to convince a newborn who won’t sleep to see reason.

I realize it’s not this hard for everyone. For me, postpartum depression (unrecognized and undiagnosed for 18 months) made it almost impossibly hard. I absolutely lost myself and have battled for almost three years to find myself again. It turns out the person I was is not coming back, and I’m finally learning to be okay with that. To embrace it, even.

When I started blogging and was trying to choose a name for my blog, I wanted to acknowledge that the crazy, raging, anxiety-ridden person I had become after having a baby was not who I wanted to be. That person was a stranger to me, and to my husband, who took the brunt of a lot of my exhaustion and anger. That stranger was a big part of me for a while, and will always be a part of who I’ve become. But it’s time to say farewell.

As she slowly ceases to be part of who I am, I watch her go. I send her acceptance and gratitude, both for what she’s taught me and for retreating when asked, but I don’t wish to see her again. I’m ready to accept what I’ve lost and embrace what I’ve gained instead.

Farewell, stranger. I wish you well.

Comments

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  1. 1

    Jennifer says

    Yay Robin! Thanks for sharing your story here. I don’t think anyone ever talks about these types of things, and they need to be said out loud so that others will know they are not alone.

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  2. 2

    Alison says

    Yes, yes we do. Lose ourselves. It’s like because a piece of us, our heart, goes into each child we birth. I’m so glad you found your way back to the other side.

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  3. 3

    Poppy says

    There are a few tell it like it is pregnancy books, but this post should be included in discharge paperwork from the hospital because it is so true. All new mothers need to know that “I have no idea what I’m doing” feeling IS normal.

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    • 6

      Robin | Farewell, Stranger says

      Jen, I just had #2 in October. (This post was originally published on my blog in 2011.) I actually feel like I’ve found more of myself now instead of losing more. I think there are many reasons for that, but some of it is just awareness of how hard being a mom is and knowing I need to find time for myself.

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      • 7

        JQ says

        Thanks for sharing all of this.

        I also had #2 in October!

        I find I am beginning to like this mommy version of me now, where I couldn’t really see her with #1. I thought I was a terrible mom–always berating myself for feeling disconnected and bitter about the things having a baby took away. So much guilt.

        Just a few days after coming home with #2, I found myself curled up around him, admiring him through the blur of big dribbly tears. They weren’t from sadness or frustration, but tremendous relief and awe. I was actually capable of experiencing these elusive maternal, nurturing, bonding feelings. I wasn’t broken or anything! (one of the thoughts I kept having with #1)

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  4. 8

    Christina says

    This SO needed to be written! I had no idea who I was once my son was born. Three years later, there are still days I am not 100% positive. I was a sleep deprived, paranoid mess in the months following his arrival. I remember one night when I was in the shower and was SURE that someone had broken into my house and was trying to kidnap my baby…and that someone was his paternal grandmother. I jumped out of the shower in a storm of confusion and chaos only to find him sleeping soundly in his crib, my house (in the middle of NOWHERE btw) empty…just as it was 2 minutes before when I got in the shower. I thought I was going insane and NO ONE heard me when I would talk about it. They all laughed and thought I was being comical. Grrrrr…

    Anyway…thanks! This is going to help so many new moms!

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    • 9

      Robin | Farewell, Stranger says

      Oh Christina, that sucks. Stuff like that is actually more common than most people think and it’s totally not funny. Our brains can really mess with us when we have a baby.

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  5. 10

    Wendi Kilbride says

    Guess what…I’m 43, with a 14yr old, 11yr old and 2 1/2 year old. Don’t give up that your old self won’t ever come back, it’s only been 3 years. Sure, at this point 3 years seems like an eternity but one day, when your kids are older, you WILL get many of the parts of you back that you thought were long gone. Only this time, you’ll be old enough to appreciate them :) Mark my words, 5 or 7 years from now..you’ll look back and realize that you were just going through the normal young children years which is just a blip on your long life as a momma!

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    • 11

      Bobbi says

      Wendi writes: you WILL get many of the parts of you back that you thought were long gone. Only this time, you’ll be old enough to appreciate them :)
      As a 60 something mom and grandma, I can agree with Wendy. It may take some time, but you are who you are and parts of you don’t really disappear forever. Unless you want them to.

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    • 12

      Robin | Farewell, Stranger says

      Wendi, I think that’s true to a degree. I originally wrote this post a year or so ago, so while I’ve only been a mom now for not quite 5 years, there are parts of me that I really do think are gone forever. I think that’s part of the deal with postpartum depression for a lot of women – our brains actually change and we lose some of who we used to be. I used to be totally organized, reliable and anally punctual. Not at all anymore, and it has nothing to do with being a busy mom.

      That said, I have found ways to get parts of myself back after a rough start to motherhood. And I’m almost 40 – I appreciate more and more every day!

