Identity is such a broad topic, it’s so multi faceted and means so many things to so many different people. Is it the colour of your eyes? Is it the colour of your hair? Is it the clothes you wear? Is it your IQ? Is it where you were born? Is it your parentage? Is it your religion? Or is it all of that and more? Is it one thing or is it many things blended together to make the unique individuals that we are? Is it the things that we own or are, or is the things that we do? The way in which we live our lives, honesty, fairness, kindness, our own moral compass, our integrity, our sense of humour? What is your identity and how do you quantify yourself? These are all questions that I ponder often but definitely more so since having my first baby. It’s a question that I ask yearly to my A Level students and their responses are always extremely varied.
Prior to July 2019 I would have probably said something like: I’m 32, I’m 5ft 7”, I’m a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m a wife, I’m a teacher, I’m a size 10, I’m honest, I work hard, I’m fair and if you are part of my team I am fiercely loyal. But 11 facts aren’t enough to encompass an entire identity that has experienced 32 years of life, it is surely far to rich in its complexities to be quantifiable?
Then add in one more fact; I’m a mother and a stratospheric shift occurs, not just to you but in context of society. Overnight you become known as someone’s mum, that is how you are discussed, that is how you describe yourself, people ask for your child’s name before yours, they ask how the baby is before even a glimpse at you and for all those people you meet on maternity leave, who didn’t know you before you will always be a mum first. This is not a bad thing, it is one of the greatest blessings and honours to hold but that doesn't stop it from marking a huge change in your prior thinking.
Your outlook and priorities change and for anyone who says they don’t they are lying. You become the world and more to your teeny tiny person but never once during pregnancy did I ever stop to consider what this would mean for me and my identity.
Does it mean that everything I was before no longer exists as my days are consumed with solely looking after you? Do my friends see me differently now that I have a tiny human strapped to the outside of my body? Do my colleagues perceive me differently? When you were inside I was so concerned with being ‘pregnant’ that the reality of you on the outside seemed incomprehensible. But all the facts still remain true, I’m still 32, I’m still a daughter, I’m still a sister, I’m still a wife and a teacher, all of it’s still true, so what’s changed?
My title, my purpose, my priorities and this is intrinsically linked to your identity not to mention the stretched, soft centre of my body that used to be your home and no longer fits into its size 10 clothing with ease. My dress size is different, I can no longer wear the clothes that I used to wear so freely. Image and clothing again are another area that are intrinsically linked to identity and equally self esteem. Shallow you might think but I would argue it to be true. I’ve heard many people say after they’ve had a baby that they are very happy with the extra pounds they gain and their new curves, however for others including myself those extra pounds are a layer of a person that you know very little about and don’t associate with your pre baby self.
How else am I different though apart from my squishy middle?
There is a fire in me that I didn’t have before and that fire is my daughter. I have heard people refer to it as the ‘lioness’ response. The fierce, unwavering energy I have to protect my daughter no matter what. She is my first and greatest concern, I would sacrifice myself every time for her. This isn’t because I don’t love myself anymore but simply because I love her more. BUT in saying this it undoubtedly changes how I see myself. For this time and especially now whilst she is so tiny I come second. Of course I need to look after myself that goes without saying, eating, sleeping, still doing things I enjoy but her needs are greater than mine and although there seems like endless days or hours where I can’t breathe or go to the toilet due to a sleeping baby it all seems to be passing very quickly and this phase will end, just like the last and she will no longer be so tiny.
Patience: I would pride myself on being an extremely patient person and when dealing with a baby I think it is one of the things you need the most, however my patience levels now seem to have favourites. If it takes 30 minutes to rock her to sleep then I persevere; if it takes me more then two minutes to get my shoes on I can feel my blood pressure start to rise or if life admin takes over I feel like giving up. It needs practice.
Lack of sleep is a major factor with a new baby and makes you less sharp and equally some days like you're loosing your mind, this has significantly affected my ability to remember things without a million different lists on the go, this in turn makes me feel frustrated and all consumed by mothering as my brain doesn’t seem to have space for anything else apart from her wellbeing bringing me to the thought 'my brain can't hold us both' but on the rare occasion that we have a good night or even possibility two nights in a row I feel mentally able of fitting more in my brain. There is space for both of us instead of one big blurred mess, thoughts that aren’t just about surviving or what needs cleaning or sterilising in order to make it through to the next day.
Work, as in our professions can also be a huge factor in identity, I remember feeling very adrift and unanchored in September when all other teachers were returning to school. That person you are at work, the responsibilities you hold, the workload that normally engulfs your thoughts is momentarily suspended in some weird time continuum, and it’s been quite a large learning curve for me as I’ve realised that a huge part of who I think I am is placed on my working life. My job, my career and I’m not sure if that’s right or wrong all I know is that I have missed the busy-ness of my work environment and feeling confident in my ability unlike motherhood which seems to trip you up and send you into an abyss that you have to work your way out of without any instructions. There was daily structure, daily pressure, deadlines and then overnight this is removed, it is absolutely necessary, however that role that took up the majority of your life before baby is put on hold, although there remains all manner of thoughts as to how or when you will return. In the meantime whilst that person is temporarily suspended you're left with a huge space into which your mothering identity has a place to morph. Is this a new identity or is it one in the same?
Do you apply the same principles to mothering as you do to all other aspects of your life?
Do you react in the same way?
Do you feel things the same way?
Ultimately you can’t predict how motherhood is going to change you, you can have an idea but until it hits you smack bang between the eyes it’s impossible to know. Do I wish I’d thought about it more, yes. Do I wish I'd read more about it, yes, but do I think it would fundamentally have changed how I react to things now, no, I don’t.
I want to be kind, I want to be calm and I want to be a source of strength in which you find security and know that you are safe. Am I getting it right? Not a clue. Will I keep trying, yes I will and when it becomes time for my suspended work self to become fully entangled with this mothering self I hope they both learn something from each other and I grow to love that person who has come out the other side.
How do you perceive yourself as a mum and what do you value the most?
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