One of the earliest memories I have of the week we brought our new baby daughter home from hospital is of me sitting in a heap on the floor, sobbing to my husband, and telling him I just wanted to run away to the top of Scotland.
It was the furthest place I could think of to get away from this new, huge responsibility. But it wasn’t really about the responsibility as such, it was about a sense that I had lost my identity as a person in my own right and was now only to be identified as a mother.
That feeling lifted of course, with time and the help of some anti-depressants, but I have never stopped thinking about my new self, and even more so since the birth of my son six months ago. Thinking about who I am, who I want to be, and perhaps even who I’m supposed to be. We hear so much about ‘yummy mummies’, ‘full time mummies’, but we rarely hear about the women underneath. We don’t cease to become ourselves because we have had children.
People expect us to put on motherhood like a new coat; to shed our old coat and to embrace a new identity defined solely by having a child. But whatever age we are when we have our children, it doesn’t take away the years that have gone before. Years when we have built up our independent lives with careers, social lives and hobbies. It isn’t surprising then that many of us find it difficult to adapt to a new life with a small person in tow.
On a family holiday in Whitby last year, I was strong armed into seeing a fortune teller by my sister. The fortune teller looked the part; scarf in her hair, cigarette in her hand, sitting in a tiny cabin. Most of what she said was lucky guesswork. But then she told me to stop living in the past, and whilst not wanting to admit it, she had a point.
I do often dream of the hedonistic days of my youth, usually when I’m knee deep in sick or poo, or I’m sitting down to my evening only at 10pm. I think about who I was as a teenager, who I was as a young woman at university, and I miss it greatly. But then I think, would I really want to go back to all that angst now? Those late teens/early twenties years are so much fun but so confusing too and even as I graduated I hadn’t the first clue what should come next. I’m not sure if anybody does at that age.
So now I need to settle into my new self, but without being defined solely as a mother. My new self is an older self, more mature maybe, more assured possibly. Not that person who lived for Friday night dancing and chasing the next good looking guy.
I remember when I was little, reading an interview by the British actress Michelle Collins. She said she was now comfortable in her own skin at 30 years old. I thought to myself at the time, that’s my goal; when I’m 30 I will be comfortable in my own skin, too.
Well, I’m 33 and whilst I can’t yet say I’m completely comfortable in my own skin, I’m on my way to somewhere near there I think, and that is a lot closer to home than the top of Scotland, though I would like to go there one day – with the kids.