Finding Yourself Again
Depending on the age that you decide to start a family, you may be quite far into the journey of self-discovery when you become a parent, or you may still be very much finding yourself when you have a child. Interestingly, those who had their children at a younger age probably face more scrutiny for not having 'lived' before they become parents. However, having written this introduction last, I guess I'm beginning to wonder whether in fact having children once you are so settled into life at a later age may in fact make things all the more difficult...
Having waited until my early 30s to have a child, I had a career, a great circle of friends, a very long-term relationship, and a lifestyle I loved. Then one day I just realised something was definitely missing and I knew in that moment I was ready to have a baby.
I always knew that a baby would turn my life upside down, and I went into the whole thing with my eyes wide open. I prepared as much as I could, yet I knew that the phrase 'nothing can truly prepare you' would be accurate.
Yup, the first week or so is the most overwhelming feeling. There is another blog on here that talks about the realities of parenthood and waiting for someone to 'tap you out'; it's such an accurate description. It feels endless. You are desperate for a break, only to realise that you'll never not be a parent ever again. You maybe discussed with your partner how you'll still have your hobbies and go out with your friends once the baby is here, but those moments don't carry enough weight when the rest of your time is dominated by parenthood.
Nevertheless, what I couldn't truly anticipate and the bit that hit me the hardest was the fact I felt like I was just somebody different. I wasn't just the 'Me who had a baby'. I was somebody else.
I looked in the mirror and the reflection didn't match the image in my head.
I actually bored myself sometimes when I caught up with friends. I felt like I suddenly had nothing to offer to conversations that weren't about breastfeeding or the trials and tribulations of nap times.
I felt like I lost the ability to flirt, and it just no longer suited the person I had become.
I chucked outfits away because mums simply don't wear clothes like 'that'.
It wasn't all bad though. This new me was also somebody who loved breastfeeding and wanted to help others to be successful; somebody who wanted to be open about bed-sharing because it was the only thing that saved my sanity; somebody who was passionate about ensuring that information for mums was readily available and helpful. Of course, all of this is how Ordinary Mothers came to be!
Nevertheless, having spent years getting myself in the best shape at the gym, perfecting my make-up and hairstyle, and finding clothes that work for my body type, I then had a baby only to have to re-think so much of it! Suddenly I had tufts of baby hair growing back; my pre-baby clothes no longer fit me, and my style had to change to fit my 'new' body; I was left with skin tags that had just appeared one day. It's not that I am superficial, because I also missed my job that I'd trained so hard for, not being able to be the friend I wanted to be who could drop everything if you needed a drinking buddy, and not being able to control my own time.
It's that everything I had worked so hard to build no longer slotted into the right place.
So how do you find your way back? Is it possible? Should we want to be who we were before or is having children all about embracing a new life?
For me, the big turning point was going back to work. I'm not ashamed to say I enjoyed going back to work, and I still enjoy work. I was back in a place where I was comfortable and successful. And I felt like I had something to actually talk about with my husband at the end of a long day. I was better at my job as a result of becoming a parent too - more patient and more conscious of a work-life balance.
Then my son started sleeping through the night more often (he only properly cracked it at 14 months just for context!). It was amazing the difference this made to my mental state. Then when he weaned from breastfeeding, my body started to resemble my old one again (definitely with the smaller boobs!) I hit the gym, not as often as I would have liked but enough for my shape to start to appear. Every day that I tried on a pre-baby outfit and it fit, I felt like I could conquer the world!
This all sounds positive - and it is. You absolutely can find your way back - if you want to, of course.
But here is the dilemma: I am daily plagued with questions about when will I have another baby, a question that I will always think is a little intrusive from work colleagues and a little pressuring from family. But the truth is, I cannot envisage having another child. And I feel so guilty for saying that.
I absolutely adore my son. He makes me laugh and smile every day, and I'm continuously shocked by how quickly he learns new things. The effort my family and friends make with him is just a joy to see, and I know that he has strengthened the bond I have with my in-laws massively (although they were always pretty great).
However, I just don't think I'm willing to go through the sacrifice again for another child, especially now I truly know what it is you give up. There is no judgement on people who choose to have more than one child - I totally understand why people do and perhaps things would be different if I had been younger, or in a job I didn't like.
It's just that when your child is young, life is incomparable to before you had a baby, and in ways you cannot quite comprehend or even communicate. If you liked your life before, giving that up, or accepting the changes, is tough. There are the obvious things that you expect, like not being able to be spontaneous and just go out for dinner when you don't feel like cooking. But the thing that I could never have anticipated was the fact that for a while, I was unrecognisable to myself, both physically and mentally.
And now that I'm finally on the other side of that, I don't think I could willingly throw myself into it all again, even for that relatively short time, and even if I would be wiser the second time round, and maybe I'd 'recover' a little sooner. I know friends who have definitely had a better experience second time round and would happily have another. However, whilst I wouldn't change my son for the world, I don't want to have to change again either.