In my role as an HR Manager, I've previously been involved with arranging a programme to assist employees approaching retirement. We would organise seminars, networking events and other such meetings to help them deal with the practical and psychological side of retirement.
The reason for this; retiring is a huge change of lifestyle, it changes your identity, who you socialise with, the reason you get up in the morning, what you talk about over dinner. It changes you. Many companies will be familiar with the scenario where someone retires, then maybe three months later register as a casual worker or returns to work in some capacity because they just didn't know what to do with themselves. Work, so very often, defines us.
What's this got to do with being Just Another Mummy? Well, it's occurred to me how ill prepared I was for having a baby, and how, in my opinion, our antenatal care, is completely misdirected.
Like most expectant mums, I signed up for a host of email newsletters and each week as I saw what fruit my baby resembled, I was also bombarded with information and advice on how to choose a cot, how to choose a name, how to create the perfect Facebook announcement. Yes, really, that's the kind of thing we are trying to help expectant parents with. In case you're in that camp, by the way, buying a cot is easy...you see how much room you have and how much money you have and there you have your cot.
Choosing what change bag you have, what you pack in your hospital bag, doing hypnobirthing...honestly, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but none of it matters. We are so obsessed with material goods, preparing for birth, paying people money to prepare us for birth, and discussing pain relief, that we completely seem to miss the point. None of this is going to help you when baby is actually here.
People thought I was joking, or being arrogant, when I said I wasn't worried about the birth. My perspective was that the baby was coming out one way or another, and at some point, it would end. I always said it was what happened next that worried me, because, you know, the baby is here forever. Apparently, choosing the perfect colour coordinating nursery, throwing a fabulous baby shower or buying a travel system that costs about the same as going travelling for three months was all I needed to 'be ready for baby'.
Once Harry arrived, my Mum summed it up perfectly. Your old life has gone.
People who retire find that the emotions of retirement trigger questions about purpose, it changes the relationship with their partner, can even seem like it's a whole new relationship. People search for activities that give them a sense of satisfaction. Employers are starting to assist employees with a phased retirement, to help give them an opportunity to adjust, to say goodbye to their old life and welcome the new in a gentle way. So, if we can recognise this in retirees, why not with expectant parents? We don't just focus on the day the retiree leaves the office, or spam them with ideas for the perfect retirement party theme, we focus on the after part. What happens next. What their new life will be like.
Of course you don't know. No one knows. We all cope differently and all babies are different. I just wish there was more focus on talking about how as a new Mum you have to adjust to your new identity, you have to find things to do all day (apart from the obvious demands from your baby), you have to adjust to changing relationships, not all in a bad way, but everything is different. You don't use your brain in the same way, you have all this dead time, you spend more time in the house than before, you spend more time on your own than you might be used to. People talk to you about different things, people may only be interested in you because of your baby. It's just all so different.
Your old life has gone. Your clothes are different. You can't justify buying those gorgeous grey sling backs...they're not going to help at Buggy Fit are they? You're a Mum now, you can't just pop out quickly and do something, you can't make plans without checking on babysitters, you can't be bothered to change your sick covered top because it just means more washing for you to do. You have to cancel plans because you've not slept for three nights/baby is poorly/cluster feeding/refusing to be more than three centimetres away from your face.
Maybe I was unlucky, but I don't recall any of this being covered in any antenatal sessions I attended. We discussed pain relief, what's the perfect coming home outfit for baby, what to wear to give birth in, how many maternity pads you might need and what size nappies to buy. There was nothing about preparing you to say goodbye to the life you have known for so long, nothing about welcoming and adjusting to a whole new life. Nothing about how to keep your brain from going to mush.
When I look at the symptoms for postnatal depression, they don't fit how I feel. I don't think I could love being Harry's Mum anymore than I do, I don't think I could have bonded with this squidgy, giggling little boy any better or feel any happier every time we play, cuddle, feed or giggle our way through a nappy change. I think I'm a pretty good Mum, if I'm allowed to say that, and I look forward to waking up every morning and watching how he stretches and slowly wakes up before beaming at me and laughing his way through another rendition of row row your boat.
It's pure happiness that I didn't know existed. Yet it's contrasted with this feeling of sadness. Maybe, it's a feeling of loss, as my Mum rightly said, my old life has gone. Maybe I've not yet accepted that I have to say goodbye. I'll just head over to Pinterest to find the perfect 'goodbye old life' Facebook announcement...