Join us in the Brewery Tap March 9, 10, 11 2017

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Join us during the International Women’s day festival in Folkestone, where we will be taking over the Brewery Tap project space.  We will be sharing some of the responses from our workshops and giving opportunities for everyone to come in , spend time and respond to questions about motherhood and identity.  Its going to be a friendly space where young children are welcome to stay and mothers and others can make time to engage.

Motherhood and Identity Project returns

We’ve been dormant for a few months, but The Motherhood and Identity Project is back!

The Facebook group is open once more for your comments and to allow us to tell you more about where the project is heading for 2017. Email motherhoodandidentity@gmail.com if you would like to be added.

We will be making recordings at workshops on 20 and 27 January at the Folkestone Quarterhouse, to which all women are welcome. Please sign up here.

Again, we’ll be asking you to respond to those fundamental questions: has becoming a mother affected your sense of self? Does this change in life change who you are? How are the physical, social, or political aspects of your identity altered by motherhood?

With these recordings a sound piece will be created. This sound piece and a connected event will form our contribution to Folkestone’s events around the week of International Women’s Day in March 2017.

I suddenly felt unimportant and a little bit lost

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I now realise that my sense of self, perhaps, along with my dress size has changed more in the last 7 years than at any other time in my life (discounting childhood). In 2009, I was a theatrical agent at an agency that was well respected and even admired by fellow agents, I was in a long-term relationship and a homeowner but I wasn’t terribly happy. I was desperate to have children. I felt I’d been waiting to embark on that and had (mostly) patiently bided my time until my partner was ready. I’d regaled him with friend’s tales of IVF/it taking a while/miscarriage to encourage him to ‘get on with it’.

Seven years ago this month, I discovered I was pregnant. The following month I miscarried. I took one day off work. We fell pregnant again in the summer, we had a holiday booked, it was lovely, we had a positive scan before we left, we got engaged, we came back, I miscarried. I had an ERPC (medical management) on a weekend and went into work on the Monday, maybe the Tuesday. Sadly, this pattern continued for the next two years: positive pregnancy test, a visible heartbeat then the silence in the ultrasound room. We lost 6 babies. Each time I felt a bit more broken, a bit less womanly, a bit less me, increasingly angry but mostly sad, just very, very sad. Beyond the identity of someone who had a pretty exciting job and went to film premieres was someone who knew that it was all pretty much bullshit and what was important was to be a mother. So it hurt, a lot. I hated my body. I couldn’t get away from it, from the fact that it was constantly letting me down by not holding onto a pregnancy or not getting pregnant quickly enough.

My life changed beyond all recognition, when I at last got my ‘take-home baby’ in September 2012. With overwhelming joy and relief also came a huge rude awakening. I couldn’t do STUFF, I couldn’t achieve. I just sat and nursed and cuddled this tiny little girl. And how amazing is that? ‘Enjoy it, relax’ I’d tell September 2012 version of myself. Whilst I was very much in love, I was also frustrated. I wasn’t used to doing nothing. There was a book on my shelf in front of where I breastfed and it was upside down for abut two months and it bothered me A LOT. I tried to relax into motherhood with this precious
little person but the loudest voices in my world talked of ‘spoiling’, ‘manipulating’, ‘self-soothing’. It felt instinctively wrong as it did for my husband but I had no idea how vulnerable I would feel. Thankfully, there were some quieter voices too with talk of Sears and routines rather than schedules which gave me permission to trust myself.

I continued to speak to clients, attend the theatre and get shouted at by producers throughout my 6 month maternity leave – I was just the same person (I thought) albeit blessed with a baby. I sorted out a nursery I was happy with, a capsule wardrobe. I was doing stuff so that I would be the me I had been before because that was what was expected. Work did not pan out as planned, a boss who reneged on verbal promises meaning that my choice was to work 5 days a week in London, seeing my babe from 6am on a Saturday to 7pm on a Sunday or NOT AT ALL. I’d planned to exit the business and leave my career behind over the coming months but not like this. To give up everything I had worked for over 18 years in a highly competitive industry wasn’t the most fun thing but it was also surprisingly easy at the same time.

