written by Michelle Dowse originally titled ‘Misplaced Me’
I had taken care of everything a new mother should prepare for – the nursery was painted and decorated, my maternity leave had been arranged and there were neat piles of baby clothes lining the chest of drawers.
My husband and I were keen to meet this little being that had been sharing my body for most of the year, and I was looking forward to finally not resembling a marshmallow, and enjoying a glass of champagne post-labour.
When our daughter entered the world she was in a great hurry. Only six hours of labour were endured for which I am very grateful (and as repayment, pledge now to never embarrass her with the usual 21st birthday photos). No gas, no epidural, no caesarean. No screaming at my husband about what he had done to me, and how he would forever be in my debt. I was scared of course, but somehow managed to stay calm during the horrifying stomach-wringing contractions. I had survived the labour, and here was our beautiful girl named Nikayla.
My husband was so proud – he fell in love the moment he breathed in her air. On the day she was born he blossomed into a wonderful father figure, caring for us both as his most prized possessions. I may have looked like a dairy cow in place of a Corvette, but he couldn’t see the lumps for all the light.
Around the third week of our daughter’s life I began to notice something missing. I’d been feeding Nikayla while sitting in our lounge room, when my eyes wandered over to a photo sitting on top of the television. Just the two of us – my husband and I, with huge smiles and loving eyes. There I was, all pre-pregnant and glowing, slim and beautiful in a black ball gown, having a wonderful time at last year’s Christmas party. Jealousy, rage and sadness kicked in, and I cried for about five hours.
Somewhere between the third load of laundry for the day and scraping burnt bits from our dinner of fish fingers, I had disappeared without a trace. Gone was a vibrant, confident, sexy woman and in her place was this un-showered, sleep deprived, leaking, sagging mother who cried a lot.
I started doubting myself, and my ability to take care of this demanding little bundle. I wanted to run away with the next person who would give me a ride and a cigarette. My backpack would have been strapped on faster than you can change a nappy.
I hadn’t even noticed I was gone – my life was so caught up in feeding, 2-hour sleeps and poop. When complaining of tiredness during my pregnancy other mothers would say, ‘Oh, you wait till the baby arrives!’ I’d smile politely but secretly think they just weren’t coping. How hard could it be to take care of something less than half a metre long that only lived on milk and sleep?
I would have time to work, I thought. I would have time for my husband, for our relationship. Coffee with the girls? No problem. I would even have time for sex. Ha! Double Ha!
No one told me I would not exist anymore. I thought I’d learnt everything I needed to know from antenatal classes and well-meaning relatives. I knew who to call if my baby couldn’t sleep, and I knew the locations of all the nearest 24-hour pharmacies.
I thought I’d figured out how physically demanding this job would be, but no one had prepared me for how I would feel mentally. How I would cry at any song with the words ‘my girl’ in it. How I would be green with envy at other mothers in the shopping centre who seemed to be coping with it all. How I would vanish without a trace the moment my angel let out her first cry.
I had expensive clothes and shoes in my wardrobe waiting for my return. It would tear them apart if I tried to put my lumpy post-partum shape anywhere near their delicate skins. I had a gym membership, gourmet cookbooks and bubble bath that mourned my death. OK, maybe the bubble bath and I would meet later in an afterlife – an afterlife often referred to as ‘when the baby begins to sleep through’.
I had perfumes, lingerie and knee high boots to get back to. Never mind the adult conversations and uninterrupted, hot dinners. You never really appreciate having a hot meal every night until it’s suddenly taken from you and replaced with cold baked beans on stale bread. Delicious.
I think I caught a glimpse of my previous self the other day – after twelve months of wearing elastic-waisted pants I managed to fit into my much-loved and adored denim jeans. There was dancing and smiling and smug-faced appreciation for what may seem to others as no big deal, but to me was a milestone worth celebrating.
For a brief moment I think I remembered my pre-baby persona, but then my dear daughter started screaming because she couldn’t fit her cardboard book all the way down her throat, and her dummy was missing and there was snot dripping down her face.
My celebration dance came to an abrupt halt and once again mama-mode took over. A smile crept over my mouth and a tiny glimmer of hope shined through as I realised I wasn’t entirely misplaced. This is me now – I am a Mum.
Somewhere along the way between the piles of unwashed clothes and sleepless nights, I have grown into my new identity as a mother. Not one that is defined by what I haven’t accomplished during my day, but one of understanding motherhood is about self-sacrificing and not ‘all about me’.
When my girl smiles at me with her sparkling, adoring eyes I feel content – and truly happy to be me.
What should I do if I feel ‘misplaced’?
Betty Chetcuti is a psychologist, mum to three and runs the, ‘Being A Mother’ workshops and has this advice for mums who feel ‘misplaced.’
She says, “Even though life seems like it has changed fundamentally, ‘I’ am still there – 100% guaranteed. However, with a baby, there is no time for the ‘me’ to surface above the feeding, sleeping, comforting, adoring, memory loss, sleep deprivation etc.”
“I know that ‘I’ am still there because I miss and yearn for ‘me’ and the things ‘I’ used to do. But hey, there is a whole new side of me developing rapidly, and just as fast as this little treasure is unfolding. So whilst using an Excel spreadsheet is no longer relevant in my day to day life, or needing to glam myself up for work, remember:
- ‘I’ am still wonderful – even though I feel so shockingly awful, have milk, poo and vomit on my t-shirt.
- ‘I’ am learning so many amazing things that I would NO WAY have signed up for or thought I was capable of.
- ‘I’ can now go without sleep for a very, very long time whilst my pre-baby me would have needed a little nap before a big night out.
- ‘I’ am totally responsible for a human being, and even though it is scary and overwhelming at times, I AM DOING IT and DOING IT VERY WELL THANKS VERY MUCH!
- ‘I’ now know how much more love I had to express and how much I love this little baby is truly divine.
- ‘I’ am ‘ME’ and a GREAT mum, even though ‘I’ miss the other bits of me, they will come back one day if I think they are useful, or maybe I will choose to think about my children’s needs and how to use my amazing skills to guide them towards being wonderful human beings!!!!
MUM = ME AND MORE!!!