Being a brand-new (or second-time or third-time…) parent is hard. All of a sudden we need to get to know a tiny new person and try to work out exactly what they need and want. Add in sleepless nights and post-delivery physiological changes, and it is very easy to become consumed by the process – to become only ‘mother’, with all other roles and personal identities dropping away. No wonder it is easy to feel sad or anxious or lost or struggle with post-natal self-identity.
Will I ever be ‘me’ again?
Being a new parent and feelings of identity loss can, unfortunately, go hand in hand, and there will be parts of your ‘old self’, pre-baby, that you may mourn and let go.
* Remember: These feelings of loss are normal. Having a baby can indeed mean massive changes to your life and to some of your markers of self-identity – your professional life, your time for leisure activities, your confidence in your appearance – BUT, these feelings don’t mean that you don’t love your baby or that you’re not doing a good job.
Dancing until two in the morning may, indeed, be a thing of the past, but your internal identity, those things that make you uniquely you – personality, character, values – are still there at your core, waiting to unfurl with a little time and patience and connection to others.
How can I regain my sense of self?
It takes time to get used to your new identity as a parent. Imagine your pre-baby identity as that perfect T-shirt – the one that fits you so well you hardly know you’re wearing it. Having a baby is like adding a new jacket to the outfit – it’s going to look great, but it’s going to take a while to get used to the way you look at yourself in the mirror. Positive ways to reclaim your sense of self-identity – to wear that outfit with pride – include:
Self-care Make time for yourself. Yes, in the beginning, this may just mean getting showered and dressed and eating a nutritious meal. As time goes on self-care will involve doing things that aren’t baby-centric, that remind you of what you love – exercise, reading, gardening, meditation – whatever it is, set time aside. Which leads to…
Community care Becoming a parent can be isolating, and it can seem like there is never any time for self-care. That’s where your support network comes in – your partner, family, friends, a doula, a new parent’s group. Reconnect with old friends and make new ones – and ask for help. Half an hour out of someone else’s day to watch bub or wash dishes may be a small thing for them, but a huge help for you.
Stop comparing yourself Parenting is a unique experience and every family is different. Try not to compare yourself with other parents – particularly those parents that are making it look beautiful and effortless via social media. Every parent has moments of indescribable doubt, but they are generally not the moments that get posted on Instagram.
Remember that identity is never fixed As well as not comparing yourself to others, you also don’t need to compare yourself to your former, pre-baby self. You’re not the same person that you were five years ago, nor are you going to be the same person five years from now. Self-identity is an ever-fluctuating thing and reconnecting with yourself as an individual will take time.
What if it feels like more than that?
It is not unusual to struggle with your emotions around your sense of self and identity when you’re a new parent. However, if your feelings about identity loss are not improving and they’re affecting your day-to-day well-being, this may be a sign that you need extra support. Postnatal depression and anxiety can start any time in the first year after giving birth and can affect dads and partners, as well as mums.
If you’re concerned that you or your partner have postnatal depression – reach out. It is important to remember that postnatal mental health issues are temporary and treatable.
With a focus on women’s mental health, the team at Happy Minds Psychology are experienced in supporting new parents through this sometimes substantial life transition. We can provide psychology and counselling services from the convenience of your own home with Telehealth or face to face in our Ocean Grove office. To book an appointment call us on 0431666050 or visit our website and we can work together to get your sense of self back on track.