Maternity Leave

5 ways to embrace the identity shift of motherhood

Maternity leave rocked me. At the time, I was 30 years old and I felt like I really knew who I was, and in retrospect, I can see the humour in that. Becoming a mother changed me in ways that I could never have anticipated, and I was vastly unprepared for the parts of me that started unraveling during that time in my life.

Becoming a mother is an identity shift, and one of the most significant physical and psychological changes a woman will ever experience. Before I had my first child, no one had told me about this shift. There was no warning that although having a baby and becoming a mother is transformational, it is also a time when you may experience grief. You may even grieve the loss of your life before you became a mother. You may struggle with this new identity that feels so far away from who you were and what defined you before your baby arrived. You may wistfully remember the things you used to do, including if you loved your job and career.

Like many new mothers, I struggled with embracing the expanded me. At the time, I didn’t even know what was actually going on inside of me, aside from the hormonal changes, mood swings and sleep deprivation. On my maternity leave, I forgot who I was, what I was good at and what my strengths were. Although I didn’t realize it then, I know now just how much of my self-worth was coming from my career. I remember having feelings like I was “just a mom” and missed my old life where I could pick up at any point, have dinner with friends and work late rocking a strategic planning meeting. I remember judging myself for feeling that way because having a child was something I had wanted.

The identity shift of motherhood is thankfully becoming more normalized and talked about. If you have felt this shift or know someone who is going through it, here are five ways we can embrace the expansiveness that becoming a mother brings.

1. Give yourself permission to sit with your feelings.

So often when we feel like we are hurting or emotionally up and down, we want to get on the other side of it too quickly. It’s important to realize that what you resist, persists. Ask yourself: Can I be ok with feeling this way today? How can I love myself through this challenging time?

2. Claim the parts of you that you want to hold on to.

Making an intentional declaration of who you are and the parts of you that you want to intentionally keep is a powerful exercise. We can often feel as though we’ve “lost ourselves” in motherhood, so we encourage you to be clear about the parts of you that you want to intentionally hold on to as you adapt to your lifestyle changes.

3. Normalize grief.

You may feel a sense of loss–profound or minimal. We all experience a range of emotions and access to our emotions. You may really miss the time you once had for yourself, the energy you felt, your independence, relationships, career, and freedom. Those things are not gone forever, they’ve just shifted. Let yourself feel the grief and get some support from a friend, counsellor or family member.

4. Enter into a radical new relationship with yourself.

Motherhood is an extraordinary journey. Use the time of transition to think about the old parts of you that need to shift in order to move towards the person you are becoming. Ask yourself: What needs to go in order for me to grow? Perhaps it’s a new way of speaking to yourself, further acceptance and appreciation of who you are, or maybe it’s some patterns that haven’t been serving you. Whatever feels right for you, ultimately it’s about asking yourself: How will you love yourself through this journey?

5. Ask yourself: What would feel good right now at this moment?

When you wake up in the morning, get into a habit of asking yourself what you need (instead of what you need to do today). Remember to come back to yourself, your deeper needs and find small ways to honour those throughout your day.

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