It was 7am on a rainy day, and I was feeding my 3 week old baby on our bed. I was completely exhausted, as my husband had recently gone back to work and I was the one who had been up all night with her. I had been trying to get her to snuggle in the bed with me and have a sleep, even if it was just for half an hour.
The tears rolling down my face, I shouted out "I want my life back!"
My baby looked at me, startled by my loud voice, blinked twice and started crying. Overwhelming guilt washed over me. How could I want my life back? My life without my beautiful child who I had spent years waiting for? I cuddled her close, comforting her and telling her how much I love her. She finally fell asleep.
My feelings in that moment were completely natural, but not often talked about. It's hard to imagine yourself as a mother until you are one, and then it's hard to remember yourself from before. The person who had interests and hobbies that didn't revolve around a baby. The woman who loved adventure and would plan holidays for her and her husband. The reader who could devour a book in a day. The baker who would spend hours in the kitchen trying a new recipe.
My husband and I used to stay up late playing Playstation together, waking up late the following morning and going out for breakfast at our favourite cafe. Or stay out until 4am at a friend's place drinking and making memories.
Having a child changes everything. You can't do most of these things anymore, and it's natural to feel like you've changed. That you aren't the same person anymore. Because you aren't the same person, you're a mother now.
But it's vital that you don't lose yourself to motherhood. You are still your own person, outside of being a mother. It's vital that you love yourself enough to hang on to who you are. Here are a few ways you can stay 'you' and still be an amazing mother.
Connect with your friends (and not just your mum-friends)
We get so much of our identity from our friends. Our friendship circles tend to change somewhat when we become mothers. Like attracts like, so we'll hang out with the friends who "get it", the other mums. So often our friendships with people who don't have kids fall by the wayside.
It's important to connect with the friends who know you and make you feel good. The friends that challenge you. Whether they're mothers or not. Sure, it's great to catch up with a friend who is a mother and have a wine and a whinge about sleep regressions and teething. But it's equally as important to catch up with a friend who you know you can have awesome debates about current affairs with. Or the friend who has known you forever and is your mirror. They'll keep your 'you-ness' alive. Trust me.
Get a hobby (or reignite an old one)
I'm guilty of not having any hobbies, until I started this website. Well, that's not entirely true. I've always loved reading and writing, but it would be a case of making the time to do those things. I was always too busy working or sleeping to actually do the things I enjoyed!
Having a baby has made me more disciplined about doing things that bring me joy. Once she's in bed, instead of just sitting watching TV (if that's your hobby, that is totally okay, it's just not mine) I spend time writing and reading.
Having a hobby means you're spending time doing something you really love to do, and can help you reclaim some of your sense of self.
Ask for help when you need it
You don't need to do everything on your own! Asking for help can actually be extremely empowering. Even more so when you ask for help so that you can attend to your own needs. See if you can get your partner to spend some time with your child while you go and get your hair done, or go for a walk, or just sit quietly and read a book.
If you don't ask for help, people are pretty unlikely to just offer it. Unfortunately most people just don't have that level of empathy! I wish they did, but they don't. Especially when a baby is involved - people want to come "visit the baby" not come "help the mama".
Look after yourself
This is close related to asking for help, but it's important to look after yourself. Go get your hair coloured, if that's your jam. Get a wax if you'd feel better with less body hair. Run yourself a hot bath and have a soak. Go for a massage.
Do the things that make you FEEL like you. Before I had my baby I was known for my hair colours. I'd been experimenting with mermaid hair, and other bright colours. I stopped doing it when I was pregnant because I didn't want to end up with a hair colour that would grow out all weird once baby was born and I didn't have any time to get my hair coloured. In hindsight, I sometimes wish I had kept it up, because that was part of my identity.
Even though you're different now - you're someone's mama - you're still YOU. In all your beautiful uniqueness. Don't lose yourself, mama. Show your children that it's okay to be yourself, and embrace all that you are. And remember to take the time to work on yourself and keep the 'you-ness' alive.