Motherhood brings with it a new identity. Any woman who has been a part of this transitional period can understand the vast physical, emotional and mental changes that are experienced from conception, throughout pregnancy and in the months, and sometimes years, after giving birth.
Dr. Irena Milentijevic, a psychologist from Texas describes this process as follows: “The formation of the maternal identity might be one of the most fundamental transformations a woman ever goes through. The most significant aspect is the development of a “motherhood state of mind.” This new state of mind will determine a woman’s thoughts, priorities, frame of vision. It also affects a woman’s sensitivities and what excites or frightens her regarding her baby. This new identity will realign a mother’s values and, organize her mental life.”
Milentijevic goes on to say that women will become preoccupied with their baby and his/her needs, with your own mental and often physical state being placed in the background for a while. This “primary maternal preoccupation”, also known as the “motherhood state of mind” will last throughout your life, but it will not always occupy centre stage. It will be ready to emerge years later, when your teenager is sick, in trouble, or in danger.
When we feel ready to get back to something that resembled more of how we were before we entered motherhood, there can be many internal conflicts that are experienced, and some women can experience an identity crisis. This can often occur when our baby’s demands become less frequent, or when we are preparing for a significant change, such as going back to work. These anxieties can play out in a mother’s mind for ages, and many women struggle to make sense of these thoughts or rationalise them, so they can feel more at ease.
Julie Zhuo is a mother and facebook blogger who described some of the thoughts that ran through her mind during her “motherhood identity crisis”
• Why am I even so stressed about going back to work? Do I think work is more important than my baby? My head should be filled with thoughts about my baby. I must be a bad mother.
• Something’s wrong with my brain. I’m positive I’m thinking slower than I used to. Oh my god, my brain must be deteriorating. I’m becoming stupider.
• What if I’m just a shell of my former self? What if it never gets better? What am I going to do with the rest of my life?
• Why is every thought I have so self-centred? They’re all about me, me, me. Why can’t I think about anything else? I’m a bad mother.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the emotional rollercoaster between your former self, your new motherhood role, and how you can successfully feel like you know who you truly are.
I have blogged about how totally overwhelmed I felt during my transformation from non-parent to mother. Once I had accepted that I could be both a mother and the person I was before that, it was much easier to make decisions without guilt or anxiety.
Something I had loved before having children, and what kept me feeling emotionally balanced and physically strong is exercise. I used to work out regularly before I was a mother, but now I have tailored my fitness regime to one more of wellness. What matters now, is how I nourish my body with food, and self-care practices such as relaxation, detoxifying essential oil salt baths, stretching and movement. These are more of a priority these days.
Exercising in a different way to how I worked out before certainly helped me to get back my core. I remember my husband asking me to carry a metal work bench across the garden when my daughter was 3 months old. My core was so weak, it could barely lift it. I was frustrated as I knew that I would have been capable before being pregnant. That experience helped me to focus on regaining my core integrity. I worked through a sequence of controlled movements and releases for my body that were restricting me from using my core properly.
I also feel so much bubblier and like the real me when I have done some exercise. I feel certain that my approaches to my postnatal recovery helped me to steer clear of postpartum depression and feel more positive about my motherhood role.
Using my personal experience, plus the knowledge I had gained about postpartum recovery through study and working with this client group for the past 9 years, I created a programme for women, to recover their body and mind safely after childbirth. I wanted to be on the journey with the women, to offer a whole life approach to what it takes to feel and be healed and healthy as a new mum. I know that every mum has a slightly different objective to their restoration after birthing, and saw this as an opportunity to include all the elements that women wanted to succeed. This included, safe recovery of the core, realigning the body, improving mindset, metabolism and nutritional intake, and ability to feel good about herself.
A study in The Journal of Women’s Mental Health (July 2017) showed that changes in postnatal depression and weight loss were more likely to be associated with supervision (1-1/ group), structure (weekly frequency, scheduled durations and moderate intensity), which adhered to specific exercise/PA guidelines over an extended postpartum period (12 weeks +).
A further 12 studies in the Birth Journal (Sept 2017)) sited that physical exercise is a key safe strategy to achieve better psychological wellbeing.
A study in the Physiotherapy Journal (2012) concluded that a thoroughly designed functional rehabilitation program is beneficial in the recovery of pelvic girdle pain and other pregnancy related symptoms.
There is an abundance of evidence that demonstrates just why women should focus on their postpartum recovery using a organised approach to ensure positive outcomes. There are no short cuts to this, women need to do things right if they want the results they hope for.
The postnatal course I have designed to Get Your Body Back After Baby does all of this and more. You have a specialist coach to keep you motivated. A weekly class to attend to ensure you are doing things right, but also a back up online video demo of the exercises if you can’t make the class. You have a nutrition guide to help make some positive changes to the way you nourish your body. Your exercises are progressive, so that you can build up your foundations and know that you are engaging your core and pelvic floor, before you take on more challenging movements.
Self-care is paramount to the course. I often find that women need or often seek permission to have time for themselves. It’s an essential part of your recovery! No excuses needed to have a massage or pedicure even if it means you take the time to do it for yourself. The course lasts for 12 weeks which gives you the time and head space to dedicate to yourself. You also build up a community of other like-minded mamas, who can also help to motivate, inspire and support you.
I feel more in control of my health and fitness by focusing on more than just the exercise part of self-care. I can’t always fit in an hour’s fitness class, but I know I can still do the stretches I need to release my hips, or foam roll the tight spots in my back. If I feel too tired to exercise, I know I can still go to bed early to improve my hormone levels, and my body will function better the next day.
This mental shift has allowed me to continue with the practice of looking after my wellness, without compromise to myself or my time with my children. I even find that blending the two can be really satisfying. Going out for purposeful walks with the children in the countryside elevate my mood and improve my wellbeing.
So, what I am saying is, that with the right focus, guidance and commitment, you can have your cake and eat it (metaphorically speaking 😉). You can be a mama and be you. Reclaim your identity. I am here to help you with your post-partum recovery. Find out more about the Get My Body Back After Baby course. I am looking forward to meeting you. Nina