Finding Myself in Motherhood

Close frame of Lizzy holding a sleeping baby Ben close to her chest. He is wearing a grey sleepsuit and is a few weeks old

His hair is always tousled after a nap. Little sweaty ringlets curling at the nape of his neck, cheeks flushed and warm. He nuzzles into my neck and grips on to me as tightly as he can, grumbling happily as he shakes off the drowsiness. Every emotion is a whole body experience. He vibrates with joy and excitement, and his anger crashes through his knees like a wave. Now the message from his fierce arms, stretched as wide as thiiis much, is clear. I missed you Mummy, I’m glad you’re here. I love you Mummy.

I love you my little one. Although when Rosemary, our midwife and champion, laid you on my chest for the first time, I didn’t feel it. I’m sorry my dear, but after thirty three hours all I felt was relief. And hunger. And a very real desire to never see Lucozade ever again. 

No, my love came stealthily in the lull of our first night. Enveloped in the thrum of the hospital, as I held your tiny soul against mine, and the only songs I could think of to soothe you were anthems from the classic dad-rock radio station that I love. I mumbled to you of a barefoot girl sitting on the hood of a Dodge, how we may lose and we may win, and another lonely evening in another lonely town, until we both slept. And I realised that I had sworn to hold you this way for the rest of my life.

I think every woman is warned about “losing her identity” in motherhood. That months away from work, the exhaustion from sleepless nights, and the pressure of keeping a tiny human alive will bury our identities deep beneath a growing pile of laundry and soiled nappies. So I braced myself for the impact, the chaos and the fallout.

What came was far more subtle, far less explosive. Quietly, almost peacefully, I felt myself dissolving into a soft grey fog. Exhaustion does that to the brain. Old worries, past joys, frivolous passions all lost to a swirl in the mist. And there at the centre was you, little gubbins, waving your pudgy little legs in the air. You became the sole colour in my desaturated world, and I felt as though everything that was me had slipped away into the surrounding greyness.

Did you know what was really happening to me, my littlest? I sometimes wonder. My identity didn’t vanish into the fog, subsumed by my new role as your mother. I was beginning to forge a new one. I didn’t get lost in the emotional effort of becoming your mother; instead I was forced to become better acquainted with who I really was. The identity I thought I had “lost” was thirty one years of assumptions and affectations, sloughed off like a snakeskin revealing a raw new surface beneath.

That was not a comfortable process. There is always one Duplo brick left out when the toys are tidied away, tucked under the edge of the rug to catch out the unwary foot. Unforgiving edges embedding sharply into my toes. And into my conscience. Was I as open and accepting as I wanted you to be? As kind? Was I showing you through every deed and action that true love is unconditional? With each question comes the stab of conscience, the sharp intake of breath. I wondered if I was a “good” enough person for you, and a lot of my answers came up short. I had, and still have, a lot of tidying up to do.

Our bodies and our minds are made anew by parenthood. I know this because a study published in 2016 showed that pregnancy and childbirth fundamentally alter the size and structure of the brain. (Your mother will always be a scientist little one, and a pedant for Facts). You, my little scrap with your tiny fierce arms and ungovernable emotions, showed me how to celebrate those changes and allow myself to be transformed. You, tiny primate, who could barely unclench your fingers from my hair.

So right now my love I hold you back, as fiercely as you hold me, letting your damp curls tickle the tip of my nose and breathing in your musty, milky babyness. These moments are fleeting and precious, and tomorrow I will be holding my grown up son as you celebrate your first job or your first love. I’m ready to be there for everything that you are, and everything you will become.

Because of you I like myself far better than I ever have done before.

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Image of Lizzy and baby with text overlay saying Finding Myself in Motherhood, Or how becoming a parent made me face up to who I really am

This post has existed in different pieces in different locations for several months now, just waiting for a little impetus to bring them all together. I finally wrote it out in this form as part of an assignment for Huma Qureshi’s amazing course, The Quiet Words, which explores the art of writing creatively. I am extremely grateful to Huma for her guidance throughout the course, and for helping me make sense of this piece of writing. She is an incredibly talented writer and has really helped me to think differently about my work.

You can find out more about Huma and her work on her website Our Story Time, or on Instagram @ourstorytime.

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