The Hardest Part About Becoming a Mother

The hardest part about becoming a mother was closing the door on my former self.

As we face some of the toughest parenting times we have ever faced, it’s important to remember that motherhood has many facets. It’s beautiful, yes. But hard.

Mamas, we love motherhood. It fulfills us in a way that we never really thought something could, and is a gift like no other. It’s a privilege and honor, and we know those facts intimately.

But wow.! Especially in light of world pandemics and parenting situations this world has never seen, being a mother means so many things. Today, it means being all things mother we expected: nurturer, caregiver, fixer-of-all things.

But some things even mothers can’t fix, and dealing with anxiety and concerns about issues in a world that are so far even our own heads is hard.

Too often we don’t allow ourselves to recognize the hard that is becoming a mother because we sound ungrateful if we do. If we are honest about the loss of independence, opportunities and self, some may think we’re complaining about the gift we know mothering is. All of us know (or were/are) a woman who can’t have children, even though she desperately wants to. All of us know (or are) a mother who had to say goodbye to her child far, far too soon. None of us wants to sound like becoming a mother was way more than we anticipated because we don’t want to take that privilege for granted.

We’re here to be honest, though. Every woman’s path is different, and every cross or burden she bears is one whose weight is unique to her. If we’re not honest about the hard part of becoming a mother, or hard parts…then we can’t fully be the humans and mothers we want to be.

That’s why we wanted to share this past piece that was so popular in our Mothering forums. It’s honest and raw, and in sharing it, we hope you know that we’re in this together and can support each other through anything. Including losing who we were and becoming who we are.

The hardest part about becoming a mother was closing the door on my former self, and I was not prepared for it.

I was (sort of) prepared for the sleepless nights, for the tensions on my relationship, for the breastfeeding challenges, and even for the postpartum body self-image issues.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the truth that once I became a mother, I would never not be a mother again.

I completely get the absurdity of that statement. It seems as simplistic as saying that wet is not dry or that black is not white. Those are opposites, though, and I didn’t think of pre-motherhood and motherhood as opposites. In a way, I didn’t realize that there even was a difference. I assumed I would be exactly the same person, but with a new thing that I did, with a cute, new person in my life.

But, it wasn’t that way at all. I became a variant of me, a me from an alternate universe. Yes to all of those amazing and wonderful things that becoming a mother does to a woman, but this isn’t about those changes (and isn’t it so funny that I feel obligated to explain myself). This is about the me that I lost, the me that I mourned, and still think about to this day.

It hit me when my first baby was a couple months old. I was tired, disheveled, wearing wrinkled maternity clothes, covered in spit-up and/or baby poop, and feeling a little isolated after being mostly alone with my baby, in my home, in the dark dead of winter.

Related: Ask the Expert: Why is Self-Care So Important for Mom’s Mental Health?

One day, my partner at the time called to tell me that some of his colleagues were going out for drinks and he’d like to join them, you know, for team building purposes. I, of course, was on duty as a mother, a small pink creature tethered to me who was vulnerable to my whims and at my mercy.

In that moment after hanging up the phone, I realized definitively that I was no longer who I once was. I still viscerally remember the feeling, that instant, the dawning of realization that I had never said goodbye to who I was before opening myself up to this new person, this new me, the one who couldn’t understand what it was to not be a mother.

I had skipped happily and excitedly away from that former me towards motherhood. I’d left her behind me without so much as a wave, the person who had a certain lightness and hope, who had spontaneous nights out, and cashed in Groupons for yoga classes and fancy restaurants right away. The person who went to get haircuts, stayed joyfully on top of fashion trends, read books, and thought a night in was a waste. I loved her and her energy and optimism and youth, and her silly 20-something adventures and (mostly) mildly regrettable mistakes.

And now she was gone and I’d never said goodbye or told her I’d never forget her, that I was grateful for the lessons she’d taught me, that she would always be a part of me, somehow, even if there was no more space in my life for her.

I work with pregnant women and their partners. It is beautiful, life-affirming work. The hope, promise, joy, and love of a family-to-be is intoxicating, the anticipation is invigorating. Towards the end of each prenatal class I teach, after all the joking and laughing about the craziness of new parenthood, I get a bit serious and ask everyone to do themselves the biggest favor they will ever do for just themselves, something I wish someone had told me to do. “Say goodbye to yourself,” I ask them. “Do it. Do it with reverence, with love, with peace. You will never again be the person you are now.”

