When motherhood dismantled my self-identity, I knew my lifestyle had to change

When motherhood dismantled my self-identity, I knew my lifestyle had to change

There are some things you just can't prepare for. Childbirth is one. After the birth of her first child, a friend told anyone who'd listen that she'd "just pushed that baby out of her vagina". Not for her an euphemistic "natural birth" – she wanted to emphasise the momentousness of her achievement.

I was unprepared for the way motherhood would dismantle my sense of self. Pregnancy should have given me some warning, with its slow leaking away of treasured things: comfort, independence, control of my body … I expected things would soon return to normal, only normal plus baby.

‘Everywhere I looked I saw women struggling to fit into identities made foreign by motherhood.’Credit:Getty Images

The timing wasn't perfect for this to be an easy transition. I found out I was pregnant the day my husband and I landed in Sydney after a year of travelling around the world. I was untethered: without a house, a job and nearby family or friends.

"I'll freelance," I thought. "That way I can ramp things up when I have more time." I imagined writing articles about my interests – travel, outdoor adventures, sustainability – in a sunny backyard, my happy baby chortling on the picnic rug.

This did not happen. I had a baby who didn't sleep, was never happy, and pretty much sapped my will to live, or at least my energy to do it. I didn't have time to shower, let alone bushwalk or travel, be interesting or interested. My world had narrowed, and it was claustrophobic in there.

My life wasn't terrible: I was okay. I had interesting part-time work, a great husband, supportive friendships. I enjoyed my family. But it just wasn't enough. I was missing me.

It took a couple of years, and a couple of kids, before I realised what was happening. I was in the midst of a mid-wife crisis, and I wasn't alone. Everywhere I looked I saw women struggling to fit into lives and identities made foreign by motherhood. But just because it's common, doesn't make it easy to fix.

Recognising my own dissatisfaction, and realising that it was okay to want more, was the first step. But no one was going to do it for me. It was my life and if I wanted to change it, I'd have to prioritise myself.

I started slowly – a babysitter for a few hours a week so I could write. Next came a weekend away without kids: I surfed and explored, ate and drank, caught up with old friends who didn't know me as a mum.

On the flight home I made a list of what I missed and wanted in my life, and ways I might get them back. It wasn't the easiest thing: wilderness, climbing and walking adventures, travel and boozy nights out aren't easy to fit in. But I compromised: instead of week-long walks I substituted hourlong ocean swims; I changed how and where I went. And I squeezed in a whole host of pocket-sized adventures, as well as the odd bit of travel and weekends in the bush, both with and without the family.

Then, a year before the event, Laura, my twin, suggested we do something big for our 40th birthday. I was back in the newborn bubble and not particularly receptive to the idea. Laura sent me links and photos, one-word emails – "Nepal?" – and six months later we'd paid the deposit for a two-week trek to the Gokyo Lakes.

The trip was amazing – I got space, travel, adventure, fitness and an awesome holiday, all in one hit. Spending time with my sister made me aware of our shared history, backstory and beliefs, as well as how much we had both changed.

It also made me realise what having kids has prepared me for: the realisation that things change, time flies, and it's easy to lose stuff you love under the debris of life. Having to carve out the space and time to work out who I am and who I want to become, what is important and how to include it has made me think about my life as the precious, one-off thing it is.

In the past 10 years I haven't just dealt with popping out three babies. I've also taken on the challenge of crafting my own life into what I want it to be. And there's not much that's more exciting than that.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale July 14.

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