Has being a mum changed me? Yes.
17th Mar 2023
'When I was pregnant with my first, I was obsessed with ensuring that I would not change after having a baby.'
Rihanna recently said in an interview that “Becoming a mother has only added to the inspiration in my life. There’s something that just happens [in motherhood] where you feel like you could take on the world, you can do anything”. Her words bounced around my head for the rest of the weekend.
Since having my two boys, I am a different person. I know the thought of being a “different person” would worry many a pregnant, first-time mother-to-be. When I was pregnant with my first, I was obsessed with ensuring that I would not change after having a baby. I would not, under any circumstances, become a boring and out-of-touch MUMMY. Of course, I would still spend lazy afternoons in the pub! Of course, I would still travel! Maybe I’ll even go backpacking for a few months! I could strap the baby to me, it would be adorable!
You can guess what’s coming next, of course. In April 2019, following the birth of my son, everything went to pot. Queue sweaty sleepless nights, my asking my husband (more than once) if we had made a big mistake, having a full-blown existential crisis, and not moving beyond a 5km limit of our house for four months (this is pre-covid, keeping in mind). It was a haze, with beautiful parts of course, but mostly just felt like disorientating madness. There was nothing familiar about my body, my emotions, my personality, my conversations, my habits or my house. I was lost. As so many mothers are at this point.
And then, one day, I made a choice. I literally remember the moment, lying on the floor of a pitch-dark nursery room in Rathmines thinking to myself, “I just need to give in to this.” No more gourmet mush. No more thank you cards. No more days bursting with activities. No more tracking leaps. No more trying to fit everything and everyone in. I would go with the flow. I would surrender to my little dictator and see where he led me. I rang my mum and told her my plan. I would release the reins, just a little. I would let the house get messy if I felt like it. I wouldn’t beat myself up if we watched an hour of Cocomelon. I would eat the cake, and let Kai have a taste too.
Everything didn’t suddenly feel easier after that moment, but slowly, incrementally, I filtered the surrendering into our lives. My perspective changed. I wasn’t going to go backpacking, but I could do a night away with friends, guilt-free. I might not manage a whole afternoon in the pub, or I might (and if you don’t get that, then see ya). I notice myself feeling more inspired. I feel more powerful. More confident. I am organized in a way I have never been, and I can problem-solve lightning-fast. I have two small child-shaped bombs beside me (or in creche) that could go off at any moment, I don’t have time to p**s around. I am a totally different person, and yet I feel more me than I ever have before.
My heart is bigger. It overflows. I have empathy and understanding not only for my children but for everyone. And of course, there is a biological reason for that too. Massive structural brain changes that happen during and after pregnancy, intended to mold us into fiercely protective, motivated caregivers. Brain regions involved in the ability to attribute emotions and mental states to other people — key in raising a human — change so dramatically that researchers could easily sort scans of women who had had a pregnancy from those who hadn’t.
And it’s not just the brain that changes. In 2015 Norwegian researchers collected samples from 26 women who had been pregnant with sons and found the presence of Y chromosomes in all of them. During pregnancy, fetal cells with a “different genetic background” spread throughout the mother’s body. I have two sons, and have been pregnant three times. All of those babies have made me a different person – in both body and soul.
So has being a mum changed me? Yes. But I am not the boring stereotype I feared. Instead of losing myself in motherhood, I found a better version of me, ready to take on the world, hiding under lego towers and dirty nappies.
Photography by @loewe.