There are countless blogs entitled “How Motherhood Changes You” and they’re a lovely read. They usually have an air of positivity, containing phrases such as “motherhood changes you; for the better”. Which is true… for some people. However this isn’t something you need to read when you’ve just had a baby and all the things you thought you would feel just aren’t there. It also isn’t what you need when you’re exhausted, deflated and deeply mourning the person you once were.
I’m here to tell you honestly, how motherhood changes you and how to handle those changes.
The physical changes
Some women get their body shape back after having a baby but for the majority of us, we change quite drastically and often doubt we will ever look like we used to. Lots of women suffer incontinence, have gained weight, loose skin, stretch marks and scars. Lots of women also really struggle to lose the weight that they gained during pregnancy which can be a difficult thing to walk through.
Often our joints are weaker, especially our pelvis, back and knees. We find exercise more difficult and the image we had in our minds of running about with our child feels like a pipe dream.
So yes, we are different physically and it’s tough. Here’s some suggestions on how we can handle these changes:
- 1Talk about it. Women tend to get straight on with embracing motherhood as best they can but they do not talk about the physical changes. If we don’t talk about it, we can start to feel shame around how we look, move and feel. This stuff needs to be shared, by mothers; by you.
- 2Be gentle and take your time. Your body has just gone through an incredible - and monumental - thing! You should never feel you have to ‘bounce back’; this is literally one of the worst things I hear the media saying about celebrity mums. We should be gentle, respect what our bodies have just gone through and be in no hurry for it to be any different.
- 3Try to be grateful. I talk a lot about gratitude in my online group and it’s so important for our wellbeing. If you’re struggling with your self-image take some time each day to focus on what you’re grateful for. You might not have got the perfect birth you planned but your body did not fail you; you did not fail. You performed a miracle, no matter how your baby got here and that’s something to be grateful for. So take a good look at that tummy, those scars and thank them. Your body is worth being acknowledged and credited for its role, just as you are.
The hormonal changes
If you were pregnant you will be more than familiar with the term (and feelings) of “mum brain”. It’s also referred to as brain fog, pregnancy brain and so on. I’m sure you will also know that it’s a real thing. It’s believed that our cognitive memory is kind of traded in for deeper empathic abilities. Further evidence that our biology - and our bodies - are indeed, miraculous. The downside of this miracle is the guilt that comes from our wanting to focus some of our attention on ourselves, our work, our wellbeing.
Studies have shown that our brains are still the same even two years after the birth of our babies.
It really is no wonder that we feel so different as mothers; because we are different. Think about how difficult it is to hear ‘sad news’ before pregnancy compared with after.
These hormonal and emotional changes can be hard; but here are some things we can do to handle them:
- 1Accept them. It sounds easy but so many women fight against these maternal changes. Some of us had our identity tied up in ‘being strong’ for example and we don’t recognise this new version of ourselves. But avoiding these changes, renders us incapable of being authentic which is such a shame for there is great strength in our willingness to be authentic.
Accept these changes and accept this new slightly different, slightly more emotional you. For although she has changed, she is still strong; in fact some might argue, she’s stronger.
- 2Do not confuse mum guilt for the truth. Our brains change during pregnancy to encourage us to bond and care for our babies. This is important but it does not change the fact that we have individual needs which can and should still be met. I cannot reiterate this enough: our own wellbeing is crucial for our own happiness which in turn has an impact on our child’s happiness. We are wired to love, but let’s not forget to love ourselves, our bodies, our new mother self and our journey as women. You’re worth it.
Motherhood brings many other changes: changes to our values, our friendships and relationships. It changes our work or job sometimes, our order of priorities; it changes our life in ways we never imagined.
But if you could take away just one thing I hope it is this: That this new you is beautiful. She has sacrificed much and continues to do so but she is worthy of time, affection, gentleness and care. You do not need to pour your entire heart and soul into motherhood to be a good mum. Give it what you can when you have taken care of you and your needs. You are important, you are worthy; you are beautiful.