Everyone says that becoming a parent changes you. What I did not realize was the potential impact of parenthood on my self-identity. As a pregnant, first-time mom-to-be, I prepared my body physically for optimum pre-natal health. I educated myself on fetal development and on infant care. I had the vitamins, the books, the websites, the class completion certificates, etc. By the time I was ready to give birth to my daughter, I wholeheartedly believed that I was prepared to handle all of motherhood! I have a photo of myself laying in my hospital bed after my water broke but before labor began. My smile was huge. I looked confident. I remember feeling thrilled and so very ready for my daughter to join my husband and me.
That photo of me and my beaming smile is the last photo of me as I once existed. That used to be a sad thought for me. That is because after giving birth and bringing my beautiful infant home, I developed depression, began having regular panic attacks, and lost my confidence and sense of self. I was entirely unprepared for the emotional and hormonal effects of motherhood.
The first sign that something did not feel right was during my ride home from the hospital with my daughter. I cried uncontrollably for no reason at all. When I arrived home, I put my baby in her infant carrier on our kitchen counter top, and panic creeped in. What was I supposed to do now?
I know that many new parents feel this way. For me, it felt like I instantaneously forgot who I was. I forgot how to be me and how to do the things I thought were central to who I was. My home seemed like a frightening abyss that I no longer knew how to exist in.
As the weeks went on, these feelings got worse. No amount of help from my husband, family members, or friends eased the emptiness and fear I felt. Days felt like lonely and abysmal years. I was consumed by pumping breast milk, recording feedings and diaper changes, sterilizing bottles, etc. I saw myself as a hollow shell going through the motions.
I soon realized that these feelings were all symptoms of a postpartum mood disorder. As a psychologist, I recognized this, and I sought treatment. After a few months, my treatment (counseling and medication) was effective enough to allow me to feel capable of handling my life again. What was not addressed in my treatment plan, however, was how to redefine my self-identity.
I spent the next two-to-three years struggling to be my old self. I used to love my school psychologist job and fit in well with my colleagues. I used to have an active social life filled with adventurous nights out with friends. I used to read voraciously, checking out 5-6 books from the library at a time. I used to feel carefree and FUN! I used to joke, laugh, and feel light. All of that changed. I no longer felt those things anymore, enjoyed those things any more, nor had time to do those things any more.
I spent those few years obsessed with figuring out how to regain my old identity. As you can imagine, motherhood did not gel well with my former childless, 20-something life. Consequently, my quest to become my old self was fruitless, and I was left with a continual void. Fortunately, through soul-searching and a series of unexpected life events, I was able to recognize the following: I will never be who I once was. That is okay. Moreover, that is NORMAL!
All of us change as we grow and age. We learn new things, get new jobs, form new relationships, etc. These things change us slowly over time. For me, and maybe for some of you, becoming a mother was so sudden and the impact on my body chemistry so significant that I did not have time to adapt. I also was not prepared with the knowledge that adapting may be difficult.
Today, when I look at my smiling, pregnant self in the photo taken in the hospital, my forlorn perspective is much different. There is no sadness. Instead, I look at my former self knowingly and think, "You are about to begin a journey that will test you and challenge you more than you have ever experienced. Do not be afraid. When the struggle is over, you will become an enhanced version of yourself. You will find your laughter again (although what you find funny will change). You will find friends and hobbies that you will adore. You will feel more passion on the other side than you had before. You will find a fulfillment and purpose that you never knew possible. It will be good." I am grateful I did not return to my old self. I am Andrea 2.0. I am a mother with a beautiful daughter, and I am happy!
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