“How hard can one little baby be?”
I remember my sister uttering those words just before my niece was born. And since then, I have heard many women say similar words, including myself. I mean, we’re having a baby, not undertaking brain surgery. We’re successful, smart, accomplished, modern career women. By giving birth, we’re joining countless generations of women who have gone before us. It can’t be that hard, we’ll be able to cope just fine, right?
And… then baby arrives and yes, it is hard. Looking back, I don’t think it was actually my baby who was hard. The huge disruption, the ongoing change, the lack of control, the endless sleepless nights, the not knowing all the answers — that was hard.
So, yes, bringing one little baby to the world – it can be very hard.
Research by Dr Bronwyn Harman from Edith Cowan University  has shown that professional women have a particularly difficult time adjusting to early motherhood. This was my experience and that of my peers also. We were used to being in control in our professional and personal lives, and living a life that was largely predictable and productive.
Then, when our babies arrive, we experience a strong feeling of loss – in our identity, independence and power. We feel isolated and full of uncertainty. For the majority of us, it’s a shock to the system, and even more confusing because we’re also full of love and awe at the precious little baby we’ve created.
The transition from being in your professional role to being at home with your baby can be eased with the following tips.
4 tips to ease the transition from career to mother
1. Embrace your feminine side
Let’s face it. To be successful in our careers, most of us have had to hone those traits that are traditionally considered masculine. We’re great at strategy, analysis, planning and doing. We like to get stuff done and plan ahead.
Unfortunately our babies don’t respond in this way – they bring us into the present moment with urgency and immediacy. We often have to be quick thinking and listen to our gut-feelings on the best way to respond.
This is where our feminine qualities become critical. When you think about it, becoming a mother and bringing forth new life is the ultimate feminine act. It’s an act of creation, nurturing, being intuitive and simply ‘being’. And it’s full of strength, power, as well as vulnerability and softness.
Early motherhood is not a time to ignore those masculine traits, but a time to bring them into alignment with your feminine qualities. For example, using information and intuition together when responding to your baby’s needs.
2. Let go of expectations
It’s common for us to bring expectations with us into any of life’s important events. And motherhood is no different. During pregnancy we daydream about what life will be like with our baby. This is really important, as it starts the bonding process, but it can also set us up for disappointment and feelings of failure if the parenting reality doesn’t meet the expectation.
Have a think about the various expectations you are carrying with you – expectations about how are as a mother, expectations about childbirth, expectations about your baby, expectations you have about your partner, expectations you have on your family and friends. Also expectations of when you’ll want to return to work and in what capacity. For each of those expectations, try to think back to how it was formed. Was it based on your perception of someone else’s reality? On fear? On what you read on blogs or social media?
Once you get to the root of the expectation, it’s time to release it – as it’s not serving you. If you need help to release it, try saying “It is what it is, and I’m grateful for lesson and opportunity to grow.”
3. Give yourself permission to be
I love this quote by American philosopher Rob Bell, “Where did you get the idea that you’d nail it straight out of the gate?” Think back to the first time you tried anything new or your first job in your industry. You may have had some natural talent or maybe not, but quite likely you didn’t nail it first try. It’s the same with parenting. For most of us, it’s a completely new experience. And if you have a child already, the addition of a second or third child creates a completely new experience.
So give yourself permission to just be. Remember your hormones are racing, you’re sleep deprived and you’re learning as you go. So it’s OK to feel the way you feel. It’s OK that you don’t have all the answers. It’s OK to ask for help. Cry if you need to cry. Every challenge is temporary and with time you’ll learn how to cope with the ongoing change and be more confident in your parenting abilities. In the beginning, however, be gentle with yourself and your emotions.
I just want to add here though, if you find yourself feeling constantly overwhelmed or anxious for more than two weeks, you may wish to seek help and emotional support.
4. Remember what brings YOU joy
Some of us spend a decade or more building up our career and might associate our identity with our profession. Not only that, we are used to spending our free time in the manner that pleases us. Then all of a sudden we have a baby, and are left wondering what has become of us and longing for some free time to simply be ourselves.
This is very common and if you feel this way, you are not alone. It might be helpful to think of some things that bring you immense joy and pleasure, and remind you of the essence of you. It might be music, or a place, or an activity.
Once you have uncovered what brings you joy, talk to your partner and support network and find out ways you might be able to incorporate that into your day. You may be able to join a playgroup with like-minded people, join a social media group or spend an hour a week or fortnight doing the thing that brings you joy. It’s possible to be the woman you are behind your new role as mum, but remember it might take time and that’s OK.
The transition from being in your career to motherhood is not easy, but it is possible to ease yourself into the new role through practicing self-compassion and self-care.
If you have already gone through the transition to motherhood, what other lessons do you have for expecting and new mothers for this early period of motherhood?
1 Harman, Bronwyn, (2008) ‘The ‘Good Mother Syndrome’ and Playgroup: The Lived Experience of a Group of Mothers’, Doctorate of Psychology thesis, Edith Cowan University, Perth WA.