The 6 months that followed were filled with doubt. I was worried I didn’t know how to be a mum anymore, how to entertain a 10 month old baby, how to structure my week. I realised I did have an ego and that I suddenly felt unimportant and a little bit lost. I also discovered that I was proud to call myself a feminist, that I felt incredibly strongly about maternal mental health and support networks for new parents (which led me to volunteer and run a weekly NCT meet up). I realised I wouldn’t die on the spot if I sang out loud or saw someone I knew barefaced without a smudge of foundation on.

I am ambitious, I still want to do things. Doing them for someone else makes me braver. It’s just dawned on me that I finally have the group of friends I’ve always dreamed of – bright, awesome women who happen to be mothers and happen to live a short walk away. I’m very lucky. I would have very much liked to experience giving birth again but I’m making peace with the fact that it won’t happen.

I like myself more than I ever have done. I’m parenting myself whilst parenting my child.

My identity is strong because of my children not in spite of them

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My journey started with my own mother walking out of our family home when I was 16 and never coming home. It wasn’t a surprise she had confessed to me the previous evening she was having an affair. What followed was promises not to leave my sister and I that she couldn’t keep. My mum and dad both moved in with new partners, sold our family home, and making my younger sister the priority for housing I was left homeless. This led to a very physically and emotionally abusive 5 year relationship with a man 19 years older than me. He stripped me of all my identity not a scrap of me survived. I didn’t even wear the clothes I liked. When I finally got away from him I looked for love wherever I could find it. I became very promiscuous and this resulted in my first pregnancy with my daughter T.

She saved me, its a cliche I know, but it’s true. I needed to protect this baby who loved me so much. Unlike lots of new mums, my new baby gave me an identity. I was a young mum who breastfed and co slept and took my daughter to playgroup. She motivated me to go back to university, we needed a future.  Just before T’s first birthday I fell pregnant again. I think finding my identity through my baby made me think I needed another to make me relevant. I quickly came to realise the reality would be very different and had a termination. This choice has haunted me every day since. It was what was best for us as a family but it’s left a dark shadow.

Fast forward 3/4 years I met my now husband. A wonderful, sensitive caring man who has been T’s father and my rock. We got married in 2009 and always wanted children together. 4 years of painful trying and a few early miscarriages followed. My mental health deteriorated at a high rate of knots. I was being punished for having the abortion years earlier. I knew this in my heart and no one could convince me otherwise. Suddenly I wasn’t a great mum anymore I was a desperate one. It was finally revealed that both my Fallopian tubes were blocked Id have to have them taken out if I had any chance of IVF working. I sobbed my way through an operation that would make me permanently infertile. The operation took my female identity away from me. I felt old and useless,
my body had failed me and I hated it.

I knew we couldn’t afford IVF and were not eligible on the NHS. I became an egg donor it was a no brainer for me. I needed IVF and another woman out there needed some eggs. I could help someone not to feel as hellish as I did, I could give some hope.  I had to write a letter to any children born from my donation. Information about me and why I was making my decision. I realised through this that my identity had changed again, I was a mum, a wife, and a person who truly wanted to do good things. I liked me for the first time in a long time.

We went through 2 IVF rounds and finally fell pregnant with twin boys the pregnancy was physically hard but I revelled in every minute of it. When the boys were born I was determined to be the same mum to them as I had been to T. I breastfed and co slept it was bloody hard. My husband tried really hard but the babies only wanted me. My family were nowhere to be seen.

My own mother’s lack of presence has significantly shaped how I am as a mother. I am determined to always be present for and with my children no matter how old they get. I’d rather be told to go home because I’m too there than them have to ask where I am. I will be in the delivery room for my grandchildren’s entrance into this world. I will not leave my children ever. My identity is strong because of my children not in spite of them. I am grateful every day that I have this family we created to call my own.

Motherhood loses me and finds me, isolates me and connects me to the world

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First a bit about me. I love a bit about me. I’m quite the over-achiever. And competitive with it too. What a heady combination. When motherhood came along I though ‘Ah HA! Here’s a buncha stuff I can be amazing at!’

