Who Am I Outside of Being a Mom? Grieving Your Loss of Identity in New Motherhood.
Welcome to motherhood. The happiest time of your life… right?
That’s what we have been told by our friends and family, shown in the media, and what many moms have dreamt about for a long time. Unfortunately, the reality of this new role of parent can hit hard. Many new moms wonder “Who am I now that I am a mother?”. Although there’s a great deal we prepare ourselves for with the arrival of our little one, one thing that nobody seems to talk about at the gender reveal parties or baby showers is the loss that accompanies having a child. It may feel like you have lost yourself as a new parent. And just the same as with any loss, there’s grief.
There are plenty of wonderful things we gain with the birth of a baby, but we should also talk about how much loss there is. Loss of time, sleep, control over your own schedule, sex life, closeness in your relationships, body confidence, freedom, and a tidy house – just to name a few! You may be perfectly comfortable with embracing some of these losses, but not as comfortable with others. Many moms do not acknowledge their feelings of loss or grief, for fear of not being understood or being judged by others. This can cause tremendous guilt and shame!
When a baby is something you’ve been looking forward to, how can its arrival cause so many negative emotions?
I’m here to tell you as a therapist who specializes in Maternal Mental Health and as a mother: YOU ARE NOT ALONE! As a new mom, I remember having someone look at me with my three month old asking: “Can you even remember a time before she was born?” Although I knew that she was looking for me to say was no with a big smile on my face, what I really thought was: “Yes I can! I got to go to Target whenever I wanted, sleep in, and eat cereal for dinner!” Even if people aren’t saying it, they’re thinking it and feeling it – and it’s completely normal for you to as well!
Even though these feelings are common, they can be unpleasant and impact your life! So here are a few tips for managing the grief that accompanies motherhood:
1. Recognize that what you’re feeling is GRIEF.
Sometimes the first step to addressing a problem is recognizing what that problem actually is. Grief can look very different for everyone! There are five stages of grief: depression, anger, denial, bargaining, and acceptance. The grief process is not linear, nor does it ever really end. You may have arrived at a place of acceptance around the loss you’ve experienced, but when your kid breaks their arm the night you and your bestie have tickets to the Justin Timberlake concert, you may find yourself right back at the anger or depression stage all over again, and that’s okay.
2. Allow yourself to experience your emotions without judgment.
Feeling grief and everything that comes with it over your losses is perfectly okay and very common. It DOES NOT make you a terrible mother. Most of us try to avoid negative emotions, but I suggest leaning in. Allow yourself to feel it. Cry, scream into your pillow, scribble in a journal, or just sit and honour it. Often times, when you allow yourself to fully experience your feelings, the emotions may intensify, but they will also subside. This gives you the ability to release them and move on.
REAL support. Not a fake mom group where everyone shows you their perfect social media, but a real tribe of people who are willing to sit with you at your worst and love you through it. It doesn’t have to be a huge group of people, but even a mom friend or two who are willing to honestly share their struggles can be incredibly empowering. If you feel that your emotions are bigger than you can handle on your own, and are affecting your ability to complete daily tasks at work or home, getting in the way of you bonding with your baby, disrupting your sleeping or eating patterns, or disrupting your functioning in any other way, you may consider reaching out to a therapist who specializes in supporting moms through this time.
4. Know that it will get better.
With each passing day, month, and year, your children will hit another milestone. They will gain more independence, and you will start to see glimmers of your former life. When you crawl out of the trenches of motherhood with littles, it will come. In the meantime, be intentional about creating those glimmers for yourself! Leave the kiddos with your partner or a friend, and go stroll every isle in Target for an hour. Trade off sleep in days with your partner, plan a getaway with a friend, and even try eating cereal for dinner. Accept that the grief will come and go, and someday these will all be memories. Some you will look fondly on, others you will not. It’s all okay, and you will be too.
It’s normal to feel like everything has changed after having your baby, and you are not the only new mama struggling.
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About the Author: Stephanie Straub
Stephanie Straub, LMSW is a Licensed Master Social Worker, and works in private practice in Syracuse, New York. She specializes in providing therapy in the areas of maternal mental health and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. When she’s not working Stephanie spends time with her two little girls and husband, enjoying time outdoors, or reluctantly exercising.