I tell them that I don’t mean this in a negative or somber way, but in a way that honors the path that has brought them to this moment. I ask them to do something to mark the end of this chapter, to thank this period of their life for all that it has been to them and taught them. For some people, this might be something ceremonial, maybe going through old photos and packing them away. For others, it might be going out for a meal with their partner or friends and toasting the end of a beautiful era and the ushering in of a new one.

Whatever feels right, I urge them, find a way to make peace with crossing this latest threshold.

I look at them, the groups of women and men, pregnant bellies and well-rested faces, and I can tell that they get it, that this beautiful chapter of their lives is ending. It’s okay, because there are many others to come, but this one is ending and they need to turn the page themselves, decisively and consciously, because there’s no going backwards. It’s bittersweet, and I often get a little emotional during this portion of the class, and I can see in their faces that this is a new thought for them, one that is taking them by surprise.

Related: Goodbye 1st Chapter of Motherhood: A Letter to My Kindergartener

Now that my children are 12 and 9-years-old and much more independent I have regained some of the space to do things that are just about me. However, it doesn’t mean I am turning back into the woman I was before. I still have these two hearts and souls tethered to me at all times, filling space, defining how I look at the world and how I act.

I love the woman I am now and this chapter I am in, but I will always miss the woman I once was, in the way you miss a sweet, loyal friend who you’ll never see again, and I wish I’d said ‘goodbye.’

Motherhood is beautiful and amazing and hard and work all at the same time. And, we want you to know that mourning the woman you may have been before you became a mother is natural. It doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate your motherhood card, or that you don’t appreciate the opportunities that you now have to be a new person in new skin too.

It just means you’re human, mama, and we’re all in with you in that.


Photo: captblack76/Shutterstock

17 thoughts on “The Hardest Part About Becoming a Mother”

    1. Thanks for your comment, Erin! I’ll do my best and will add ‘not as flaky as me’ to the list along with other character traits such as ‘kind,’ ‘polite,’ and ‘thoughtful.’ Thanks for the suggestion!

      1. Kama,

        I liked your post. It offered me some true fodder for thought, and I agree, I miss my old self too -even having made plenty of mistakes. I am still making them now! My favorite line from your post was,

        “Now that my children are 12 and 9-years-old and much more independent I have regained some of the space to do things that are just about me. However, it doesn’t mean I am turning back into the woman I was before. I still have these two hearts and souls tethered to me at all times, filling space, defining how I look at the world and how I act.”

        Beautifully and well-written.

        1. Thank you for your comment and thoughts, Jessika. I’m glad my piece resonated with you. Coincidentally, you posted your comment on my daughter’s 12th birthday – or the 12th anniversary of my becoming a mother. 🙂

  1. I wish someone would have told me to say goodbye to my past self! And I look forward to the day when babies are all grown and I get to “rekindle the flame” of friendship between my new self and past self. 💕 Thank you for this!

    1. Thank you for your comment, Gill. Yes, I often wished the same thing, that someone had told me. It’s why I try to tell every pregnant client and person I know. 🙂

  2. I couldn’t agree more. This realization smacked me in the face after my babe was born and I had to spend some time reconciling my new “identity” and the fact that the old me, in many ways, was gone.

  3. My children are 20 and 17, and I honestly feel like I couldn’t identify with this more…even as my spouse and I prepare to take the steps into the next transition. I remember the girl/woman I was before I became a mother, I loved her. For almost 21 years now I’ve been SJO’s and JKO’s mother. It’s been so much of my identity, and now, even though I’m still their mother, it’s not my “social” identity. I’ve loved it. I wonder what’s next. Thank you so much.

  4. I’m pregnant with my first child and this honestly made me more terrified and upset than anything. I’m guessing it’s just because I don’t fully comprehend the change you’re speaking of, or how it will feel.

    The idea of completely losing myself is depressing, though, to say the very least…

    1. Don’t be afraid! I totally resonate with the author, but your “new” self will be a better version of your “old” self. I find that being a mother now has made me more compassionate, understanding, more outspoken (something I wasn’t before), you’ll become more confident and appreciative of the amazing things your body can do. I appreciate moments of “me” time even more, time with my husband and family are even more precious. It’s a different you, but a better you!