Not so dears, not so. Being pregnant was hideous. I did not bloom, I did not glow, I just got FAT. And as a former fat kid (one of the pillars of my identity), being fat was not acceptable. So I worked out. I went to body pump, yoga, swimming, aqua aerobics… But SPD hit so I was fat AND useless and that was uncool. I was confused. I was supposed to look like Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair. So far, so not achieving. The first time I felt E wriggle inside me I was panic-stricken. Waves of nausea and shame washed over me. Not what I was expecting. Seriously failing at this pregnancy business here.

Okay so let’s move through a catalogue of failure from that point on. Traumatic birth by emergency c-section.BFing made me want to throw myself off a bridge, I didn’t bond with my baby the way I was ‘supposed’ to, I dropped him on his head and pretty much hated being a mum (apart from our secret moments when I had nothing to do but just look at his quite-frankly-the-most-gorgeous-of-all-the-baby-faces face).How do you measure parenting success? By keeping spreadsheets of course. Did you know that by monitoring every time you feed your baby (left breast right breast), change his nappy (soiled, wet), put him down, pick him up, cuddle him, look at him you can actually control your environment? HA! HAHAHAAAA! I fell to bits. And I was still fat.

Perhaps my over-achieving personality was not prepared for the UTTER CHAOS that having a baby brings? I felt like I continuously got it wrong and I had no one to tell me that’s how it goes, and that, in fact, is parenting. Once E was old enough I got ‘My Life’ back – I got fit and I started doing a bit of work, which made me feel zingy and fabulous. But I wanted two kids and what was obviously sensible was to have another baby quickly so I could get it out of the way and get back to the attractive and productive identity ASAP.

Parenting two kids has not been easy! E didn’t take well to another addition to the family, mainly because he vibes offa me and I was terrified of how to look after a baby and a big ball of toddler fury. My friends talk me off the ceiling about once a month (I seriously don’t know what I’d do without them). I’ve read a stack of parenting books and still feel inadequate a lot of the time. And I want stuff. I want to work, I want to contribute, I want to be beautiful (thin), I want to be useful, I want to create, I want to have time with friends, with my husband, time to be alone, I want to be a good parent (I’m terrified that I’m not).

About 6 months ago I was surprised to find that I was really angry. Just generally raging. I started seeing a therapist and oh man, it threw up all sorts of stuff! My relationship with my boys, my parents, my family, with myself. It’s been a whirlwind. I’ve never felt happier, but never felt more confused! I’m working it all out, unpicking the knots. But without being a mother I would never have been alerted to any of it.

So, in conclusion (hallelujah!), motherhood has, for me, changed me in a million different ways. And it continues to challenge me and change me every day. It has made me vulnerable for the first time and as a result I’ve had to address every aspect of my being. It focuses me and takes me off course and loses me and finds me, isolates me and connects me to the world. Shoulda probably just written that first.

In motherhood I’ve found my place in a shared identity

Physically, motherhood it has healed me. A body I didn’t understand, used by another in ways that broke the spirit inside of it, became something to despise. My solution was to control it, with self harm and anorexia, eventually resolving into a less severe but long standing unhealthy relationship with food. Pregnancy was a heinous struggle, hyperemesis rendering me useless and miserable for months. But somehow… It felt better. I had to succumb to my body being in control of ME. It wasn’t punishing me as I had it, it was doing magic! Then came birth, which was the single most empowering bodily
experience I’ve ever had. My amazing vessel was designed for just this and it felt so right. And then breastfeeding, which blessedly came naturally, and compounded the growing trust I had in my own physiology. My body is no longer something to hate. It has created lives from mere cells and nurtured them into health and happiness.

Politically, my world has become smaller. I was an avid volunteer pre-children and had plans for a career in international aid or policy. My sphere of interest has changed – I’m so much more concerned with issues that do/will directly affect my children. This feels selfish somehow, but it’s another inescapable tenet of motherhood I guess that, at least for a time, your world becomes more inward-facing.

