You’re a new mum and on call 24 hours a day. You’ve fallen in love with your baby, but it seems like you’re on a conveyor belt of feeds and nappy changes. BC (before children) you were ultra-efficient at work, enjoyed drinks with the girls and rarely left home without make-up. Now you’re doing well if you can get out of your dressing gown and leave the house by midday.
Losing her identity was something that scared Sally Ashworth, 30, from Bracknell, Berkshire, mum to 9-month-old Joshua. ‘I love being a mum, but I was reluctant to have kids because I was worried it would be the end of my independence,’ says Sally. ‘Maybe I’d become a completely different person, but I didn’t want to just be someone’s "Mummy" – I wanted to be me.’
Undergoing an identity crisis comes with the territory for most new mums, according to Jacqui Marson, a psychologist specialising in motherhood issues. ‘In my research, the overwhelming majority of women say having children is the best thing they have ever done,’ says Jacqui. ‘But no one warned them about the profound sense of loss of who you are.
‘We all have an image of ourselves and who we are. That could be: "I’m sporty" or "I’m a good laugh" or "I’m good at my job", but in those first hectic few months of motherhood, all that tends to go out the window.
For example, if being good at your job and always calm and in
control makes you tick, and then you have a baby and can’t be in control facing this tiny wailing person – your sense of self can take a nosedive. It’s easy to wonder how other women seem to be coping with their babies and think somehow that you’re not.’
Psychotherapist Rosjke Hasseldine, author of Silent Female Scream, believes the loss of identity new mums feel is an emotional epidemic. ‘It’s the lack of freedom and huge responsibility that women feel changes their identity,’ she says. ‘You have to put your new baby first and suddenly "who am I?" is irrelevant.
Friends and relatives focus on the baby and your needs are put to one side. This can trigger a confidence crisis and low self-esteem.’
And just when you need your good friends around you, a void can open up between you and your pals who haven’t got babies.
‘Sometimes you can feel as though you’re on a different planet to your childless friends,’ says Jacqui. ‘You worry that they don’t understand you and you’re not part of their social life any more. Your baby may be the centre of your universe but you can still miss the "old you". Sometimes this can lead to feeling trapped and lonely.’
Being at home all the time can also be a shock to the system. It can be difficult making the transition from working to being a mum, as you can’t call babies into a meeting or run things to a strict timetable.
So what can you do to make it easier? Well, the first step is to accept that your life has changed for good. ‘The loss of identity is just a transitional period,’ says Jacqui. ‘There are different stages of motherhood such as shock, euphoria and identity crisis, then you move to acceptance of being a mum and your new life. How long this takes
does vary. You have to let go of the person you were before, but not entirely, and embrace a "new you" with all the strengths of being a mum.’
7 ideas to help you adjust
Don’t worry, your identity crisis won’t last forever. But if you’re feeling down, choose one thing that makes you feel fantastic and arrange childcare so you can do it, whether it’s hitting the gym or going shopping. Here are other ideas that may help:
- Be honest with your friends. Tell them how you’re feeling and you’ll probably find that other new mums feel the same.
- Keep in touch with your old friends. Meet up and vow not to mention babies. It’ll make you feel human again to have a gossip about other things.
- Keep your brain sharp – hard, we know, when you’re sleep-deprived. Read a paper, do a crossword or have a discussion with your partner – ‘Are we out of nappies?’ doesn’t count.
- Make time each week for your partner when you feel like a couple and not just parents. Even if you feel too tired and fat for sex, some old-fashioned intimacy will make you feelmore like the ‘old you’.
- When baby number two arrives, you’re thrown in even deeper. Don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t get everything done. Being a perfectionist can lead to depression as you inevitably don’t achieve all your impossible goals.
- Choose an interest outside the family and make sure you get some precious me-time.