The truth about motherhood: ‘I had to recalibrate myself from the care-free version of myself’
How you describe yourself pre- and post-baby might be different for everyone, but there is no doubt that the ‘self’ as we once knew it, is forever changed the moment we bring life into the world
I mean, if you think about it, it is completely bonkers. Growing a human inside your own being. Tiny pulses within the pulse of your body, growing, forming, preparing.
“I’m just so tired,” I complained to my husband, eight months into our pregnancy ‘journey’. “Of course you are,” he remarks. “You’re probably growing an ear today.”
We live in a society that places the ‘self’ at the very centre of it. We’ve never talked more about our feelings, our hopes, dreams, goals and aspirations.
We focus on enhancing our career, improving our education, upping our fitness and then, in less time than it takes the autumn leaves to fall off and grow back again, your entire world shifts irrevocably — you are mother to a child.
“Motherhood is the sea that rounds your pebbly edges”
We talk endlessly about the joy and the fear and every explosive nappy in between, but sleepless nights and swells of pride that ebb and flow don’t fully describe how our being, our sense of self, has changed.
Two years ago, a mushy grotesque-looking octopus broke all records for mothering endurance. She was found to have brooded over her eggs for four-and-a-half years. This is more than quadruple the usual brooding time for these types of sea creatures.
She spent her days keeping vigil by her eggs, keeping them clean, oxygenated and protected from predators.
Her unwavering devotion left little time for her to hunt for herself. She became weaker and weaker. Within a few days of her babies hatching, she died.
Of course, while we luckily (mostly) don’t face immediate death after delivering our child, there is a mourning of sorts for the person we once were. Delighted to be parents, naturally — but there is also a gradual erosion of the person you thought you were. Motherhood is the sea that rounds your pebbly edges. You change, sometimes even for the better, but the point is that you’ve changed.
Physically, you get worn down with the lifting and unbuckling, the bending and supporting, wiping and stretching. But mentally, you also get stretched wafer-thin with the overwhelming thought process that you are now fully responsible for another human life.
You have to keep this life safe, but also not mess it up. You’ve to nurture it, shape it, keep it away from sharp corners, frightening drops, unstable furniture, anxiety, bad people.
A new version
You don’t want your child to be a bully, or be bullied. You’ve to get the balance right between their broccoli to cake ratios, you must remember when they had their last poop, you have to observe if they are making friends, drinking enough water, smiling enough. Mentally, it is a minefield. If you have more than one child, you double and triple those thoughts.
You hope that the laughs and cute parts tip the balance, the memories and stories you create together as you sail the somewhat choppy seas of your common experiences.
“Devotion has stolen your spotlight. You are now somebody’s mum. You are just off centre of the only stage you’ve known.”
You’ve to master the art of letting go. Of getting back to yourself, whoever that is now. The time for this is different for everyone. For some, it is going back to work, back to familiarity; for others the marker is when the children leave the schoolyard behind.
You have new emotions to contend with too — a vulnerability, a quickness of emotion you are not used to. You are in unchartered territory in the landscape of your life and this brings insecurity and self-consciousness, you question your methods, a madness of sorts.
Along with your new identity comes new style or an attempt to reconcile your new role with the things you adorn yourself with. Devotion has stolen your spotlight. You are now somebody’s mum. You are just off center of the only stage you’ve known.
You adjust to the new lumps and bumps and you forget, after the pregnancy and subsequent ‘brooding’ over your babies, exactly what you want to reflect to the world. It takes a while to find your space on the stage of your life again.
My sister-in-law is a stylist. She’s also a mother so she gets it. A few months after I had my first child she went through my wardrobe, we talked about what clothes made me happy.
I had to recalibrate myself from the care-free version of myself, the reporter who travelled on a whim to cover the news, to somebody unfamiliar to me — a figure who mashes bananas and wakes at 5am. What does she wear? I wondered.
We speak of motherhood as being self-less, of putting yourself last. But putting yourself first is all you have known up to that point, unconsciously rather than deliberately. Now, having a part of yourself outside of your body, vulnerable to the big wide world, is sobering.
You have to put yourself after this tiny scrap, that is without question, but finding your feet again —a motherhood-shaped version of yourself — isn’t straightforward.
My youngest child is now four and a half. I’ve spent nine years in the mothering trenches. I’m still figuring out this version of myself and it continues to evolve. Time, along with my children’s increasing independence, has allowed me to shine that spotlight a little back on myself. It is nice, scary, interesting, satisfying.
We are entering a new phase together, a phase where tummy-time has been replaced with chats about what’s in the news. I don’t have to cut or mash their dinner or put on their shoes. They can cycle ahead of me on holidays, they don’t look back as much. I see a new steadiness. In them and in me.
After school, on the walk home, my daughter still holds my hand. I am aware it is fleeting and I dread the day she drops my hand. I can’t imagine her warm fingers away from mine.
My back no longer aches from carrying a baby on each hip but my heart isn’t as hardy or as time-sensitive. Wrapping your head around something as big as this robs you of something — you are without self. Self less. For a little while anyway.
But like most things in life, we adjust. We unfurl from the warm blanket of nurturing those who need us most, and step out confidently with our sea-polished shiny selves into the next phase, a new stage, thankful we are not an octopus.
Image via Unsplash.com
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Jennie McGinn lost her mother Annie in October 2020. From an unusually large, and unusually female family, she writes about losing the centre of their family orbit and how she has managed parenting a toddler and a small baby while wanting to spend time completely submerged in her grief.
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