Pregnancy is a time of significant physical and psychological change. A woman gives birth not only to her baby, but also to her new identity as a mother. This is a gradual and lengthy process that starts when a woman mentally “conceives” her baby; continues through conception and pregnancy; and doesn’t end until months after she gives birth.
The formation of the maternal identity might be one of the most fundamental transformations a woman ever goes through. The most significant aspect is the development of a “motherhood state of mind.” This new state of mind will determine a woman’s thoughts, priorities, frame of vision. It also affects a woman’s sensitivities and what excites or frightens her in regards to her baby. This new identity will realign a mother’s values and, organize her mental life.
Becoming Preoccupied with Your Baby
This new maternal state of mind is also known as “primary maternal preoccupation,” where, as a new mother, you become consumed by your baby. Everything else, including caring for yourself, goes to the sidelines. This is a special phase in which, as a mother, you are probably highly sensitive and able to easily identify and fulfill your baby’s needs.
Thoughts of your newborn will fill your mind, directing much of your behavior. Your previous mental state will be in the background for a while. This motherhood state of mind will last throughout your life, but it will not always occupy central stage. It will be ready to emerge years later, when your teenager or college student is sick, in trouble, or in danger.
The bottom line is that you will never be quite the same person that you were before having a baby. This new maternal identity will occur even if you adopt a child or are not 100% genetically connected to the child; as in the case of a donor egg.
Here Are Some Changes You Might Go Through as You Develop Your “Maternal Identity”:
- Becoming more interested in the company of women: As a new mother, you may become more interested in forming a support network of mothers with babies, or present family caregivers, such as aunts and grandmothers.
- Seeing your husband differently: You might start seeing your partner primarily as a father to your baby. As a mother, you might notice a diminished sex drive; aggression and competition in favor of care-giving; cooperation nurturing and creativity.
- Coming to terms with having the ultimate responsibility for your baby’s life: It can be shocking to realize that you are fully responsible for someone else’s life. As a mother, your primary responsibility is to keep your baby alive and help him grow and thrive: you have to make decisions about your baby’s life twenty-four hours a day. There is no other job that requires that level of non-stop responsibility without a holiday or a weekend break. Over time, as you witness your baby grow and develop, you will feel confident that you have that unique ability to give her what she needs to thrive.
- Spending most of your time in spontaneous activities with your baby: Before you became a mother you may have been engaged in rational activities where you had a great deal of control- you probably had predictability and a schedule at your work. The way you likely interact with your baby is the complete opposite, with little or no rational control. You will be touching, holding, cooing, and soothing your baby in an intuitive, non-structured way. Often, you’ll have to be creative, think on your feet, and manifest behaviors you never knew you had in your repertoire.
- Coming to terms with your new role in society and in your family: With the birth of your baby, you will acquire a new role in your family. By providing a new generation, you contribute to your family’s longevity. Society will also assign you a new role with inherent expectations, regardless of how you feel about them. You will no longer be seen as a “free woman” but rather as a unit with your baby and responsible for him/her.
- Starting a new calendar: The birth of your baby will mark the beginning of a new personal calendar characterized by “pre- and post-baby time.” You will start to look at time differently and assign events to the time before or after your baby was born.
Motherhood brings powerful identity changes and all-consuming emotions: love, protectiveness, a need to nurture your baby, exhaustion, confusion, exasperation. The inner experience of motherhood cuts across different cultures, age groups, and socio-economic status.
Interestingly, these emotions and changes are rarely attended to by health professionals or family members. It is easier to talk about external issues such as morning sickness, sleep deprivation, and bottle-or breast-feeding than it is to talk about the contradictory and overwhelming emotions all mothers go through in association with their new identity. During the process of becoming a mother and adjusting to your baby, some struggle and distress are normal.
If you are having hard time adjusting to being a mother or if you feel lonely and unsupported; you may benefit from professional help. Having a therapist that understands what new mothers are going through can give you greater sense of confidence and allow you to get greater satisfaction out of being a mother.
Call for a FREE-10 minute phone consultation at (281)267-1742
Dr.Irena Milentijevic is a licensed psychologist who specializes in helping mothers and those hoping to be mothers overcome stress, loss, and depression. Her offices are located in Houston and the Woodlands, Texas. Visit her website, www.DrIrena.com to get her free report, “Moms and Mom Wannabes: 10 Ways to Overcome Depression and Reclaim Your Sanity.”