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Identity Whiplash: “Because I didn’t lose my ambition when I had a baby.”

Moving from robust career to mom with baby can play whiplash with your identity. Our moms share a clear realization that who they were before and what they did to contribute to their self of sense has morphed.

WHY

Whether or not you’re breastfeeding, the wild changes that come with motherhood can take a toll on a sense of self as an embodied being, as a woman in her own body. Early on, there are major hormonal fluctuations and a baby’s total dependence; a little later, you’re chasing a new toddler around to ward off the millions of dangers that lurk. Your child “uses” your body in the sense that she needs you to feed her (whether breast or bottle), carry her, snuggle her in the night, rock her, change her, sing to her—it can sometimes feel like a marathon run by an adorable and very needy creature.

Moms often struggle with finding a sense of themselves in this new physical reality—the woman who had a robust career, may have worked out a few times a week and had the energy and free hands to prepare a dinner party while simultaneously solving the problems of extended family members, may find herself having far fewer limbs—and far less energy—available to do these activities that are so linked to her identity. 

We can end up feeling not ourselves: frustration, identity confusion, even feelings of being trapped or disconnected from one’s purpose can follow this shift from being productive in the capitalistic sense to using most of your bodily energies to tend to a little one.

What To Do (Bites)

  1. Embrace the temporary takeover

    It can be hard not to compare past with present or to see spending time as a mom as thwarting your productivity, especially once you’ve returned to work. The time that you will be devoted so physically to your little one is limited, and the next stages will give you back some physical freedom. Know that this feeling of conflict is a normal part of the process of early mothering for many working moms and consider it an indicator of your multi-facetedness.

  2. Recognize the productiveness of nurturance

    You may intellectually know that your energies are going toward raising a human, but still be plagued by feeling you’re not getting enough “done.” Every hug, diaper change, soothing word—every moment of your presence is producing a child who feels loved. Taking a moment to register how productive each of these actions is (e.g., “I am raising this child”) can help frame a new mindset that understands that this, too, is productivity.

  3. Prioritize something for you

    Ok, so you’ve done all the accepting you can do and still want to get some shit done. It helps to figure out what really satisfies you—is it writing? Housework? Exercise? Brainstorming about a work challenge? Talking to a good friend on the phone? Try to build in one session per day of activity that relates to your typical definitions of being productive when you’re at home. Time limit the session to something that is actually achievable during the periods that you might actually find time—before bed, during kid’s nap, while your partner does the bath. Don’t let the urge to start cleaning up or cruising social media take over unless this is the activity you’ve chosen for that day. You might even make a calendar to rotate the activities by day if you have trouble choosing one to focus on. Start with a 15-20 minute goal—do not overshoot!

I went from a competent person with a successful career to someone who felt like I failed daily, just because I couldn’t get my kid to eat or sleep.
I didn’t know who I was.

Tips

  1. Similar to how we’ve been taught to think at work, some moms shared that they begin to think about “what am I best at?” In the context of their new reality, it becomes “what can I best contribute to my family and what do they need most from me?” It helps with cutting through on priorities.

  2. Pause from time to time to determine whether you’ve really shed some of your “must dos” or even “what I enjoy doing.” Many Cram it all in Year moms tell us that they kept up with former habits or expectations, anything from planting flowers to Sundays devoted to meal prep, even when it no longer made sense to fit it in. Do a self-check.

  3. Keep your eyes open for an “Outlet Friend.” Through the transition and beyond it’s incredibly helpful to have a supportive ear from a person you can share your frustrations with, can understand your experience and listen. Collective wisdom indicates those who are living or have lived a similar experience can be most helpful.

Hope you found this helpful! Got a topic you’d like some wisdom on? Let us know.

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