When I had my daughter, I was prepared to lose a lot of things – my heart, my former body, and sleep, just to name a few. What I did not expect to lose, and what hit me the hardest of all, was the loss of my identity.
I had done a lot of reading in anticipation of being a mom. Everything I read prepared me for the sleepless nights, the changes to my body, typical newborn issues, even post-partum depression, but nothing warned me that in gaining this wonderful new little life, I also might find I would lose a large part of myself.
We all identify as something, possibly more than one thing, but for me it was primarily my career as an attorney. From an early age, I had been narrowly focused on what I would grow up to be and that did not change much as I grew up and became it. When my husband and I married, we were in agreement that we would likely never have children. I was aware of the hours that my career required and the commitment that I had to it, his hours and commitment were no less, and I wanted our child to have at least one parent home some of the time.
At that point, neither of us wanted to cut back, so we made the choice not to have children. But, I’m a firm believer that you must do whatever works for your own family.
A few years into our marriage, I was running my own practice and I was able to cut back on my hours. Having a family, a career, and sanity all at the same time started to seem like a viable option. Also, at thirty-four, I didn’t feel like I was getting any younger. We decided to have a child and, roughly a year later, our daughter was born.
I learned quickly that working part-time from home with an infant was easier said than done. While certain things could be scheduled around her, I had no control over others, such as when I received phone calls. Ultimately, I made the decision to close my business and be a stay-at-home mom.
Almost immediately I began to feel it, that feeling of being lost. For a while, I couldn’t explain the feeling or name it. I just knew that something didn’t feel right. I felt like I was mourning when there was so much to be happy about. I considered post-partum depression, but I did not feel that it was really depression.
It truly felt like sadness over a loss.
When I finally came to the realization that it was the loss of myself, my identity, everything made sense. I loved being a mom and I was so thankful that I had the opportunity to spend so much time with our daughter. I was there for all of the firsts, while my husband had to see many of them in pictures or video because he was working. Still, I envied him. I envied that he was able to keep that part of him and I couldn’t, even though logically I knew that everything had been my choice.
Dealing with the transition from career woman to stay-at-home mom has been the hardest part of my parenting experience by far. It is now a little over two years since I became a stay-at-home mom and, I’m not ashamed to say, it has gotten the better of me. I tried to overcome my feelings of loss of identity.
My daughter and I are active in mommy and me programs, I am in mom groups, and we have occasional playdates with friends. Most days of the week we find some activity to do outside of the home to keep us busy. For me, it’s not enough. These two years have been two of the hardest years of my life.
I still don’t want to go back to my old career, for the same reasons as before. So, as a compromise, I have been working to change careers to something with more reasonable hours. It’s the best I can do for both of us. My daughter deserves a mom who is both present and mentally healthy; this is my way of giving her both.
I wish I had expected the feelings that came with my loss of identity. Preparation would not have stopped me from feeling them, but I would have recognized what they were sooner and, perhaps, made some adjustments earlier. A lot has been written about the difficulties of the stay-at-home mom or the working mom, but I think the loss of identity can apply to any mom.
It’s about the change from what was to what is. Your identity as “mom” is so overwhelming, that regardless of what your identity was before, you can feel lost, even if part of it is still there.
It doesn’t matter if you worked before and continue to work after or didn’t work before and stay at home after. The addition of the “mom” identity has a way of taking over the former one. So while I was geared up and excited to bring my daughter into the world and take on this new identity of “mom,” it never occurred to me that a few months later I would be mourning my former identity.
But, here’s what I’ve learned-it’s ok to mourn. Don’t let the mom guilt tell you it’s not. Not everyone has the luxury of trying new opportunities like I do; I know I’m lucky. I also know I had to do something to change our situation, for the benefit of both my daughter and me. I had to reclaim a little bit of the old me before I really didn’t like what became of the new me. And, I’m happy I get to do that.
Samantha Hoof is currently a stay-at-home mom with her very busy two year old daughter. She and her husband have been married for six years. If she ever gets any free time again, she would enjoy baking, crafting, reading, and traveling.