Self-esteem, self-doubt, and identity. You may find yourself mourning the loss of your old self now that you are "just somebody's mother." Questioning who you are or your value as a person is a common concern after the birth of a baby. You may have had a strong identity as a working person and felt confident in that role. Now you may place less emphasis on that part of yourself or have given it up (for a while or indefinitely) in order to devote more of your energy to parenting. You may feel lost without the old you. Many new mothers feel less valuable without outside income and periodic performance reviews. Caring for an infant does little to bolster self-esteem with the long hours, tiring physical labor, and lack of feedback involved. Your baby never looks up and says, "Good job, mom!" It's no wonder you may question the whole process, let alone your importance as a part of it. Our society does not put a high premium on parenting. Evidence of this is found everywhere, from the low pay for teachers and childcare workers, to the lack of available training for parents, to the snub you may have experienced at a social gathering when you say that you are "just a mother."
You need a bumper sticker that says, "Motherhood is a proud profession." Raising children to adulthood is an immensely valuable occupation, whether you are home all day or balancing paid work with full-time parenting. You need to recognize your strengths, as a parent and otherwise.
List your strengths on paper and review them every day. List your accomplishments, too, in parenting and in other arenas. If you feel that you have given up everything to devote yourself to your baby, identify a part of your pre-baby self that you would like to revive. Then do it. Have your partner care for the baby so you can take a class, indulge a hobby, or develop or improve a skill. Don't be afraid to ask for recognition or a pat on the back from those around you, whether family, friends, or work associates. However, most important is how you talk to yourself and value your own achievements, at home and elsewhere. Tell yourself you did a good job. You are doing the best you can do. If you are proud of yourself and speak up about it or even show this in your body language, others will take note and respect you, too. If you have serious doubts about your ability in a certain area, take the plunge to improve yourself. Take a class, do some reading, or just experiment with a new way of doing things. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. You (and your baby) can survive a mistake or two. People who doubt themselves improve fastest when they jump right in and attempt to solve the problem, rather than brooding about it for a long time. Even if they don't solve their problem perfectly the first time, they feel better and stronger for having tackled it.
If you feel insecure about your identity, try to picture yourself as a pie chart. Your specialness lies in your different roles or components: you may be a daughter, mother, wife, teacher, tennis player, dancer, cook. Each piece of the pie is important to making you who you are. When you have a new baby, the mother part may seem to consume most of the pie. Those other pieces are still there, even if they've shrunk to thin wedges. You need to allow yourself time, and find the energy, to develop those other parts of the pie and feel like yourself again. Being your whole self is another important way in which taking care of yourself will allow you to nurture your baby.
Over the year of postpartum adjustment, there is much that you can do on your own to tackle normal issues like those addressed here. Remember that help is out there, if resolving any of these problems on your own seems daunting. There is nothing the matter with you if the incredible stresses of new parenthood overwhelm you--you're just human, making one of the biggest transitions of your life.
© 2010 A. Dunnewold & D. Sanford