Motherhood Will Change You: on losing yourself after having a baby

Sep 1, 2020



“It’s not like I’m going to let motherhood change who I am,” I remember saying, with unintended smugness, hand hovering over my resplendently pregnant belly. 


It was my first baby, I felt beautiful and powerful, and morning sickness was only a temporary limitation to my life as an avid triathlete and surfer. 


Somehow, I was certain that I had the key, some mysterious alchemy of ambition and a supportive partner and a really great baby carrier:  I would not lose myself in motherhood.

At this point in my life, I had been a doula, supporting other women to birth their own babies, for four years.  I thought, surely, I knew what it was like.  I had seen firsthand some of the grittier realities of the early postpartum period, and yet still, I remained steadfast.  

The idea of losing yourself in motherhood has taken on weighty and not often positive connotations in today’s society.  A great many of us have less-than-ideal maternity leave and childcare circumstances which jolt us back into our pre-baby realities, whether we like it or not.

We hear stories of celebrity mamas hitting the gym to achieve their pre-motherhood shape.  We talk about striving for a “new normal,” which, for so many of us, looks a lot like the old normal.  We secretly, or not-so-secretly, applaud women who are meandering through the farmer’s market with a baby who appears still wet behind the ears. Women who admit to losing themselves in motherhood have become the target of pitiful glances, life-hacking life coaches, and motivational Pinterest memes.  


To me, all of this seems as though our culture is saying that Motherhood, being one of the least valued roles a woman can occupy in our society, is to be denied at all costs.  It should certainly not define a woman.


Should it?


As a doula for the last eleven years, I have seen the behind-the-scenes truth of so many new mothers’ lives, and I want to say:  it’s often the women who seem to have picked up right where they left off before birthing their babies who are secretly struggling the most.  So often, they are pushing through exhaustion or fighting the demands of breastfeeding, desperately clinging to the behaviours of their pre-motherhood lives.

And I get it.  Because this was me, too. 

Now, seven years and one more baby onward, may I just say this?


Motherhood will change you.


You will lose yourself in motherhood.



Before you start breathing into a paper bag, let me also say this:


It’s supposed to.


Creating an entirely new human with your body, birthing it, and nourishing it with your breasts every two to three hours all day long, and then having this little creature need you in the most primal way known to animals for the next eighteen-or-so-ish years changes you.


You will lose yourself in motherhood.  And though that might seem terrifying to you now, let me say the next part, the part we all keep forgetting:  you will find someone entirely new.


You will find a woman whose body made an everyday miracle.  You will find the paradox of knowing this while also knowing that your body has been made less societally acceptable in the process, and you will find a way to respect the skin you’re in more deeply than you ever did before.

You will find an empathy for your baby, and possibly for the world, that takes your breath away.  You will find a gut instinct, a knowingness, when it comes to your child and maybe to other things too, that guides you like a compass that lives somewhere within your newly expanded heart. 

You will find a cadre of other women who get it, whose messy buns and Lego-strewn floors look a lot like yours, and you will find smiles and knowing glances to assuage every grocery store meltdown.

You might find a new appreciation for your own mother, and the mothers before her.

You will find a way to slow. down.  As you care for your child, you will find your needs pared down to the basics:  sleep, water, food, repeat.  Everything else falls away, because it often has to, and what you might find underneath it all is freedom.

You might find yourself with an entirely new set of priorities in your life, with laser discernment for any career path, person, or way of spending time that doesn’t feel worthy of your now more-divided time and attention.

You might.


But first, you have to lose yourself in motherhood.


That is, you have to surrender to what motherhood is here to show you.


As for me?  I don’t care very much about competing in triathlons anymore, and I am just now, seven years into motherhood, contemplating the idea of surfing again.  I shower almost every day, and I drink hot cups of coffee – not reheated, or choked down cold while saying the Motherhood Mantra of “no really, it’s an iced coffee!  So good!”  

All of this took much, much longer than what felt comfortable to me, trust me.  But also?  I left the job I hated and started a business.  I started writing poetry again.  I have found a sense of deep permission and ease in surrendering the parts of myself that motherhood made irrelevent or impossible or, at the very least, not-right-now.  

I have begun to trust that the parts of me that I was meant to reclaim, eventually, after becoming a mother, would return to my life with a force that I have found to be almost gravitational.  Even if it doesn’t happen on my timeline.  It never does.  And I have found a reverence for the woman I’ve become since I’ve brought these two little humans earthside.  It’s a reverence for myself, and for all mothers, and the mothers before me.

And so, mama, if you’re feeling lost in motherhood, let me remind you:

It’s okay.  You are okay.  This is normal; you are supposed to feel like a different person.  You are lost, right now, and finding your way into who you are as a mother will take time, and it will be uncomfortable.  Discovering the woman you’ve become is like following the trail of a wild animal in the woods:  walk soft, listen close, and be patient.  The newly-minted, powerful woman you’ve become is waiting for you.


This article was originally published in Green Parent Magazine, January 2020.



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MotherSHIFT is a three-month program (yes, a full trimester of support) for women in the first 2-3 years of motherhood who want support with the deep identity shift that becoming a mother represents.


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