I've Never Had A Solid Sense Of Self. Motherhood Didn't Fix Me – But It Helped

Parenthood can feel like navigating an emergency in a country where you don’t speak the language, writes Robyn Wilder.
HuffPost UK

Ever since becoming a parent, I’ve read countless articles about motherhood swallowing a grown woman whole, saddling her with the majority of the parental load, and gradually eroding the identity she had before she became a parent.

In my case, though, it was only after I became a mother that I felt my sense of identity beginning to firm up around the edges. I don’t want to suggest, of course, that motherhood somehow “completes” me, or should be anyone else’s path to enlightenment. What I do know is this.

Five years ago, I gave birth to my older son son via emergency C-section after we both developed sepsis during labour. Recovering from major surgery was tricky enough, but I was also riddled with postnatal depression and PTSD from the birth, had no family of my own, and had recently left all my friends and the city I’d called home for 20 years to relocate to my husband’s provincial home-town where I barely knew anyone. Raising a child amid all this required dredging up reserves of strength and ingenuity I didn’t know I had.

It’s the same sort of test of personal power you might undergo should you ever find yourself navigating an emergency in a country where you don’t speak the language; or – and I don’t mean to be indelicate – if you are on the loo with virulent food poisoning and suddenly become aware that you must, as a matter of urgency, locate or fashion a secondary receptacle.

We all have the challenges that make us, and apparently motherhood is mine.

Malte Mueller via Getty Images

The truth is, I’ve never had a very solid sense of who I am – largely because I never truly felt I could rely on myself. Academically I either performed brilliantly or abysmally, and I seemed to have no control over the outcome. And very quickly I learned that ambition was pointless because, where my peers could, say, set a goal and gradually work towards it, it seemed that the very act of wanting something meant that I would find myself moving erratically away from it, as though carried away by a runaway donkey.

Like many people with poor self-image, I progressed unevenly through life, never really settling on a path – I’ve been a session musician, stage manager, web designer, technology journalist, children’s entertainer, and possibly the world’s worst barmaid – though I haven’t done any of these particularly well.

And, like many people with poor self-image, I have spent a great deal of time worrying about what other people think of me. I am a short woman with the round face and general demeanour of a cartoon baby chipmunk lost in a big city. So I developed a habit of pre-empting this by mentioning my wayward, purple-haired, chemically altered past (“I played guitar in bands, you know. Indie bands!”), lest people were tempted to mansplain train tickets, or how to order food in a restaurant, which happens more frequently than you might imagine.

“I’ve begun to realise that if my kids are happy and healthy, I can’t be as awful as I think I am.”

Parenthood, however has wrought two major changes in me. Firstly, I’ve started to realise that I can, in some instances, rely on myself – if I ignore the loud, panicky voice in my head that’s constantly telling me I’m going to fail, and listen out for the quieter, much more reasonable voice.

This is the voice that persuaded me to seek a third opinion on my son’s “eczema” that turned out to be chickenpox, and to avoid turning the buggy down a side-street just before a fight broke out there. It’s the voice that, while I was visiting a friend, told me to put down my coffee and run down the hall to the bathroom, where I discovered my three-year-old son who was nanoseconds from applying my friend’s Gillette Venus razor to his peachy little face. Turns out, I have instincts.

Secondly, I’ve begun to realise that if my kids are happy and healthy, I can’t be as awful as I think I am – even if to see me make coffee is to see me, not long after, tipping that coffee down myself.

It’s realisations like this that have led me to my diagnosis, in adulthood, of several chronic conditions, including ADHD, that I’ve lived with – undiagnosed and untreated – for all my life, and which explain away most of my struggles as trying to apply square-peg thinking to a round-hole existence.

Motherhood hasn’t fixed me, exactly, but it has created an environment where I can examine myself, and now every day I get to know myself a bit better. At the risk of sounding like an inspirational quote on Instagram, I am a work in progress. And one thing I’m particularly enjoying is that I still don’t know what I think about everything – and often I won’t find out until my kids ask me about it – and then we explore it together, which is very fulfilling.

And I’m not so worried about what people think of me anymore. If someone sees my chipmunk-face and starts mansplaining the metric system, or whatever, I’m more able to laugh it off and move on. Because I know what I think of myself; I say it every night as I go upstairs with my hot water bottle and mug of Sleepy Time Tea.

“You used to play in bands,” I whisper to myself. “Indie bands!” And I’m asleep by 8pm.