  5. Thanks for writing this! I’m also a writer and yoga teacher with kids 11 and 8. It is true that as a new mother you are never fully prepared for how much your life will change. I thought becoming a mother would be about adding a wonderful new aspect to my life. But of course, to add a baby that you will change and love and take on walks and nurse almost constantly for years and then slowly usher into preschool and junior school, there are many things that have to be relinquished. I love your idea of having a personal ritual to honour this change. But in some ways, we can never fully comprehend it until we’re in it.

    I used to browse used bookstores, go to art films and keep a journal. So, one of the first things I tried to re-integrate when my kids were in preschool and I had a few hours to myself was to walk to the local used bookstore just savour the experience of looking through the titles. If I could give any tidbit to a new mom it would be to resist the urge to grocery shop or do something practical when you have a sitter or the kids are in a program. Do little things and have little moments to yourself on a regular basis. And these moments can string together and form a thread of selfhood for you that connects you to your adult interests and self outside of motherhood.

    Of course, you’re never ‘not a mother’ again and I think this is such a profound statement. Mothers wear their hearts on their sleeves. We put a part of ourselves out there in the universe and that is powerful, beautiful and terrifying. And much of our interests, friends and events in our lives will revolve around the children and other families in the community in ways they didn’t before. There’s incredible richness but also the loss of this spontaneous independence. I’m grateful for this article as it helps to share this experience with other mothers. I wish as a new mother I had been able to share this feeling with other moms.

  6. The last comment made by Jessica was on point! Articulated it exactly as it is.
    Thank you for sharing your pov.

    As for the first post from Erin White…I think YOU need to give yourself a shake, mate. Not cool.

    Keep on the great mothering blog! 😉

  7. I appreciated this article and the topic. I think many many mothers feel this, but can’t isolate and articulate it. In many cases, women feel somewhat blindsided by motherhood, but are ashamed to put voice to it. Motherhood is very often romanticized, and when moms don’t feel this supposed bliss, there is incredible guilt, which is often kept quiet, lest it be interpreted in ways we are all familiar with. This magazine is not completely innocent in this respect. But the main reason that I am commenting is that I believe this topic deserves further discussion, as I suspect it may be behind at least some of the intense depression that some mothers experience, and, at it’s worst, behind some of the neglect and possible abuse, that we hear about at the hands of mothers. Resentment, not toward the child, but toward the reality of motherhood, and how it changed their lives forever, and nobody prepared them.

  8. Thank you so much for writing this article. I’m in my late 30s and am midway through my first pregnancy. The reality that I’m not my free, independent self hit me about a month or so ago, when my partner and I decided to sell my “single” car in preparation for a family SUV. I’m so very excited and so very scared/nervous/petrified of all that “forever mom” means. The love I felt for my bundle of joy when I first discovered I was pregnant was overwhelming and I can’t even fathom the love I’ll have once I can hold her in my arms and raise her. I know it will be incredible.

    Yet and still, I sit here with tears in my eyes as I know each passing day brings me closer to my beautiful new baby and one day farther away from the free-spirited, independent woman I once was. I loved that woman with every fiber in my soul. I thought we’d grow old together (until love found me and changed my plans). That incredible woman and I… We grew up together. Made silly, cringe-worthy mistakes. Took glorious trips and adventures. We lost ourselves and found ourselves. She was my favorite person, and I didn’t fully comprehend that I would have to bury her or say goodbye. She was so cool.

    This is a sobering yet necessary thought and conscious transition, and I thank you for writing this article as it gives voice to the nagging feeling that was building inside me as time continues to pass.

    I look forward to the new evolution, the new her that’s being birthed right along side my beautiful baby girl. I’m sure they’ll be the best of friends. 🙂

  9. To anyone who is pregnant and is having trouble anticipating this realization of “the truth that once I became a mother, I would never not be a mother again.”, do yourself a HUGE favor and find a Birthing From Within class near you, and grab the book Ancient Map for Modern Birth. As far as I am aware of Birthing From Within is the ONLY childbirth preparation out there that integrates the internal, personal journey into motherhood as a vital part of the class curriculum.

    And if you have already given birth and are still struggling, BFW’s Birth Story Listening may be right for you.

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