When I dreamt of what it was going to be like to be a mother, I imagined my life filled with love, laughter and happiness. Like one of those commercials where the kids run into the bedroom of a morning and jump on your perfect bed, and snuggle with you under the crisp white linen. I loved other peoples kids, I loved being around kids, so I assumed that I would love being a mother.
What I wasn’t prepared for were all the things I was going to have to give up when I became a mother.
Sure, the Sunday sessions at the pub were obviously going to go, and I knew that leaving the house was probably going to be a bit more of a chore. These were all the obvious things and I was totally fine with these. But it was the things that people don’t talk about that completely threw me off.
We do such a disservice to women by not talking about these things, by saying things like ‘bouncing back’ after pregnancy, or by asking if they have a ‘good baby’. Instead, we need to talk more about how women are coping with the changes to their life, to themselves and how motherhood is marrying up to their expectations.
Motherhood is the one job you cannot quit, you can’t have a trial run of, and you can’t prepare for. Once you’re in it, you’re in it and for some, that can be overwhelming. For me it was overwhelming.
So, I’m sharing things with you that I gave up when I became a mother so you might be a little more prepared than I was, or so you don’t feel as alone as I did. Chances are if you’re feeling it, then other women are feeling it too.
These are some of the things I gave up when I became a mother:
1 – My Identity
This was by far the hardest adjustment for me. Before I became a mother I was a young, vibrant, career orientated woman who was confident, fit, and healthy. I loved my job and it formed a massive part of my identity, and I loved having the freedom to be able to get in the car and drive to the beach, or go and see my family or do anything I wanted.
I knew my freedom was going to be lessened quite a bit, but I didn’t realise by how much.
To add to it all, my son was in NICU for the first 66 days of his life and I was going through a divorce. My entire world changed.
I spent the first year of my son’s life feeling like I had lost myself completely. What I learned over time was that I didn’t lose myself, I had just changed. And I had to give up my idea of what my identity was and start creating my new one (while still bringing in elements of the ‘old’ me) if I was ever going to be happy again.
2 – My Career
As I mentioned, I loved my career. I studied and worked hard to become a Paramedic and I was damn good at my job too. But, my job isn’t a Monday to Friday, 9 – 5. It was a 10 hour shift, followed by on-call emergency availability which required me to be able to go out on a job at any time of the day or night. As a single mother, this was impossible for me to do.
When I decided to start back at work after maternity leave, I was lucky enough to have a flexible work agreement where I was able to work day shifts that allowed me to find suitable daycare for my son.
This meant I was still able to do my job to some capacity, but it wasn’t the same. And because I wasn’t working the shifts and on call, my pay was a third of what it had been previously.
It seems so trivial but so much of my identity was (and still is) tied in with my job as a Paramedic. It has taken me 5 years to be able to get back to a place where I feel I am able to really be me within my job again, but that height of my career has passed.
3 – My Body
The number of people who say ‘when will you get your body back after having a baby’ is alarming. Seriously. They don’t ask it directly, but they talk about it in an offhanded kind of way, and the sting of judgement is still there.
After my son was born, I lost weight very quickly. The stress of a baby in NICU and a divorce will do that to you. While my body looked like it did before (somewhat), I felt like my body was no longer mine.
Breastfeeding meant I was on demand, being everything to a newborn meant I had no time for me, and I no longer recognised the woman in the mirror.
My body hadn’t gone anywhere, I didn’t ‘lose’ my body, I didn’t need to bounce back… my body had just changed.
And it changed again after my daughter was born, in so many ways. So many things can happen to a woman’s body when she grows and births a baby. I’m finally getting to a point where I can celebrate my body for its incredible achievements, but it has been difficult.
4 – My Alone Time
Sleep when the baby sleeps, shower when the baby naps, get up a little earlier so you can have a few moments alone. All the advice that was given to me in order to get some time to myself as a new mother… but it was impossible.
My son didn’t sleep for long stretches, at most it was an hour at a time (even at night). My kids just don’t sleep as it turns out. And when he did sleep and I’d try to shower, I’d hear the phantom baby cries as soon as I turned the water on (it’s a thing, I swear). As for getting up earlier, I’d have to be getting up at 4am just for alone time and the precious moments of sleep were far more important.
Before I became a mother I hated being alone, I was a massive extrovert who loved being around people. Since I’ve become a mother I crave alone time, it fills my cup and I’ve happily swung over to the introverts side of the table.
As my children have gotten out of the newborn stage and are a little older, alone time has started to come back. But I had to accept it was gone for a while there.
5 – My Ability To Think Clearly
Mom brain is real and it does not go away. I read somewhere that it takes 6 years to recover from sleep lost when having a baby. 6 years. No wonder we all walk around like zombies for the first few years!
Since becoming a mother I’ve had to change how I think about things. I actually have to consciously focus on what I’m doing or what I’m trying to do. It seems so trivial but things that were a lot easier before are more difficult now.
Even reading a book takes more effort because my mind is always wandering off to what to cook for dinner, if I’ve hung the washing out or if I need to rewash the same load for the third time, if we have to do groceries yet, if the bills are paid, if it’s pickup time for school (I honestly have an alarm set on my phone for this). It kind of amazed me at how we adjust ourselves as mothers.
6 – My Patience
I never really considered myself a patient person before I had children, but oh my gosh I have zero patience now. Maybe it’s because I reserve what morsel I do have for my kids and therefore there’s not enough to go around.
People who walk slowly at the grocery store, people who complain about anything and everything (especially if they’re saying they are tired but they have no kids), people who drive slow, people who are all judgey of others… I just don’t have the patience for these things.
I realised if I was going to ‘survive’ this whole motherhood thing, then I was going to have to be more intentional with where I gave my energy. There’s a saying that life is too short for fake cheese and fake friends, and it’s so true. Choose where your energy goes.
7 – My Confidence
Before I became a mother I was confident in myself, in my job, in my body, in my life. After I became a mother, I had such low self confidence and self-esteem that I spent a lot of time in therapy building it back up. I questioned everything I did (as we do as mothers) but I had external influences that were telling me I was broken.
Having a baby in NICU meant I felt like I had failed as a mother straight away, going through a divorce meant I felt like I had failed at marriage, and not being able to work the job I loved meant I felt like I had failed at my career.
Confidence isn’t something we just have. It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised and it took a long time to build it back up, but I got there.
I’m not going to end this article by telling you it’s all worth it. Because I’m not going to downplay how bloody hard giving these things up can be. We all face this in different ways. For some women, giving these things up is a joy (in some parts) and they welcome these changes openly. For others, it’s difficult to process and can take a big toll on their mental health.
Wherever you fall on that spectrum of the craziness that is motherhood, just know you aren’t alone. There are always people who will be there for you, our village is more accessible now than ever before because they are always connected – they’re online!
So if you need to, reach out. If you just want to drink coffee and eat donuts, do that too.
Motherhood is rough, you do what you need to get through! You’ve got this.