It is the social aspect that floors me. Entry into motherhood has been like entry into a secret realm – one you could never really understand before you got here and from which there is no turning back. Motherhood IS sisterhood in so many ways; a shared experience so strong that sometimes an understanding smile during a tantrum in a supermarket is enough to bring you back from the brink of despair.I came to motherhood as the ‘second twin’  and it provided the insight into my sister’s life that I had been missing and brought us back together like two halves of a whole. Friendships of mothers based on the compassion of everyday shared doubts, frustrations and joys just seem to have a natural depth that’s hard to replicate.

I won’t claim motherhood has solved my identity issues: I struggle with the feeling that I give so much of me to my children that there isn’t much left, and I have no idea what I’m going to do or who I’m going to be in ten years time. But I’m honoured to be part of this age-old tapestry that is motherhood, my tale being woven in with countless other women’s. I suppose in motherhood I’ve found my place in a shared identity. And I’m happy with that.

I realised much of my self-identity had been tied to my socio-economic status

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My self-identity has always been allusive. It’s why I’m rubbish at clothes shopping. I’ve come to see my self-identity as being a bit like a cooking pot, with new ingredients being added that can change the overall flavour or enhance others. As a child I saw myself as outdoorsy, adventurous and creative. As a teenager, my identity pot had a lot of negative things thrown in it, usually centred on what I was not. Not pretty, not clever, not special, not sporty, not creative. School taught me that.

My dad always told me ‘Never have children because they will ruin your life!’ Subconsciously I obeyed him and threw myself into my career, desperate to take all the ‘nots’ out of my identity pot. I climbed the career ladder quickly and was a Director by my early-thirties. It was fabulous for my ego, but it began to feel empty. I realised I was only in this job to pay for the trips abroad to satisfy my insatiable travel bug. But I was never going to give up my career because my ego needed it too much. My maternal feelings were there, but focussed enthusiastically on my pets.

I adored my pregnancy – I felt radiant, special and connected to something truly sacred. I was going to be the mum who had it all, a fabulous career and wonderful child. I’d give him a private education, show him the world and take him to music festivals. We’d live in a big detached house in the country and drive a 4×4.

Once I had him, everything changed. Becoming a mother added an important, life-altering ingredient to my identity pot that stirred things up dramatically. For the first year I lost all sense of identity completely. I was in a (happy) fog. As the fog cleared, I knew the London Career Woman had gone. My identity as a Mother was stronger and gave me the courage to do what I’d known for years that I needed to do – Ieave my job. I can’t understate how painful it was to do this and how insecure I felt. I realised much of my self-identity had been tied to my socio-economic status. I was no longer a successful, money-earning career woman. I was now a ‘Stay-at-Home-Mum,’ reliant on my husband’s salary. I lost count of the number of times I snapped at him if I felt he was treating me as a housewife (he never actually did). My mum was a housewife and bullied/controlled by her husband – I associated the word with being a second-class citizen. A lot of treasured aspects of my
self-identity felt threatened – my adventurousness, my intelligence, my independence.

Some days it was an achievement just to go to the park. I didn’t read a book for a year. And living on one salary was really hard. No exotic holidays, no horse-riding, definitely no hope of private education and a big detached house. Now it was about struggling to stick to our food budget. But the shake-up of my identity pot brought things to the surface that had been buried since childhood. Pure, unreserved love, authenticity, an openness to new possibilities, creativity. I made new friends, discovered La Leche, thought about what kind of parent I wanted to be (not like my dad!). Some things haven’t changed – I still love travelling and music festivals, and it is great sharing this with my son. And I can see that the parts of me that were important for my career are still there, but being used differently. However, I’ve come out from behind my job title. I am now living in Cyprus for the next couple of years. Stepping away from the UK has eased the socio-economic pressure I feel to be materially successful. It’s all about sea, mountains and sky over here. But every time I visit the UK I feel the pull of materialism and status and I feel rubbish for ‘just’ being a stay-at-home mum. I hate feeling like that. I don’t want to define myself that way anymore. Becoming a mother is helping me to flush out the unhealthy stuff from my identity pot. It’s teaching me to be careful about what I let define me in future.