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      • 13

        Tina says

        I have been a momma for 2 1/2 years and I am a survivor of postpartum psychosis and severe postpartum depression. My husband and I are currently struggling with the fact that he thinks the “old Tina” will be back – in just due time. He thinks that I will be the way I used to be eventually. I keep trying to relay to him what Robin said above. That part of me has changed. I know I do the best that I can and I can see some of the old Tina which is nice…but there is still apart of me that is…lost. I totally understand this post. Thank you Robin for sharing. I have copied and pasted your comment to send to my husband. Maybe it coming from another momma – maybe it will sink in with him. It is a lot of pressure to constantly be reminded that you are not “who you used to be.” Like this “new” Tina isn’t good enough.

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  6. 15

    Beth says

    Oh yes, you do lose yourself. It started for me with pregnancy. Mine was not intended, and deciding to keep it, I lost friends. I spent a week in the hospital, and so many people, instead of giving me support, were outraged by the hospital and mad that I wasn’t out yet. I got lectures, interruptions, debt collectors, and 2 weeks with my child before back to work. 14 weeks later, and I still am in shock. I am just starting to come out of my labor induced shock, and am slowly realizing so much more needs to change.

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    • 19

      Robin | Farewell, Stranger says

      I think the key is determination, some time to yourself and the hardest thing of all – asking for help. Most of us aren’t good at that, but I think it’s a big part of avoiding being totally consumed by motherhood.

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  7. 20

    Amy K. says

    For a while after my first was born, I was determined not to let anyone else go into motherhood unprepared! I tried SO hard to explain it to my friends who had kids after me, and succeeded in scaring the bejeezus out of some of them, but failed to accurately describe what first time parenting is like. You do it so well here!

    The thing I am realizing now is that those years of giving up yourself & every.single.minute being about your kids go by *really* quickly! In a quick 10 years, I went from first first-time mom among my friends to everyone being done having kids. It went by so fast!!

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    • 21

      Robin | Farewell, Stranger says

      So true. And also I think it’s literally impossible to explain it to someone who hasn’t been there yet. You simply can’t know what it’s like to be a mom until you’re there yourself.

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  8. 22

    Michele C. says

    This is so very, very true. And I wish I had understood it more when I had kids. I went through a similar struggle when I got married, like I wasn’t sure what my role was. My first was an easy transition, but after I had my second child our lives flipped upside down and I’m only now, almost 3 years later, figuring out a new path for myself. Thank you for sharing this.

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  9. 23

    Theresa says

    I think a lot of the resentment and anger I still feel is my old self trying to cling to this new life. I dont know how to let her go…

    Thanks for sharing your story, I always love reading your words.

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    • 24

      Robin | Farewell, Stranger says

      Thanks Theresa. And I totally know what you mean. I was that way for a long time and it was a central part of my struggle. The trick for me was acknowledging my old self and being honest about what parts of her I couldn’t keep (at least for now). And then figuring out which parts I absolutely need to keep and finding a way to do that. Like being an introvert – I need quiet at some point in the day and time alone. Even if that’s 5 minutes in my room with the door closed, I have to have it to stay sane. So I started finding a way to get it (at least some days). Knowing which parts of me needed to be kept and supported helped me find that balance.

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  10. 25

    Leanne Shirtliffe (Ironic Mom) says

    Great to see Robin here!

    Where was this post 8 years ago? In my (humor!) book, I cover PPD briefly, by leaving some blank pages. Because that’s pretty much what I remember of those months. And how a felt.

    Great post.

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  11. 26

    Kristin Shaw (Two Cannoli) says

    It’s so true that no one prepares you for this. I’ve definitely lost pieces of myself, and postpartum is so brutally difficult. At the same time, I’ve found other parts of myself I didn’t know existed. It’s such a crazy journey.

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  12. 27

    Kathy says

    When my baby wouldn’t stop crying and I was soo tired, I imagined throwing her/him out of a window. I couldn’t tell anyone because I was ashamed. I then found out I had postpartum depression and it was being PROLONGED by breast-feeding! That was 27 years ago and this is the 1st time I ever told anyone what I was feeling. Don’t stay quiet! This blog is important for all Moms of all ages!

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    • 28

      Robin | Farewell, Stranger says

      Kathy, I’m right there with you. I wrote a post on my blog about wanting to throw my baby out the window and it was so incredibly hard to admit. I’ve since discovered that A LOT of moms feel that way. Like, really a lot. So even 27 years later, you’re not alone.

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  13. 29

    Jen @ Life on the SONny Side says

    This is brilliant. I could relate to every last comma. What a perfect way of putting into words what so many of us feel. I get trying to convince my husband…”before”
    will never be again. New game. New rules. New life. A wonderful piece!!

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  14. 31

    Arnebya says

    So many of us leave the hospital or birthing center clueless to multiple things. The loss of essential parts of our being, the inability to be the way we were instantly after the baby has evacuated “our” premises…these are things that need to be talked about more often and you do it so wonderfully well here.

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