Dear Postpartum Mom: It's Okay to Not Know Your Identity Right Now
Hey momma- let’s take a walk together down memory lane.
Let’s go back a bit and revisit one of those times in life where things felt out of whack.
Ah, adolescence. “The process of developing from a child to an adult.” I’m sure there are many stories you could tell me about this time. Stories about your body changing. Stories about your emotions changing. Stories about your friendships and interests changing. You probably have something really embarrassing that happened during this time (and most likely it was in front of that first real crush and you wrote about it in your secret diary.)
Our society has accepted this adolescence as a normal part of growth. Something to not only acknowledge but also, in the midst of all of its’ awkwardness, to celebrate. It’s important for us to take a minute to experience laughter and tears as we look back and see that, even when we thought that time would never end, it did. Even when we thought we were going to crumble away in a corner somewhere after our 7th-period class, we didn’t. You’re here and you aren’t the same woman you were before the hormones and mental shifts and expectations changed around you.
So here we stand today, in the present moment. You have entered this realm of motherhood and I bet if you really think hard about it, a lot of things feel similar to those distant years of transitioning from a child to an adult.
(Did I already say emotions? It’s worth saying twice.) So many things are changing and it feels outright confusing sometimes. In contrast to your teenage years, though, now you feel the pressure to keep it together. You feel the pressure to innately know how to accomplish these new tasks and expectations. You feel pressure for all of the change to come ‘naturally’ and you’re feeling down on yourself when it doesn’t. Here’s the truth, momma, just like taking care of new breasts, starting to date, having more responsibilities and handling your roller coaster emotions didn’t come without difficulties the first time, this second major transition isn’t without its’ own set of new and unique struggles. Just because society doesn’t give you as much grace doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it.
In her anthropological studies of mothers across the world, postpartum advocate Dana Raphael coined the term “matrescence.” This term and study has been on the rise as others like reproductive psychiatrist Alexandra Sacks bring it into the light (watch her awesome Ted Talk). Sacks defines matrescence as “the developmental phase of new motherhood, (it) is like adolescence — a transition when hormones surge, bodies morph, and identity and relationships shift.”
Does that sound familiar? Hormones? Bodies? Identity? Relationships? Matrescence makes so much sense, even if t it is still not a widely adopted and acknowledge part of our society.
Walking your new path
Momma, today you are in the midst of your matrescence. Whether you became a mother a day, a week, a month or a year ago, you are in your transition. You look different. You feel different. You think differently (both intentionally and unintentionally.) The things that once defined you may or may not be relevant right now.
Sometimes it feels like you swapped bodies with a stranger.
Sometimes your hormones cause you to think and feel and act differently than you intend to.
The top things that make you YOU may be shifting.
You have probably lost some friendships, gained some friendships, and seen dynamic changes across relationships.
Sometimes you wonder what happened to the doting and attention you were getting as a pregnant woman and how it so fleetingly disappeared as the baby took the whole stage. (Yes, we love the baby too, but momma is still here and still needs help!)
When you sit down at the end of a long day, you may feel like you just don’t know who you are. In the midst of taking on new roles and putting aside old roles, you might feel lost in a shuffle. A shuffle that is your life and yet sometimes it feels like it is operating outside of you and you are just an onlooker. You might have an argument with a loved one and afterward think “Who am I? Why did I say that?” You might try to keep work or social things in order only to find them jumbled. You might look day after day at your postpartum body and wonder if it’s ever going to be “back to normal.” Maybe you flip flop back and forth in thinking about who you want to be known as and what would make you feel “accomplished” day after day. Maybe you know you love your kids, but you also miss the things that gave you life before you were a mother.
You will probably think and feel variations of these things, and you should. It can be uncomfortable. The growing pains- they still suck sometimes. For some women, their experience includes postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, or postpartum psychosis (click here to see the warning signs of these very valid and treatable conditions). May you don’t qualify with something diagnosable, and so your feelings in this transition are often dismissed.
But you need not be dismissed, you still need space to grow and learn and process. You are still in the midst of something that needs to be recognized, validated and dare I say- celebrated even when it feels like a mess. You need spaces to grieve and celebrate because your life, it has changed in one of the biggest ways possible. It is not silly for you to struggle. It is not dramatic for you to feel so intensely. It is not wrong for you to not know your identity in this time. It is a normal part of the transition, but as we know, normal does not equal easy and just because we all go through it doesn’t mean any of us should go through it alone.
Postpartum mom- it’s okay to not know your identity right now.