One of my most emotional moments during pregnancy occurred one sunny Tuesday morning at Whole Foods.
I was on a (typical and frequent) snack break from work, when I saw dozens of parents, mothers mostly, with their very small children. They were gathered in the cafe area engaged in some kind of musical entertainment. The mothers were singing and wrangling their children with seemingly perfect ease.
My reaction? Sudden onset panic and depression. The scene looked happy enough, but it sent me into a tailspin. The singing in public. The herding of sticky-handed kiddos. The wearing of babies like gigantic necklaces. It was so not me.
The question hit me like a ton of bricks: What have I signed up for?
It turns out this moment of panic hits every new mom at some point. It happens in the moments where you feel the profound impact of how your identity is changing.
Going from non-parent to parent is arguably the most significant shift in identify that any person can go through.
Sometimes it hits from the moment the pregnancy test shows up positive. Sometimes it's when you've nursed a newborn for seemingly three months straight.
It's wondering: Will I still get to have adult conversations? Am I still desirable? Will my short-term memory ever come back? Is this what my body is going to look like?
Becoming a mom was the best thing I ever did AND the hardest. I think women feel a lot of pressure to look and act like it's easy. But it's not. And we aren't doing ourselves any favors by pretending that it is.
We need to be real. Becoming a mom is awesome and darned difficult.
The good news is that becoming a mom adds to your identity, but doesn't take away from the other parts of you.
It's extremely hard to remember this during pregnancy and postpartum when our bodies, emotions, hormones, time, and attention are so incredibly focused on the task of growing and nurturing a new life.
To help you keep your wits about you, here are some identity crisis survival tips that helped me get through my Whole Foods meltdown and beyond:
Find your support system. Having tried and true friends and family members with whom you can talk honestly about your many feelings is essential. I found it so helpful to tell friends I trusted about my fears. What if I drop my baby? What if I forget her? Just talking helped me feel less alone and less crazy.
Keeping perspective. Remembering that I wasn't always going to be pregnant or be nursing in the middle of the night was helpful. Every stage is time-limited. In pregnancy and postpartum, it is important to remember that this stage isn't your new forever reality.
Get your "normal" on board. I made getting some of my "normal" back a priority as soon as I could after having my daughter. In the early weeks of postpartum, just going to the store by myself helped me feel better. Going familiar places and getting back to some routine helps provide reassurance that you still have a life. Even taking a shower, getting dressed, and putting on a bit of makeup made me feel like a real adult person again.
Trade perfectionism for self-compassion. Self-judgement is a destructive, but all too common, new-mom activity. Part of the problem is that we see so many images of how others do their mothering and we can feel like we don't measure up. Not only is this new role hard, it feels like we can royally mess it up. It's important to remember we are all different. No one else lives our lives with our particular babies in our particular families. Have compassion for yourself and understand that it is hard and you can do it your way. Not everyone needs to be a master baby-wrapper. Not everyone needs to have a Pinterest-worthy nursery. Focus on what's important to you and your family. Love is the key ingredient. Common sense doesn't hurt either. Focus on these and cut yourself some slack.
Remember it's wise to ask for help. Your physical and emotional well-being is tied to your baby's well-being. If you've had any other recent life-changes it becomes extra hard. It's helpful for women who have had big life changes like moving, changing, or suspending their careers, a major loss, or a key financial change to know they are particularly vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Women who've suffered from mental health issues in the past are also more at risk. Be proactive. Talk to your doctor about your concerns. Seek out counseling, even before you are suffering. Asking for help is wise and loving. Taking care of yourself is key to being a healthy mom.
It's been nearly three years since my near panic attack at Whole Foods. I've had some time to get used to being called Mom, with all the "perks" that go with it...early mornings, stained clothes, a million demands...I mean, the adorable conversations, the snuggles, the plethora of memorable firsts. I've managed to be Mom and a lot of other things too. I'm still a professional and have friends and adult conversations. Sometimes my husband and I go out. Together. After dark.
And...on Friday mornings in the multipurpose room at a local church...you'll find me, with my daughter and a dozen or so other young families, singing kid songs in all of my tone-deaf glory.