My postpartum anxiety and depression have been resurfacing lately, as I continue to struggle with finding my identity as a mother. This struggle is often compounded by the feeling that I must be “the only one” whose baby is almost a year old and who still feels like she doesn’t have a clue what she is doing (aka a strong feeling of shame). Of course, on a rational level I recognize that I am not the only one and that my feelings are normal, but that doesn’t stop my mind from trying to convince me otherwise. Yesterday I was finally able to truly let go of that alone feeling and really drop in. I was able to feel a sense of belonging that I haven’t often felt as a new mother, even in spaces with other mothers.
Although the intention of the circle was to read eulogies to our maiden selves and then release them into the fire, the circle organically became a rich and dynamic conversation about what we loved about our maiden selves, and what we have struggled to accept and embrace about our mother selves. There were women there at various stages of initiation into motherhood, including a woman with a fourteen-year-old, and one who was five months pregnant with her first child. I found it especially moving to have a pregnant woman there, getting a loving but honest glimpse into what lies ahead for her.
We all shared common themes of missing and longing for our carefree maiden selves, who smoked cigarettes, had wild sex and plotted our next adventures. We all looked back fondly on those women we were before, and hold those former selves with more tenderness and in higher esteem now than we ever could have at the time. We all shared that we want to reclaim those parts of ourselves and integrate them in some way into who we have become, but that we haven’t quite figured out how. We shared about feeling hardened and edgier as mothers. We shared about our challenges in balancing our needs with the needs of our family. We shared about what we have lost in motherhood, and what we have gained. What we have shut out, and what we have opened up to. We shared about working on accepting our mother bodies. We shared about often choosing Netflix over difficult conversations or intimacy with our partners—you know, real stuff! Some of us shared photos of our teenage or pre-baby selves. There was a lot of tenderness, recognition, vulnerability, and laughter. At the end of the evening, we burned the letters we had written to our Maiden and let them go in a good way.
I will admit, it has been incredibly challenging to find my “self” as a mother, and I feel that I still have a long way to go on this path. Yesterday, gathered around the woodstove at Hannah’s house, I finally had the feeling that I am exactly where I need to be right now.
By, Julia Alter
© Birth Love Family