There’s no doubt that becoming a mother is a transformational experience. Initially absorbed in your new baby, obsessing over feeding or nappies or sleep, spending more time with new friends who are also new parents, evolving into a family instead of a couple: so many new things, so many changes. Some of us rail against it, fighting to get back to a long-lost ‘normal;’ others let it flow over us, knowing they won’t be small for very long. But all of us are fundamentally changed by the experience, whether we intended that to happen, or not.
One mother’s sense of lost identity is another mother’s sense of growth. We might mourn our freedom, high heels, spontaneous nights out, spare cash, hot cups of tea and the chance to finish a thought. And becoming a mother changes the way you are in your existing roles: you’re a different daughter, once you’re a mother. You’re a different wife or girlfriend. You’re a different sister, and a different friend.
For some people, going back to work renews one’s identity. For me, it brought it home to me how meaningless my work really was – and this despite working in the social compliance industry, which really does do a certain amount of good in the world. But paying to leave my baby with someone who didn’t love him as much as I do never felt right; trekking into Reading on a train with a hundred other miserable faces didn’t fill me with joy; the pressure to achieve miracles in a job that was both too easy and too hard was soul destroying. In the end I had to admit that I didn’t want my old identity back, I wanted to create a new one.
Maternity leave felt like a limbo between one state and the next: not enough time to adjust, and the looming return to work with its tantalising promise of a return to my old, easy life. Except it didn’t give me that, because all the mothering remained to be done outside my working hours, and I was still a different person in all my relationships, except my working relationships where motherhood seemed to count for nothing.
A few weeks after my return to work, I answered an ad in the NCT newsletter to train as a Breastfeeding Counsellor, not realising at the time that this was where my new identity would finally make sense. It’s now eight years since I sent that email, and I can barely recognise my pre-pregnancy self in the me that I am now.
Working in breastfeeding support appeals to my contrary nature (it’s controversial), my social and political conscience (breastfeeding is undervalued – and feminist), and my desire to do something good in the world. I like to be busy and it certainly meets that need. There’s a lot of interesting science stuff to know about. And with the addition of my work as a postnatal doula and other small related roles, I’ve been able to scrape a self-employed living at it, so I no longer have to answer to an employer. Nothing could make me happier.
My training with NCT and my ongoing reflective practice have helped me to develop empathy, listening skills, and a love of working with people instead of spreadsheets and schedules. I feel like a bigger person, a nicer person, and a person with more going on in her world than ever before. My whole life is so varied, and full of people; and for me, life since becoming a mother is glorious technicolour compared with the grey I can remember from before.
Views expressed here are my own, and do not represent the views of NCT.