A Mama Less Ordinary: The Identity Crisis

In a series of columns for Grazia, Fashion Director and writer Jade Chilton documents her new life as a mum, minus the mumsy. This week, Jade attempts to reclaim her former self: the person before baby
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A Mama Less Ordinary: The Identity Crisis

“I don’t know who I am anymore,” I say to my husband one night, head burrowed into a pillow and moisture in my eyes.

I’m Greta’s mum for sure; there’s no ignoring that fact. I’m knee-deep in loving, caring and nurturing my little pudge and, gosh, she makes me unbelievably happy. But everything else seems to have skewed. Jade the wife, the friend, the daughter, the stylist… I race between each persona, desperately trying to keep up with them all, and spectacularly failing.

In an attempt to feel like ‘myself’ again, I head to Barry’s Bootcamp with one of my close friends one Friday morning. As she pulls up to the curb to pick me up, she squeals, “This is just like old times, except you’ve had a baby and here we are, a year later and you look like the same person!” I laugh and make a remark about how I must get a new gym kit as the one I’m wearing has most definitely not changed. I may (almost) look the same – a nasty stomach virus can take credit for shedding the final preggo pounds – but I couldn’t be further removed from the girl who wore these same Under Armour shorts over a year ago.

On my pursuit to find the old me, I line up a number of events for the week ahead. First up, a fancy beauty launch sans Greta – surely sipping drinks in a penthouse suite with my work peers was going to get me back on track? My friend and I were separated on arrival and I end up in a corner with my former Editor and her husband, animatedly talking about our little girls.

On my return, as I walk into the lobby of my apartment building, the concierge – the guy Greta and I wave at every day – asks what apartment I’m visiting. I blink, make an elaborate rocking gesture with my arms and say, “I’m the girl with the baby” and point up towards our apartment. There’s a flicker of recognition as he scans my face, “Ah, ok, I never see you at this time of the evening,” he smiles, excusing himself.

Next up, a breakfast date with another close friend, this one too without child. We talk about travelling, work, friends, loved ones – but Greta barely comes up in conversation. She’s there, but I spend the entire time masking mother Jade. What I really want to discuss is her tooth that’s coming through, my nanny dilemma (do I? Don’t I?) and Greta’s naps. These are the things – at the moment – I feel I can talk most vibrantly about. It’s not my friend’s fault, she would of course listen to me twitter on, but from experience I feel I shouldn’t. It’s not uncommon for faces to glaze over when I bring up baby and as soon as that happens I’m quick to change the subject. No one wants to be a baby bore, right?

The thing is, we can both waffle on for hours about an exciting new work project or a holiday we have planned, but when baby constipation comes up in conversation, well, our lives couldn't be further removed. And I understand, I’ve been that person without a child, sitting across from a mum friend and not being able to relate one iota.

And it’s not just in IRL, it’s my digital presence too. I decide to launch the Instagram account @mamalessordinary to differentiate my role as Greta’s mum from my ‘real’ account @jadestyledirector. Surely the two don’t mesh? By the end of the week, I watch the new account flourish with photos, likes and comments, while the other pretty much lays dormant.

Psychiatrist Dr Alexandra Sacks writes in The New York Times that, “giving birth to a new identity can be as demanding as giving birth to a baby.” She blames the chemical release in your brain during birth and breastfeeding, “Oxytocin is the primal evolutionary hormone that tells us to bond,” says Sacks. “You can't turn that off just because you're on assignment in the office. So, that feeling of never being fully present may also be a reflection of a healthy attachment to your baby.”

Phew, it’s not just me, there’s actual science behind it. Sacks calls the year after giving birth the ‘matrescence’. She says, “There are many more women struggling with a normal identity shift that is as awkward in its hormonal and psychological flux as adolescence.” Wow, so technically we’re all going through puberty without the spots and teenage angst?

I end the week over steak and grape with my workout buddy and I tell her how I feel. She smiles and says, “That sounds tough, but Jade, it’s almost like I can’t remember you before baby, this is who you are now. And you’re doing brilliantly.”

Thank you positive, wonderful friend. The “brilliant” part of her statement is debatable but “who you are now” is pretty much spot on. I’m no longer the Jade who shops for shoes online daily, cooks up a culinary storm on the weekend, and promptly replies to Whatsapps. That woman doesn’t exist anymore. I know I’m more than the ‘girl with the baby’ – I’m just yet to find her.

Photos: Jade's own