Since having my baby, I’ve had a niggle in my head I just can’t shake. Why, when I was so convinced I wanted kids, was the transition to actually having one so hard for me? This has become an ongoing source of guilt, confusion and curiosity.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it’s not a stage thing, it’s an age thing. I was at the stage where I was wholeheartedly ready for kids, sure. But I was also already at an age when I was a fully-formed adult, with a pretty established idea of who I was, what defined me, what I liked, disliked, needed, wanted and was aiming for in life.
This was a battle hard won. It took me countless jobs, countries, romantic encounters and friendships to know myself and be comfortable with that. Having come out the side of all those messy interesting years, I was, as most are, a more fixed entity -somehow less malleable than I was in my late teens and early twenties on the first steps in my journey of self discovery. Every job you hate, every conversation that ignites or infuriates, every tear of pain and laughter, every leap of joy in your heart, leaves you a little bit surer of yourself. And so these twists and turns become the heat of life’s oven, slowly baking the clay of your being, until you are more and more set as You.
In so many ways, that’s one of the best parts of entering your thirties. It removes a lot of the insecurity of earlier years, giving you more space for actually getting on and enjoying life.
But being a more fully baked soul means that it’s a lot harder to adjust to big change when it kicks out an element of life that previously defined you. Losing things that I had unwittingly adopted as my life’s crutches – being successful at work, free to travel and make independent choices – meant I totally lost who I was. When I woke one day unrecognisable to myself, I realised motherhood had slam dunked my clay pot and smashed me to pieces.
These days we are torn between the cultural idea that women are to have it all – travel, career, family – and the ticking fertility time-bomb we are threatened with when we try to ‘have it all’ for a bit too long. Having had the life experience, we are supposed to be more ready somehow for parenthood. But what of this career and travelling was ever focused on babies? Yet the clock ticks, so in we jump. Older, wiser, with more life experience and established identities, yes. But still no more prepared for motherhood than we would have been in our twenties.
So is this another of today’s parenthood taboos? Do older mothers generally find this transition harder to cope with than younger ones? Or is this identity crisis and mourning of a life pre-kids something all mothers face, regardless of age?
And what of this? Well, I take two things:
- We should be talking. Parenthood is not all nappies and boobs and giggles. Sometimes it’s identity loss and deep insecurity and loneliness and mental health struggles too.
- Sometimes things have to be broken to allow for something even better. There is so much I love about being a mum. The privilege of it takes my breath away every day. I also miss myself and I worked hard to know her. So here I am, picking up the pieces of my former self, so I can make an even more beautiful mosaic.