It’s 10am. I double check the time in the hope I am mistaken, but the clock hands stubbornly refuse to budge.
The day stretches out in front of us, my little boy and me. My partner isn’t due home for hours and I can feel the panic rise in the back of my throat.
As I attend to my teething four-month-old baby, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and wonder – who on Earth am I?
Only a few short months ago I was a busy journalist. I always had somewhere to be. Then my much-wanted son came along. He’s glorious. He’s funny and inquisitive and now we’re getting a bit more sleep, motherhood feels like slipping into an unfamiliar yet lovely dress.
There are moments, however, when I don’t quite recognise the reflection. The tough days are normal of course, and fellow parents are far more open about the difficulties. But no-one truly talks about the loneliness, the days when the dress feels too tight and uncomfortable.
I can sit in a crowded room and feel utterly adrift as we talk about baby development and sleep patterns. Truthfully, there are moments when I’m not quite sure who I am anymore. I think deep down, many mums feel at a similar loss.
Only no one wants to admit it for fear of judgement.
My son was very poorly at birth so I’ve felt even more guilty for missing my former self. It’s a strange type of grief, a constant contradiction. My son’s eyes follow me around the room, it is me he seeks out. My love for him is fierce and has made me realise my capabilities as a mother. But by the glow of street lights at night, it seems we are the only two people in the world awake.
I’ve never wanted to mourn my former self out loud for fear of appearing ungrateful or ill-equipped to deal with the demands of parenthood. As an increasing number of mums climb the career ladder before having children, I think it’s incredibly common to feel such a drastic shift.
For me at least, the loss of identity started during pregnancy. Many women find that their bump becomes public property. Size, shape, everyone has an opinion. Towards the end it felt like my bump was all people saw or asked me about. By the final trimester, I found pregnancy all consuming, both mentally and physically.
Then my little boy arrived and I naively thought the transformation was complete. I was a mum. Sore from birth and overwhelmed by well-meaning visitors, I expected little to change. Yes, I was sleep deprived, but I was still the same person. So determined to prove to myself that I could return to my old life with ease, I went shopping without my son when he was five days old. I lasted for 20 minutes before rushing back to the house, a sobbing wreck. In hindsight, I should have given myself time. Time to hold my son in my pyjamas and ignore the world, if only for a little while.
The Duchess of Cambridge received a backlash when appearing her normal glamorous groomed self just hours after birth. But she didn’t really have a choice. There is huge pressure for mother’s to “ping back” and resume their old lives, baby in tow.
As the weeks passed and I grew more confident in my parenting ability, I still felt uneasy at the thought of being labelled a mum. Yummy mummy, slummy mummy, Earth mother. The labels are endless. I put massive pressure on myself to get socialising again, stemming from the fear I might somehow get left behind.
In the newborn days, many mums are inundated with visitors. For some, this is welcome. But I would argue that it is later on when you need visitors the most.
I know exactly what time the bin men come and the same goes for the postman.
I fear I may transform into Isa from Still Game, brimming with knowledge of the comings and goings of the street.
It is now that I need visitors to offer to pop by and fill me in on their lives, but it would seem teething babies aren’t as enticing as sleepy newborns.
Gradually, I have come to realise that there is room for the old me alongside the different person I have become.
A fellow mum friend put it perfectly when we met for coffee. Her lips were a wonderful vibrant shade of red. “I used to wear red lipstick all the time before I had my daughter,” she said.
There was a silence before we busied ourselves but I understood perfectly. In that one hastily applied smudge of lipstick, she was herself again.
Motherhood is often painted as natural. Us mums are superheroes who go to bed last, get up first and have no needs of our own. Except actually, we do.
We cannot leave our old selves behind without a backward glance and who we once were doesn’t disappear. The relics remain, a bright lipstick or grabbable hoop earrings. It has been vital for me to hang on to fragments from my old life.
I can never leave the house for an evening out without my mind focusing on my son, for the moment when I return after a few short hours and listen to his steady breathing.
I hope that with each passing milestone my reflection will become a little clearer, unflinching.
In my son’s eyes at least, I am already complete.