Losing Your Identity: Postpartum

I have always been a strong and independent person. I am a real go-getter, sometimes an overachiever, always pushing my limits. I am an alpha personality that likes to be in control and has a hard time handling abrupt changes in my day-to-day schedule. I can be rather stubborn (ask my parents or my husband) and sometimes emotional (okay, very emotional). I knew who I was and who I wanted to be when I became a mother. I didn’t think I would change.

When I gave birth to my daughter, I had grandeur plans of being able to maintain a household, care for this boob-sucking, dependent 7lbs being, and of course, be able to work & keep up a social life. Boy, was I wrong. I didn’t realize how much a newborn changes you. I didn’t realize how invisible you become.

The second Sophia was born (4:46am on 10/16), I was no longer me. I was Sophia’s mother, her primary caregiver. My husband would be helping but since I had planned on breastfeeding, her care mainly fell to me. My world revolved only around her. I fed her, changed her majority of the time, and woke up in the wee hours of the morning with her since my husband went to work while I was off on maternity leave. I became a slave to her cries. And it hurt.

People came to visit and although they would kindly ask, “How are you?”, they really were only interested in the Sophia. Everyone wants to see cute babies, no one wants to see their disheveled mother. No one noticed what was happening to me. Even my husband doesn’t remember and he was living in the house with me. I was falling apart. Every bit of energy I had I used on my daughter. My schedule depended on her schedule. I was depleted and left with nothing. Eventually, I had nothing left to give.

After a few weeks, maybe 3 weeks postpartum, my mother became concerned. She began to see what was happening to me. Someone was finally recognizing me. I succumbed to postpartum anxiety first and rapidly fell victim to postpartum depression. After many psychiatrist and therapist appointments, the inpatient psych ward became my home for 12 days.

But it didn’t end there. What I did learn within the walls of the psych ward is that I was no longer myself. I could not do it all! I was not Wonder Woman or those super moms on TV. I didn’t know who I was anymore with exception to being Sophia’s mom.

I lost myself. I lost my identity.

Although highly medicated and still in therapy, I was miserable. Photos of the first 11 months show me with crooked half smiles, trying to be happy, trying to enjoy this new life I had. I loved my daughter deeply, but could not stand everything she meant. She was the reason I lost my sense of self.

I had to know who I was, who this person who stared back at me in the mirror was. I couldn’t recognize her anymore. Every morning there were tears shed when I looked at my reflection. How would I fix this?

I continued to do the things I had to do… mother my child, go to work, cook dinner occasionally. I carried on robotically for several months trying to get a glimmer of something that gave me a sign as to who the new me was. My husband carried on being his same quiet, geeky self. There were never any changes for him. Why was it only me, the mom, who had to change? Why was my identity lost but not his?

Years would pass before I became ‘whole’ again. I dabbled with possible career changes. I hung out with different groups of friends. I tried multiple forms of exercise. All this to see who I really was, to learn what my personality had become.

It took my daughter’s birth and my loss of self to realize I loved to be outside. I found a rebirth when hiking or snowshoeing. I became aware of life around me. Reading and writing were reintroduced into my life and then my love for true crime blossomed. I forced myself to take ‘me’ time because I was important. I was a human. I was not created in a chop shop from discarded mechanical parts. I was Stephanie.

I am a mother to one child, but experienced this again a few years ago. When we were fostering to adopt our former foster son, this loss of identity took over. I couldn’t stop the fact that I was being pulled in so many directions and because of it, I, once again, became a robot. My body was no longer connected to my brain. My brain only functioned to send signals to move my body parts but my sense of self was gone. And like my postpartum, it took years to get it back.

So, who is to blame for mothers losing their identity? Do we blame society? Husbands? Other mothers? Random people on the street? Maybe it is the media for portraying moms to be perfect, a Stepford Wife. Should we turn the blame inward to ourselves for letting it happen? Should we blame doctors for not caring enough to check in on mothers?

And, most importantly, how do we make it stop?

I admit, things have changed over the years since I gave birth to Sophia. Twelve years has made somewhat of a difference on this topic. We have peer led support groups for new mothers. We have organizations pushing for more screening in both the antenatal and perinatal periods. There are people speaking up. Women are beginning to declare that yes, motherhood does suck sometimes and you shouldn’t feel ashamed by admitting that. We can talk with other mothers and realize we are not alone. We all lose our identity to some extent and I think by identifying this, it is the first step to finding out who we are now.

 

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