About six weeks after I gave birth to my son, I looked at my naked body in the mirror properly for the first time.
I had avoided mirrors until that point, knowing I wouldn’t like what I saw, but I had hoped that after over a month postpartum, I would start to feel more like myself. Yet, when I looked in the mirror, I saw a body that didn’t look like my own, and it still doesn’t. Maybe it never will.
The curve of my hips seem wider now, and my excess pregnancy weight still clings to them greedily, stubbornly taking up space that never used to exist.
Although my stomach has shrunk in size, my stretched skin creates a pool of wrinkles around my belly button when I squeeze it together, and the endless cycle of suckling and pumping has already taken a toll on my breasts.
It’s a confronting visual for any new mum, and it is a physical representation of a shift in identity that you may not have thought to prepare yourself for.
Becoming a mother for the first time pulls you into a suspended reality; existing somewhere between knowing that you are no longer who you used to be, and yet not quite sure of who you are now.
You become trapped between the round-the-clock feeds and nappy changes, the middle of the night wake ups and hours of rocking, shushing, and comfort patting in the hopes of just one more hour of sleep please before we do this all again tomorrow.
Lost somewhere in the sleep routines, the age-appropriate awake windows, the developmental activities, and the endless coming and going of appointments and visitors.
Buried underneath a pile of washing, stuck in a pair of sweatpants covered in drool and spit-up, or forgotten like the last time you washed your hair or drank a cup of tea that wasn’t an hour old.
It can begin to feel as though the woman you once were no longer exists at all; that now you must exist solely as Mum. But it shouldn’t have to be this way.
We are marginalised by a society that preaches that the child is the important one. All you are now is the mother, and to want anything more is selfish. To want anything more means you don’t love your children enough. By why must my love for my son be measured by how much of myself I’m willing to sacrifice?
We are conditioned to believe that we must forgo our own happiness for the sake of our child’s happiness. That their happiness is our happiness. That all that matters is what is best for them. But why must becoming a mother diminish my presence instead of enhancing it?
They tell us “you will get your time back when your children grow up and leave home”, but why must I wait patiently at the back of the queue for 18 years before I can reclaim my identity or collect any time for myself?
We are taught “you can’t pour from an empty cup” and yet the “self-care” that mothers sparingly allow themselves is empty. We feel as though we need to be at breaking point before we permit ourselves a time out, and then only recharge enough to keep taking care of our children, instead of genuinely giving our bodies and minds what they need.
Why can’t I enjoy a night out with friends without people wondering why I’m not at home with my baby?
Why can’t I return to work simply because I want to, instead of justifying myself with financial motives?
Why can’t I want more from life than motherhood alone? Why can’t it form part of my identity instead of defining me?
Of course, I want to do what’s best for my son. But isn’t it possible that what is best for my son is a mother who is recharged, energetic, present and patient, because she allows herself the time needed to make it so?
Isn’t it possible that what is best for my son is having a mother who shows him the benefits of personal development, the importance of self-care, and how you can achieve almost anything if you work hard enough?
You can be a good mother and still pursue the things you are passionate about. You can make sure your children’s needs are being met and still work on your career. You can take care of your family while making sure you also take care of yourself.
I know how easy it is to feel lost in the chaos of becoming a mum; to look in the mirror and not recognise the woman you see.
She still exists though, that woman I used to be who now feels so far away, so I’m making it my goal to build a life that allows me to be the mother I want to be for my son and the woman I want to be for myself.
I’m giving myself permission to hold space just for me, because I am not just a mum, and neither are you.