Lost and Found: Identities in Motherhood

Motherhood is a journey unlike any other. It defines and redefines who we are. It pulls at every emotion, every thought and every ounce of our being. It’s filled with love and countless precious moments but it can also be overwhelming, exhausting and, at times, all-consuming. For many moms, the transition into motherhood can feel like losing a part of yourself. I know this feeling all too well.

A Life of Adventure

Before becoming a mother, I was a globetrotter. From a very early age, my parents instilled in me the love of travel, having taken my brother and me across the world from as early as I can remember. At the ripe age of 14, I firmly decided that I was, one day, going to live abroad. There was so much allure around the world beyond the confines of Toronto. I never really felt like I belonged here and that pull to move elsewhere really had a hold on me – heck, it still has a hold on me!

Just days after writing my final university exams, I took the leap that I’d been dreaming of forever. I lived in Italy for a couple of years, and England, and had explored over 40 countries by my mid-twenties. My friends often joked they needed a world map just to keep track of my whereabouts. I thrived on adventure and new cultures, constantly seeking the next destination. My life was a whirlwind of excitement and new experiences, and I embraced every moment with eternal optimism and a perpetual smile.

The Shift into Motherhood

It might be a story for another day but at some point, I bounced back to Toronto and found myself settling here (even though I never actually felt settled, and I still don’t). Fast forward a couple of years and everything changed. I became a mom. It’s no secret that I was never interested in having kids but alas, there I was and here I am. Motherhood stole my shine. I was no longer the carefree traveler, but a caretaker – constantly worried about the well-being of my child. I embraced the role fiercely – in hindsight, maybe a little too fiercely. I don’t know if it was because my first child was stillborn, but I wanted to hold onto my son and stick close to him at all costs. I was really bad at asking for help. I took on every single task. I lost more sleep than I care to remember. I was all in – as any mother should be. But the woman I was once was, was all out. She was drifting so far away and by the time I realized it, the life that I had once known was a distant memory – one that I wondered whether I would ever get back. Spoiler: we can’t travel back in time. Your life will never be the same again. But, it can be even better! Just give it some time.

The feeling of losing oneself to motherhood is not unique to me. The demands of caring for a new life can be so overwhelming that it’s easy to forget who we were before we became mothers. The versions of ourselves that we were so familiar with seem to disappear, only to be replaced with dirty diapers, sleepless nights, stress and insecurity.

Motherhood requires a level of selflessness and dedication that can be both rewarding and draining. The shift in identity is natural and, to some extent, unavoidable. We have the never-ending responsibility of caring for someone else which leaves little time for personal interests. The emotional toll of motherhood, from the highs of love to the lows of worry and fatigue, can be mentally taxing. And, the things we used to love doing often take a backseat.

I’ll be the first to admit that it takes a lot of time to get past the feeling of losing yourself. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes think about how my life took this turn (to be clear – I’m not complaining, just reminiscing).

Loving the New You

Even in motherhood, it’s possible to rediscover who you are and regain your shine. Here are some tips that I really wish someone knocked me over the head with:

  1. Make time for yourself: This one is HUGE. I was so bad at making time for myself and if there is one thing that can help your sanity, it’s this! You’re not being weak by asking for help, and you’re not being selfish for wanting to do something for yourself instead of for your child. Even if it’s 20 minutes per day, use this time to do something you love – reading, exercising, meeting a friend, or simply enjoying a hot cup of coffee in peace.
  2. Reconnect with old passions: Revisit activities that used to bring you joy. Pre-motherhood, I used to love to write, draw, dance and travel. I’ve taken up all these activities again as my kids have gotten older but it would have been really nice to stay connected to these things that I love, even when my kids were younger. Reigniting old passions can help you reconnect with your pre-motherhood self. And if you’re just not feeling your “old” activities, use it as an excuse to learn or try something new!
  3. Build a support network: Connect with other moms who understand what you are going through. This blog post has some great tips on how to meet other moms. And, try to stay connected with people who were in your circle before you had kids. I know this can be a tricky one, and I was guilty of not putting time and effort into my pre-motherhood friendships after I had kids. But, your friends really do want the best for you and they’ll be there when you need them most. Thankfully, I have the best friends and I’m so lucky that our bonds re-grew despite me drowning in laundry for far too many years.
  4. Embrace your new identity: While it’s important to honour our past selves, embracing our new identities is equally as important. There is a lot of joy and pride to be found in your new role as “mom”. It's possible to blend the best parts of who we were with the incredible person we are becoming.

It Gets Easier

If you’re currently in the thick of diapers and sleepless nights, trust me, it does get better! If you’ve made it on the other side, phew!

My kids are now pre-teens and I can safely say that parenting becomes easier and more fulfilling in new ways. Now, we can enjoy similar activities, travel together and share adventures. And, watching them become their own versions of small adults is truly mesmerizing, rather than an exhaustive task. We’re creating new memories together and our versions of ourselves are evolving all the time. When it was once me tending to their every need, our parent-child relationship is now a beautiful journey that we can experience together.