How to hold on to your sense of ‘self’ as a new mum

by Sarah, at Birth and Beyond, Edinburgh

One of the things that many new mothers find hard is the lack of time for themselves. There is a great part in the movie ‘Date Night’ where Tina Fey talks about how all she wants to do is sit by herself in a darkened room, with a can of diet sprite. Being a mother can feel relentless at times, and if we’re not careful it can easily lead to feelings of resentment: “This isn’t what I signed up for!”

Resentment is really destructive to relationships, as it means that we become less able to keep ‘giving’ to the other person. When you resent your husband, it makes it harder to stay connected and communicate. And when you resent your baby, you can feel guilty for feeling that way, or angry with them for needing you.

However, it can be hard not to feel resentful when you aren’t able to have your needs met the way you used to. If you find it hard to relax or switch off when you can’t do many of the things you used to enjoy, it can really rock your sense of identity.

So how can you make some time to keep in touch with your sense of identity?

1. Rather than feeling bad about what you can’t do now (e.g. Friday night drinks after work) try to figure out what aspects of that activity you really enjoyed (e.g. relaxing on a Friday night, feeling as though it’s different to other evenings)

2. Try to figure out a new activity that might incorporate some of those aspects (your partner cooking a meal for you both, or ordering a takeout, or giving you space to cook yourself on a Friday night)

3. Figure out the steps to make that activity happen (e.g. chat to your partner about what you both need to do, get in some takeout menus, or do an online shop the weekend before)

This is just one example, and there are many more.

But what if I can’t manage to organise something like this?

If this feels too much for you there are also smaller ways you can hang on to your sense of self when the world around you appears to be shifting regularly. One way can be to figure out one non-negotiable and to do it every day. Examples of this include:

– Having a shower every day.

– Going for a 20-minute walk, with or without the baby. Research shows that exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild or moderate depression, as well as all the other health benefits that regular exercise provides.

– Going outside every day, even if that’s just to go to the shops. Getting outside, especially in green spaces, has been proven to have a range of health benefits, including lowering your risk of depression and boosting your immune system.

– Spending 2 minutes just breathing.

– Having a cup of tea to yourself, even if the chores are beckoning.

– Connecting with someone, even if that’s just a 5 minute phone call or a conversation via text or messenger.

Do this one thing every day, whatever else happens, and at least you will know that you are prioritising yourself in that one thing.

If you would like to chat through any of this, I provide counselling and mentoring services to pregnant and new parents. Becoming a parent is a time of massive change and equally big emotions, and everyone can find it useful to talk things through from time to time.

Sarah Wheatley

Birth and Beyond

[email protected]