When I became pregnant I knew that being a parent was going to be tough, but, like most naïve first-time parents, I never quite realised just how tough.
Sure, the screaming, sleep deprivation and continual spew and poo were challenging, and trying to wrestle a pink blob onto my boobs was something I never really got to grips with (excuse the pun).
But the toughest adjustment was the loss of my identity – or the loss of my ‘me’.
Somewhere along the journey, approximately between the baby being pulled out the sunroof and me getting stitched back up, someone (and I’m not naming any names, but I suspect it was the obstetrician with the scalpel) removed my ‘me’ identity and replaced it with ‘mum’.
Like any first-timer, I spent the initial months following my son’s arrival totally absorbed in him. Whether it be feeding, cuddling, swaddling or reading up about his expectant milestones, every part of my being seemed to exist solely for the purpose of him and nothing else. I forgot to eat, I often didn’t get dressed until 3pm, I rarely washed my hair, and make-up was … well, I could hardly remember, actually. I believed that no one could look after him as well as me, and any offer of help by friends or my husband was, more often than not, met with excuses such as “Oh, he only settles for me” or “No, I’m fine, I enjoy not sleeping and constantly looking like a cat dragged through a hedge backwards” … or words to that effect!
My world became somewhat like a goldfish bowl as I swam around in circles on my parenting journey, answering the same questions time and time again to friends and strangers alike, talking about my son’s age, his weight, his teeth, his sleep and his feeding. Rarely did I talk about me or how I was coping, and rarely did I take time out to find a balance between my two identities of me and mum.
It’s only really as my son has grown and has become more independent that the days have started to get easier. Yes, there are new challenges to overcome, but things are certainly less ‘all consuming’ now in comparison to that first year of his life. I can now recognise just how much I lost my ‘me’, and how important it is that it doesn’t happen again shouId I choose to embark on the pregnancy and baby journey again. Here’s my advice for those who are going through those early days:
Connect with friends
Sure, it can be hard to focus on anything other than your baby when you first board the parenthood train, and at times it can certainly be a real effort to get out of the house socially (especially after a long night!). But connecting with friends without having children around is a great escape from Mummyhood. Not only does it give you the chance to just relish catching up with friends, but it also means that you can enjoy some downtime away from your child.
Do some activities that aren’t baby-centric
Going from the park to a mother’s group to a baby gym to a swimming lesson can start to feel very monotonous very quickly – and it’s also a sure fire way to guarantee that a little bit of ‘me’ gets lost somewhere, too. Therefore, when possible, try to do something that lets you remember the person you were pre child. Whether it be reading a book, studying, shopping or just a indulging in a beauty regime, it can help you feel like your whole world hasn’t been swallowed up by your new addition.
Talk to strangers about things other than your child
It’s very easy to strike up conversations with other parents about children, but it’s good to try to steer conversations away from the topic every now and then. Asking others about themselves can result in an ‘adult’ conversation that provides relief from the monotony of ‘baby’ talk. It’s also good for your confidence, as it makes you feel that people are still interested in you as yourself, not just you as a mum.
Set yourself a personal goal
This can certainly seem insurmountable in the early days, but giving yourself some kind of goal can help you make sure that you invest in more ‘me’ time as you strive towards achieving your aim. Whether it’s related to fitness, education or something more personal, it can help you to maintain your ‘me’ identity that little bit more.