I’m not sure how far into motherhood I was when I first heard the term, “A mother is born.” To be honest, my experience into motherhood didn’t feel like I was born. While I was more in love with my baby than I thought was ever possible, it still felt more like something in me was lost- it felt more like a death than birth.
Empty period of motherhood
The more I work with new mothers as a psychotherapist and now being almost a decade into the motherhood journey, I have some understanding of this experience.
I agree that a mother is in the process of being born, but it’s not immediate, while at the same time the old identity feels lost. No one discusses this empty period of motherhood where one is not completely reborn while at the same time, they feel like they have come undone- they are grieving their old identity, the only identity that they had known.
From my experience of working with new moms, this process of being reborn can last anywhere from 1-5 years and there are some good reasons why so many mothers are searching for identity, meaning, and purpose the first few years into motherhood.
Shifting focus from pregnancy to baby
During the pregnancy, everyone wants to focus on the mom-to-be. Touch her stomach, check-in, hold doors, constant texts, etc. It can be overwhelming. The moment the baby enters the world, everyone suddenly shifts- it’s all on that beautiful baby. No one is left to take care of the mom and the shift is jarring for new mothers.
They go from too much attention to feeling absolutely invisible. There’s no wonder that the journey into motherhood is often described as lonely, isolating, and anxiety-provoking. While the mom is trying to be reborn, she is fully in charge of this baby. The responsibility feels like the weight of the world and the new mom feels like she is a stranger in her postpartum body, new life, sleep, and lifestyle. It’s all new and all so big and scary.
This is a time that many mothers describe feeling overwhelmed, ashamed of their feelings, and wondering if they will ever feel like their life is “normal” again.
Neurological and hormonal changes are also happening
If this process wasn’t enough, the brain is going through significant changes, too, that can further make new mothers feel like “they” are lost. There are neurological and structural changes that occur after birth that make it difficult for new mothers to be able to function like they previously did.
During this time, the brain will rewire, it trims old connections and begins to build new ones. The brain actually optimizes itself for motherhood to try and understand what others think and feel. So during this identity crisis, it likely feels like everything is turning on you. Many moms struggle to recognize their bodies during the postpartum period, and it feels like their brains are also turning on them. No wonder I, like so many other new moms, felt lost- I wasn’t born, I was taken away and had no clue who the woman was in my skin. Complete identity crisis.
5 ways to gain back your identity
Now that I described this difficult period, you might feel like “Okay, that all sounds accurate, but what do I do about it?” While some of the “motherhood being born” transition truly does take time, there’s so much you can do to get to know this new person that was born with your baby.
1. Find community. Many mothers are lonely. Many friends don’t know what to make of this transformation. They don’t understand the sleepless nights, poop explosions, and constant work. Many solid friendships drift away. Don’t be shy to lean into new friendships. Whether it is mom groups online or in the neighborhood, new friends you meet through kid activities, or really anywhere. Even us introverts need to find “our people.” You know the ones you can text “it’s been a hard day” and they know exactly what that means and share empathy.
2. Get out of the house. I know especially in the early days, it feels not worth it. You are scared a family member or nanny can’t take care of the baby as well as you. You think if you have free time you’d rather have a shower or sleep. Still, get out of the house. When we feel lost in our identity because we can’t have an identity outside of our child, we need to make sure we give ourselves moments of just giving to ourselves through date nights, girl nights, or massages. Get out of the house.
3. I know it feels like I’m writing this because I’m a therapist, but seriously see a therapist. Your brain really just turned against you in order to optimize itself to make you a Supermom, and you are left wondering “Who am I now.” Counseling is a gift of 50 minutes a week of examining values, finding meaning and purpose, and recognizing how you are responding to your environment. Therapy is priceless.
4. Don’t forget to take care of yourself. I laugh now because I won’t skip a facial, haircut, or manicure, but in the early days, it was bare-bones treatment. Meals are done standing up, coffee is consumed cold, and showers are hard to come by. I know, some of this is the life of having a baby. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. But choose one thing that makes you feel better a day and do it. It might be a quick 10-minute workout, a shower, putting on makeup, or putting on jeans. Do something that is designed just for you. I remember when my youngest turned 1, I started going back to get my nails done. I hated every minute. Truthfully, I had no time for it, and it wasn’t relaxing. But I kept going because I was determined that even if I didn’t feel like taking care of myself, I could do the action, and one day I would eventually believe it.
5. Try to find times when you talk to friends or your partner that you do not talk about the kids. I know it is so hard. They are consuming the whole day and whole heart- really the whole identity, right, and you are being asked to discuss something else. I’m asking for dinner or drinks to discuss something else. This will help you shape what you are interested in, and remind you that you are a person outside of parenthood. And when those 30 or so minutes are up, feel free to share every precious moment of your child from their giggles to the funny face they made earlier in the day. Get the phone out and share all those beautiful memories you are making.
It is important to note that I shared some of the difficulties of entering motherhood and the space between being reborn and feeling lost, I am not describing postpartum depression or anxiety. Those experiences are different and require treatment.
Don’t be shy to speak to your OBGYN or doctor. The journey into motherhood can take years to feel completely comfortable in this new role, and a community can help ease the transition.