There’s a lot of talk these days about the phenomenon, experienced by many women, of losing their identity after having a baby. Women lose their sense of who they are.
We understand this because, of course, having a baby brings massive changes to our lives. But what do we really mean by this thing of losing identity? What actually causes this to happen, and should we be so acceptant of it as par for course of becoming a mother?
When I was three years old and went to playschool for the first time, the school were surprised to report that I was pretty familiar with my numbers already. My family wracked their brains as to where I could have got this from? Until they realised that, oh, it must be from my exposure to their poker games.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m a bit of a gambler. And when I was approaching my maternity leave, I took the risky decision to completely separate myself from work. There are a lot of specifics that put me in a position to be able to do so. That said, all in, I knew that it was a bit of a risk and a bit of a gamble.
I wanted, after 15 years of dedicated full time working, to see who I would be when I did take that step away. I was very aware of the vital role to my self esteem that work plays for me. But it happened to be a good time for me, mentally, to take that bit of a gamble. In other words, I approached maternity leave like a sabbatical. Which is really, by the way, not what it is meant for.
Being a bit older, I had a good understanding of myself, and was able to plan some mitigations against the risk. I committed to doing some charity related work, which I thought would give me some mental focus. And I dusted off some old creative hobbies.
Sod the washing up or, heaven forfend, the hoovering! If two babies were miraculously asleep at once, I was going to snatch that twenty minutes to work on something of my own. So I contributed to the bit of work, I painted, I wrote, and to be honest when the girls were awake I read if I could with some of those projects still in mind.
These things helped to preserve my mental health. It didn’t require a huge amount. I might be caring for my babies for 11 hours of the day without a break at times. But the time snatched in the evening, and being able to think about that project throughout the day, even while my hands were full, meant the world to me.
I managed to get out for a meal with a friend one evening, when the girls were maybe 7 months old, and lockdown restrictions were eased. The waiter complimented my ordering skills and I cried. One thing I hadn’t banked on through this entire experience was my need for positive reinforcement!
Generally speaking it is often the case that a woman goes from working full time in her productive job to nothing. Busy, of course, with her new baby, but nothing wanted of her outside of that. A void of space presented to her, apparently to help her to adjust to her new life. Of being a mum, and completely unseen. Is it any wonder that this change can hit hard.
Post-partum depression does not effect the same numbers of women or men equally from country to country. There are discernible trends to be observed that see higher proportions of people suffering with post-partum mental health issues in some countries over others. This is not a necessary biproduct of having a baby. This is societal and it is cultural.
May I have a drum roll please for one of the countries that has the lowest recorded rates of post-partum depression among new mothers and it is… badumdumdumdumdumdum…. The Netherlands!
What I read about the Netherlands is that there is often more involvement from grandparents in the daily lives of new parents. And, moreover in my opinion, more involvement of dads. It seems that there, the expectancy is not for women to drop entirely out of the workforce in her maternity, but for her to work reduced hours, perhaps, while her baby’s father does the same.
It doesn’t have to be for everyone. I know, I hear you, women who are much more sensible than I am and who don’t hinge their well-being on these external outputs. Some women can and of course should remain perfectly happy to take to the full time parenting role. As might many men.
What might it look like in our society to say, when little ones come into the world, that we expect and prepare for any parent to switch to a reduced hour working week for a time. That when a woman or a man, equally, when a baby is born, will work less hours in order to care for their infant.
When a woman has a baby we tell her that it’s ok for her to be gone. Essentially, that we really don’t need her. We’ll get on just fine. It’s all well meaning, in the main.
Well, why not say that the same applies for all? For all, we will expect a reduced presence at work. If we are willing to so easily accept that 100% of a woman’s time can be let off unmissed, can’t we by the same token say that 50% of each a woman and a mans time could be thought of in the same way? It doesn’t sound so radical to me.