Prior to my pregnancy, the definition of who I was relied primarily on what I do for a living. my work ethic, and what things I could do because of my job. If you asked me who I was, one of the first things I’d say is what I do, or alternatively, I’d state that I was a workaholic. Work defined me completely. I was career focused, with some other interests sprinkled aside.
When I became pregnant, I immediately heard how life was going to change – jokes about endless diapers, no more free time, living frugally, sleepless nights; things that were expected. At no point did anyone mention the difficulty I would have in my relationship with work.
Right before I left for maternity leave, I started to panic. Who would take care of things? What will the company do if they needed something and I wasn’t there? If I’m not at work – who am I? What am I? Then, just as soon as those thoughts came, I was sent to the hospital and induced. Suddenly, my life changed before I had anymore time to consider it.
Aside from my birth and recovery experience, the first few weeks were hard. It was similar to when you initially go on vacation – you don’t want to check the emails or take the calls, but you do anyway. When people chastise you and tell you to enjoy your time off, you scoff and secretly check things the first few days anyway. It was the same for me, until I became just too engrossed and tied in my postpartum experience. I stopped checking things about after a month of being off. Even then, I didn’t have an identity, because Postpartum Depression and Anxiety led me to believe that I wasn’t a great mom.
Coming back to work initiated some other fears. I had heard of changes in the office, and they would affect my department. Two weeks before my return, I was feeling alright with coming back, but still wary. When the time came to go to work, it proved to be challenging.
I had come back to a completely different environment, with many changes. I had (and still am) a really hard time coping. While nothing done was personal, I felt like it was. PPD / PPA made me vulnerable, so I felt like an outsider. When people would ask how it feels coming back, I would smile meekly and say, “It feels like a foreign land. I’m a foreigner out here”.
Truly, it was. Aside from the all the changes, my schedule was constantly being broken up by the demands of being a nursing mother. I couldn’t work or focus anything for more than a few hours at a time, because I had to take a break. I had to constantly move my personal break time around to ensure that I was still available for projects and meetings. I don’t ever feel like I get anything done. I feel like I haven’t made any major achievements since I’ve been back. I feel guilty for not staying late like usual because I needed to make it home on time to see my son. Yet, when I do stay late, I feel guilty for not spending as much time at home as I could. I feel irrelevant in the office, and a haphapzard parent, wife and friend.
Many times, I have been overwhelmed. I have been disappointed in myself. I have felt confused about my commitment to both my home and my job. I can’t seem to define who I am anymore, or find that happy balance between motherhood and a career woman. It seems like all those stories about the conflicts of a working mother applied to me completely.
Frankly – I loss my sense of identity. It feels like the old you has really passed away, and now you’re trying to grieve and move on at the same time. It is heartbreaking. I cannot seem to understand from day to day who it is that I want to be or what I want to do. It seems that if I make a choice, it negatively affects the other. I can’t find the harmony of things. It’s painful to feel this helpless and indecisive. It feels like I can’t contribute and I don’t have any achievements to speak of. It’s funny that no one ever really takes about this loss.
As with anything, I suppose the coping and adjustment will take time. I talk about it a lot in therapy nowadays, more so than motherhood concerns. If it took so long to build my own identity – it will take even more time to identify the new one.
Motherhood + Career + Other Variables = ?
In Pt 2 of this series, I’ll discuss changes to my personal life that attributed to this sense of loss.