I LOST myself after having children. I’m not really sure where I went, but a big piece of me – the self I knew and really rather liked – shifted into hiding, writes Sara Fitzpatrick. I’m back now – for the most part – stepping out of a foggy few years of joy and triumph mingled with fear and anguish.
It makes sense I somewhat disappeared because I gave up many things that made me – me. The wild nights out with friends had to go as well as a full-time career, but then the seemingly little things went too: like my movies, books and music.
Jaws made way for Finding Nemo, Helta Skelta for Hansel and Gretel and PJ Harvey on stage for PJ Masks in concert.
Bring on the Barbie and let little girls be girlie
Does being a sh*t mum make you a bad parent? It’s easy to lose yourself in motherhood. Picture: iStock
I played the role of ‘young adult’ for so long – carefree and self-absorbed – and now that had to end. I needed to conform (or so I thought) and the old Sara left the building.
Now I was ‘nurturer,’ braving breastfeeding and sleep deprivation and juggling vaccinations with Rhyme Time. I started obsessing over things I ‘ought’ to be doing like keeping a spot-free home and my world became very small. Furthermore, I began valuing the superficial; desperately wanting a bigger house and “better” things.
I became a bore – even to myself.
The trouble probably started when my first child was just over one. Up until then my husband and I were a force, conquering feeding, bath time, nappy changing and teething. He bought me coffee every day after work and took over domestic duties so I could rest. Life was great.
And then it wasn’t…
Just over a year in and I didn’t feel quite right. An odd dizziness arrived and a fuzziness in my thinking. Doctors diagnosed all types of things, including an allergy to mould. Yes, mould. We had our home professionally tested – nothing was detected. I was devastated because that was my answer: just get rid of the mould and all would be ok. I didn’t register until much later that it was my mind at fault, not my body.
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Looking back, I can see the initial joy of motherhood was over. I had just finished breastfeeding and my hormones were likely a mess.
Perhaps reality was sinking in too: I had to get back to work and was highly stressed.
Anyway, I pulled myself together and returned to the office and just when I got my groove back and started liking me again – I fell pregnant.
From here, things took a turn for the worse. My first child was just 14-months-old. She was besotted with me, and I with her, and I felt a world of guilt for bringing a baby between us.
I wasn’t ready for a second and neither was my husband and it spelled trouble for the marriage. I was catapulted into a strange and sometimes troubling time. The pregnancy was hard – nothing like the first – and stress heightened when she wasn’t doing well in my tummy and needed to come out early.
You could call what ensued post-natal depression – I’m still not sure that’s what it was. A therapist later diagnosed me with anxiety. After being fancy free for so long I was now worrying – a lot. One time in the therapist’s office, mid conversation, I ran outside to check my Mazda wasn’t rolling down the street into oncoming traffic.
“Of course you’re anxious. Many women find themselves in this situation when a baby arrives unexpectedly,” the therapist told me. This was a free service BTW: shout out to The St John of God Raphael Centre.
Immense relief came in hearing a professional call me sane. I really felt my mind slipping; even started writing a memoire of sorts in case my kids never knew the real me. I pulled myself out of the darkness – with no drugs – and I’m proud of that. But really: what else could I do? My family needed me – I needed me.
Going back to work after baby number two was difficult – but it helped. You need an avenue away from home to be that ‘other’ you.
I took Jordan Peterson’s advice and ‘treated myself like someone I am responsible for helping’ and on Dr Phil’s recommendation (hey, I was home a lot) I wrote down 60 things I was grateful for, every day.
Yes, this all sounds painfully corny but I believe it worked. I don’t use these tactics now – they served their purpose.
My advice: never lose you. Be crazy, wild and fun – that’s totally allowed. Do it your way: who says the ideal mum lives in a renovated bungalow with original wooden floors, top-notch decking and lush grass front and back? Must she sport a sensible haircut, shop exclusively at Country Road and spend her mornings at mums and bubs fitness classes at Yokine Reserve?
I am not that woman and never will be. And why would I want to? She’s a boring pain in the arse.
Try not to lose yourself in motherhood. Picture: File image
Flirt with the guy at work if that helps, don that terracotta lipstick and buy those pricey brown ankle boots. Dust off that Outkast record, watch all three hours of Solaris and tackle Anna Karenina again – this time venturing past chapter 1. Or simply keep maintaining that lush green lawn: whatever little thing makes you, you again – do it.
I have learned that the little things are huge in putting yourself back together again. You may lose yourself for a little while but you will emerge again – probably with a new and improved version.
St John of God Raphael Centre firstname.lastname@example.org