One of my defining moments of 2012 was becoming a mother.
I spent months reading books and resources about giving birth, preparing myself for what lay ahead. In the end, my son burst into the world two hours after I arrived at the hospital. All that analysis of One Born Every Minute – and it took two hours. When I arrived home, nine months of maternity leave stretched ahead of me – and that’s something you can’t write out a plan for. Things were about to get real.
One thing I’d worried about was losing my identity once I gave birth. It was something I’d heard other women talk about – the fact that having a child had forced them to leave little bits of themselves behind somehow, the hobbies and the jobs and the friends. It worried me, but at the same time I thought that it would never happen to me. Not completely, because although I was taking maternity leave I still planned to keep up with blogging and writing. I still planned to see my old friends.
Seven months down the line I can see what all these other women meant when they talked about the hole where their identity once was. Not long ago a controversial article appeared in the Financial Times. Author Katie Roiphe despaired of the sort of women who have a photo of their child as their profile picture on Facebook, who abandon their old interests to talk babies 24/7. “Disappearing mothers”, she called them. The piece was more than slightly nasty, but there is a certain amount of truth to her assertion that with the early months of motherhood, a definite ‘loss of self’ occurs. I wondered if people wrinkled their noses and sneered when I posted a picture of my son or a status update about sleepless nights on Facebook.
The other thing I hadn’t taken into account was how much having a baby would impact my experience of church. Sunday mornings have this year been characterised by feeling exhausted, lugging baby equipment around, feeding, and changing nappies. Now that’s no different to any other day, but attempting to worship and get something out of a sermon at the same time is a challenge. You’re constantly preoccupied and all too easily you can start to feel invisible as people see the cute baby you’re carrying, not you.
I spent some time over the summer feeling quite miserable. Babies are amazing, but exhausting and emotionally draining. New-borns don’t allow for time to do anything else other than care for them. And not everyone understands this. I took all these feelings with me as my husband and I took our three-month-old camping to a Christian festival (people told us we were brave for doing that. It actually wasn’t as bad as you might think).
“This is really hard.” I told God.
And I heard: “Don’t worry, What you are doing now is really important.”
I think that deep down I knew that all along. This year has served as a period of adjustment. A time for creating a new identity. A reminder that at the present time, there’s a small person who needs me more than I need to do some of the things I used to value and enjoy, and that this is OK, it’s nothing I should beat myself up about.
Despite this it’s vital to attempt to carve out time for rest, for prioritising your marriage, for God, and for thinking about where you’re at. This has happened with varying degrees of success (I have still never managed to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’). I’ve learnt new things about myself this year and got support from new friends. I’ve also learnt to value worship and prayer in a more contemplative way to suit the fact that I need peace and quiet more than ever, or finding God in being outdoors and through nature.
When you’re pregnant it feels like very few people will talk openly and honestly to you about what happens after giving birth is over and done with. Mums-to-be need those people. Not to scare them, but to reassure them that they’ll make it, to support them. To check in on them and help them pick up the bits and pieces of their identity from among the nappies and bibs. Those are the people that get you through maternity leave.