Becoming a mother has both ruined and defined me

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The evening we arrived back home, just he and I and our baby, I wept uncontrollably. I was utterly out of my depth. I was both smitten and terrified all at the same time. This baby simultaneously became my world, but also a wedge, driven hard and fast between not only me and my husband, but me and myself. Though I felt enormous love for him (to the point of excluding doing things for myself and my relationship), I also felt overwhelmed, restricted, and resentful. The only time I felt like myself was the very rare occasion I met up with my old work colleagues in London. I could pretend, for an evening, that I was still myself. That I could be interesting, funny, attractive even. And yet I’d firmly decided that I’d not be returning to work. When all my new mummy friends started to go back to their jobs, my support network dwindled. Vaginismus (a nasty relic of my past) returned and at 10 months post partum I was diagnosed with PND and put on anti-depressants. Because of these difficulties and a series of early miscarriages, there’s a 4 year age gap between my
boys.

We got there in the end and I felt much better equipped second time around .Experience is a wonderful thing, of course, but mostly I think it was easier because my sense of self was already irrevocably changed from the first time around. I was already this altered version of myself so there was nothing left of myself to lose. In fact, if anything I gained. This time I was able to breastfeed for just over a year, albeit against the wishes of my rheumatologist, and I co-slept. My marriage, however, went through a second metamorphosis; a painful experience and one which is not yet complete.

Becoming a mother has both ruined and defined me. Becoming parents has both wrecked our marriage and yet provided the glue that keeps us together, neither one of us prepared to hurt them by giving up on us (this is in no way a judgement on anyone else who is no longer together with the father of their child(dren), it’s simply where we are at right now, for the moment).

I don’t think I ever thought long and hard about having children. I drifted into it. And yet, here I am, nearly a decade later, a full time home educating mother. Life is far from easy. My lifelong anxiety is trying hard to rule the roost once more. My efforts to control are largely unworkable. I crave order but instead I have chaos. It’s exhausting, to be honest. For someone who suffers with anxiety, who craves time alone, who has a multitude of hang ups that I fear passing on, and who goes slightly crazy in noisy environments, I’m clearly a little unhinged to be 24/7 parenting! But my eldest needed to come out of school and I’m an all or nothing kind of person. I have many, many weaknesses but I’m fiercely
loyal and so here we are. And while its full on and there are days when I question if it’s the right decision for me, home edding is slowly giving me a new identity that I’m starting to love. I’ve found my new tribe. My children aren’t quite so needy as they were. We’re moving into the next phase with both of them. And though I feel a little heartbroken that my ‘baby’ is no longer a baby at all, I’m excited that my firstborn is growing up and I’m looking forward to the next stage of his childhood and my parenthood.

Tomorrow I’m photographing a soon-to-be first-time mama. I wonder how I’ll feel? I’m bound to say congratulations, or dish out some sort of throw away motherly wisdom….but a big part of me will be wishing I could say to her to be sure to save a piece of herself, to look after herself and her relationship, while also loving her child because it’s the advice I’d be giving to myself if I could turn back time.

I have struggled most with my identity since my children became adult

Even as a small child I wanted to be a mother. I played with dolls a great deal. As I grew up my only real ambition was to have a baby. My first birth was extremely traumatic but without question becoming a mother was the highlight of my life. Three years later I had my second baby. So I now had a boy and a girl and I felt complete.

However the early years with my children were not always easy as I was in an abusive relationship with their father and often struggled emotionally. Being at home with children was what I had always wanted but I often felt I wasn’t doing things ‘right’. My children always gave me a reason to carry on and helped me to find my inner strength.

My own Mother had always been so supportive and unconditionally loving to me and when she died I was utterly devastated. Without my own teenaged children I don’t know that I could have carried on.

I think for me I have struggled most with my identity since my children became adult and I was no longer their carer. It took me some time to find ‘me’ again. I think I have done that now and feel more fulfilled with my work supporting women during pregnancy, birth and with their babies than I ever felt with any other work.

I still love being a mother and always will. It is wonderful. I am now also a grandmother which is pretty amazing too!