After Years of Pregnancy & Breastfeeding, Who Do You Become?

After Years of Pregnancy & Breastfeeding, Who Do You Become?

When body image is discussed alongside the subjects of pregnancy and breastfeeding, it tends to appear the context of the woman’s feelings about her changing body and the impact that her altered body image might have upon the breastfeeding journey. Rarely, if ever, do I hear the next bit taken into consideration.

When a woman has spent (in some cases) years of her life growing and nursing babies, what happens to her identity when it is all over? When she is no longer a radiant Madonna with new life blossoming within her? When she is no longer a #NewMom upon whom a young baby depends on in their entirety?

What happens when she is just a woman again? When her body is just a body once more, rather than a giver and nurturer of life?

Does she just snap back into her pre-existing headspace? Or is there sometimes a transition in there, in which a woman may have trouble understanding or accepting her body as just a body? What do so many years of biological giving do to a person’s psyche?

These are genuine questions. I don’t have the answer, and my only hypothesis is based on my own anecdotal experience, which is not very scientific.

To say I have lived with some degree of bulimia for most of my life, I surprisingly loved the way my shape changed during my pregnancies. I know this is not always the case for people with (or without) eating disorders; some women find their physical changes very hard to come to terms with. Personally, however, it made me feel good about having curves. I enjoyed watching my rounding tummy poking through my clothes, knowing it was for this beautiful purpose.

I hated the part that came afterwards, when I was just left with masses of weight gain and no life growing inside me to make that okay. But, between four babies born over seven years, it was never long before I was pregnant again, and in the interim I was able to subdue the lack of self-worth by focusing on my role as a nursing mother.

Now, long after giving birth to my final baby, I still sometimes find myself stroking my slightly rounded tummy in the same way I used to when I was pregnant. Call it a misplaced moment of sentiment. Then it hits me. I am not pregnant and this is just fat. Fat that my abdominal muscles, after the wear and tear of four pregnancies, is now unable to hold tight in the way they could when I was 18. I should feel okay about that, but I don’t.

Among these superficial concerns lurk deeper insecurities. Who am I now? After giving my body to my children for so long, who am I today, now that this is no longer my main purpose?

I now realise that this sudden shift in my sense of self left a gaping great hole in my personal identity. It cleared the path for what was once a fairly mild eating disorder – a mostly manageable condition that had rumbled on quietly for most of my life – to take a much greater hold over me for some time. Those superficial body image fears became enmeshed with an evolving identity crisis and led me down a fairly destructive path. Of course, there were many other factors that contributed to this outcome, and there is every chance it would have happened anyway. Undeniably, though, it was a factor.

The photo I have shared is of myself on the very last occasion I nursed my youngest child, then only 11 months old, a day before I was admitted to hospital. This image will always symbolise to me the time and experiences I lost with my family through failing to take care of myself, and serve as a future reminder that my own identity is just as important as those of the people I love.

I am coming out of the other end of this tunnel now and enjoying new ways of constructing my new identity with stronger, healthier building blocks. I often wonder, though, how other women feel, physically and mentally, once that chapter of their lives is over – the bit nobody seems to talk about very much. Do you have any thoughts or experiences that you can share about who you became and how you changed once your childbearing days concluded?

11 thoughts on “After Years of Pregnancy & Breastfeeding, Who Do You Become?”

  • Hmmm that’s thought-provoking. I was diagnosed with ME as I was coming to the end of my journey of making and feeding babies. I had thought it was them making me so tired and physically drained so I just wanted the journey to be over so I could get myself back. But it wasn’t their fault, it was my illness that had been with me undiagnosed for over a decade. Perhaps that idea of identity after babies was an added factor in my depression about the situation.

  • I never breastfed my girls and I have a huge 10 year age gap between them,but in some ways I can relate…
    I have always wanted a brood of children to fill my life but sadly I was never that fortunate.My eldest daughter left home at the age of 17 and I felt for so long I had failed as a mother because she wanted to move on.I thought my heart was genuinely going to break I missed her just being home even if she was just slobbing in her room.I gradually over cane this and realised I had actually done my job so well she felt brave enough to face the world alone but still comes back and needs me to fix things as Mum.
    Last year after obe miscarriage and a ruptured ectopic that nearly cost my life and tube removal my hope of finishing our family had been reduced.After alot of pain and heartbreak I have revisited my dr who has confirmed the internal bleeding had damaged the other fallopian tube and needs to be removed.All hope of another baby growing inside me,those first flutters and the feeling of contentment you feel during the quiet night feeds was gone.It has been hard dealing with the emotions I feel accepting my body can’t carry another baby….but my conclusion the two beauties I already have will always need their mum…so the reality of what is next is to nurture and build the confidence of your little ones till they are brave enough to take those of independence in life.Then as a parent you get to sit back be proud and realise you made them into the people they end up being and will always need mum.
    Always take a few minutes sit back and watch and feel that pride build inside,you made and are nurturing amazing Boys x

    • Thanks for sharing this. This is another really important angle on this subject that so many experience, when you are forced to accept that the journey is ‘finished’ but not ‘done’. (And then also, of course, those who are never able to get it started). Where that leaves you and how it impacts your identity. It sounds like you’ve managed to stay strong and keep hold of a good perspective but it must be very painful. x

  • I have never suffered any real illnesses due to my lacking self-confidence in my body. But it is very hard to understand your body once your babies aren’t in need of it any longer. I didn’t breastfeed so the last time my babies needed anything from my body was almost 4 1/2 years ago.

    I was never a heavy girl, I weighed in around 115-120 most of my teenage years, but once I had my oldest son, now almost 8, I had no idea what to think of my body. I was the biggest I’d ever been and I haven’t quite come out of that funk. I don’t buy clothes for myself because I hate how they fit and I still remember how things used to fit.

    Thank you for your honesty and bringing light to the importance of self-care and self-identity in motherhood.

    • This is exactly the kind of think I’m thinking about. My example may be an extreme, but I do wonder how many mums out there are, once it’s all over, left feeling with this disjointed sense of identity. It’s a good conversation to have.

  • Both my babies were preemies and I breastfed both. They are 12 and 14 years old now. It seems like a lifetime since they were babes but each day brings new challenges and triumphs. Cherish your children but remember to alway make yourself the priority. I’ve learned this along the way, in order to give my best self to my children, I have to first love me first. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • I don’t have any children yet, and am nearing the time to have kids. It is thoughts like this that play on my mind. I have seen new moms lose themselves and their identity to motherhood and perhaps that’s good. I wouldn’t know at know this point.

    I know a few new moms who are focused only on being moms, their social media is only about moms, their profile photos are only of their babies, and when we meet up, it’s all they discuss. I don’t know if I will be this way, time will tell and therefore, i won’t judge at all. I have only heard that motherhood changes you entirely.

    Other than growing up and maturing as one should, my interests haven’t changed much since I was 10. I developed my hobbies, my taste in music and my preferences at a young age. I add new hobbies, but rarely let go of the older things. I fear that when I have a baby, i would have to, for the sake of being a good parent, neglect a lot of my hobbies and that’s part of who I am.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter. Best of luck!

    • Hey, thanks for commenting! It’s cool that you’re reading articles like this before you have kids. Keep reading and thinking about this kind of thing. Yes, becoming a mama will undoubtedly change you, and your priorities will almost certainly shift. But hold on to that piece of you that is YOU. As a mum, there can be a feeling that “the more you give, the better you are”, but that is only true to a point. After that point, when you lose yourself entirely, you risk burnout, which impacts everyone as well as yourself. Always make at least a little bit of time for those things that you love, no matter how busy you get. 🙂

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