Identity

Hollie McNish said it best: you lose your name when you become a mum and instead become known primarily in relation to your child. “X’s mum.” I was prepared for the loss of my name, a bit, not least because I’d heard McNeish’s poem. But what about all the other identities I lost?

Before having a baby, I was a second alto in my choir, a goal shooter on my netball team, a researcher at work and an unrepentant nerd outside of it. I liked baking and writing and superhero films and doing very bad knitting very slowly, often multiple times. I relished having lots of different facets to my identity, singing on Mondays and Thursdays, shooting goals on Tuesdays, sometimes going out for drinks on Wednesday nights with friends from work, and spending weekends with my husband and with family and friends. I’d been identified in relation to other people before—I was already a wife and a sister and a daughter and a friend—but I didn’t feel like those defined me quite so much. And somehow, after my son was born, all of that got sucked up into one nebulous cloud: mother.

Suddenly, everything about who I was came second to my son, and while I knew he needed me above all, it was hard to balance the overwhelming weight of that one identity against all the others. Plus, he was a tough crowd. He didn’t laugh at my jokes. He didn’t appreciate my cooking. He didn’t like long lie-ins or being put down while I worked or wrote. (Fortunately, he did seem ok with the singing, though I’ve changed my repertoire a bit: I haven’t yet found a choir where they sing the Fireman Sam theme tune on repeat for hours on end, though when I do, I’ll ace the audition). I loved my son so overwhelmingly that it felt like a tidal wave, sweeping away my old life and carrying me somewhere new. It was both exhilarating and terrifying to wash up on the shores of Mumland. But once I got settled there, set up camp and got the lay of the land, it was hard to feel like myself when I found I couldn’t do most of the things that made me feel like me.

I think it was the smallness of the world that got to me. I went into work one day when I was on maternity leave and had lunch with some colleagues. As my son played on the grass outside, one of them asked me: “Are you going to come back to work here, or are you going to be just a mum?” Just a mum?! Just?! What a way to talk about something that was consuming me. I don’t remember what I answered, but I remember what I felt: horror at the idea of being just anything, least of all a mum.

Fortunately, this was temporary. I found some other inhabitants of Mumland who supported me and gave me hope that it would get better. As my son has grown, I’ve managed to find small corners of my life where I can be myself again. I’m still me in my head, just in shorter, more concentrated bursts. And I’ve developed a few other identities to supplement the others, though I’m not a fan of all of them. (My least favourite of these has been “mum who escorted her child from softplay in front of rapt onlookers after he wouldn’t stop shoving the other kids and she had to make good on her threat.” I’m hoping that one’s going to be short-lived.) I still have periods when I feel frustrated at not being able to do everything I could do before I had a baby, and I’m sure there are many more to come, but for now, I take solace in those corners; not as many as I would like, but more than I had, and increasing in size all the time.

Whoever you are, or even if you’re not sure any more, you’re welcome at The Motherkind Café. Come and see us at our circle session this Friday to talk about identity, or come on any other Friday and we’ll listen to whatever you have to say.

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