Ask A Doula: I want my old life back

by Emma Devin

I want my old life back. My baby is 4 months old and I don’t know where to go from here. I have so much parental leave left. Help! – IdentityCrisisW/BB

Hey IdentityCrisisW/BB,  

Thank you for taking the time to be vulnerable enough to share something so many parents are going through and yet unable to speak about. In that first year of parenting, there are so many times and opportunities for you to feel overstimulated, under-resourced, and really overwhelmed. There’s a lot that parenting has to offer and there’s also all the responsibilities that come with it. 

Many parents ride a high from the life-changing journey of pregnancy, birth, and the first few months with their baby home. While they are also riding literal hormonal highs, folks are hyper-focused on physical recovery, feeding their baby, and new routines. The first three months of a baby’s life—also known as the fourth trimester—are marked by physical, mental, emotional, and social changes. Adrenaline wears off in the first week, progesterone and oestrogen often level out, and lactating parents receive hits of oxytocin through the day. Depending on layers of privilege, resources, and access to care, the fourth trimester can be one of connection and recovery, supports and transformation. For some, it can be isolating, and financially, physically, and mentally stressful. You’ve already been through so, so much! 

Often, this exciting, intense immersion fourth trimester gives way to a new phase: one where parents are more confident in being with their baby, and physically able to do more things. This four month mark—where you’re at—is where we see many parents wanting their old life back. That’s time with friends, and their own rhythms and routines. Parenting comes with so many new responsibilities and learning curves. It can feel overstimulating and monotonous at the exact same time—that’s super normal. 

If you’re yearning to feel more “like yourself,” what you really might be doing is unpacking what your expectations of parenting were versus what your current experience of parenthood actually is. You may be missing the time, capacity, sleep, and the energy you had to check in with your partner(s), friends, or even yourself. Stepping into a new identity as a caregiver can be an emotional, logistical, and personal whirlwind. Like we always say—feel your feelings and try to give yourself as much grace as possible.

Think of a time when it was clear that your life had deeply changed. When looking ahead you may have been feeling anticipatory loss and grief. A collective memory is the intense first months of the pandemic, but other examples might be a cancelled vacation, an injury that made the summer feel different, or knowing a relationship was about to change. Properly naming personal and situational shifts as loss, and giving yourself permission to feel grief, can help us to name what’s happening and move forward in a more mindful way. 

Another word that used to name this identity shift, and yearning for your old life, is matrescence. Aurélie Athan, a reproductive psychologist at Columbia University describes it as a “holistic change in multiple domains of your life. You’re going to feel it perhaps bodily, psychologically. You’re going to feel it with your peer groups. You’re going to feel it at your job. You’re going to feel it in terms of the big philosophical questions.” 

As writer Denise Myrick puts it, it’s “losing yourself in any capacity means that you had insight and certainty about who you were at some point.” It can be a helpful exercise to reflect on who you are, in this moment. 

For some, there is guilt in wanting more beyond your baby. We’ve been recently inspired by writer Jia Tolentino who described her identity shift after becoming a parent in an episode of Glennon Doyle’s  We Can Do Hard Things podcast.

“You feel this great expansion of your caregiving capacity and your ability to stretch yourself past an emotional limit you thought you had and really give a lot more of yourself than you would have previously. And I think that’s a pretty near universal experience… I want to make sure that doesn’t only apply to my daughter,” Tolentino said.

For some new parents, creating systems and routines to prioritise yourself offers space for reconnection. This could be a weekly dog-walk date with a friend, a scheduled weekly evening yoga class, a monthly therapy session or a 30-minute coffee (all by yourself). Working with your partner(s) and/or community of care to book these regular dates and committing to them is a fantastic way to ensure you have space beyond your parenting role. This small, powerful act of asking for time and space to reconnect with your life, and help to ensure that happens, will serve you the rest of your parenting journey. 

Because—like all the elders in your life will say—the days are long and the years are short. Being able to see the wonder and the joy in that first year of parenting is a huge gift and can help you understand how fleeting this time is. Most likely, before you know it, you’ll be looking back and juggling work, relationships, and the next version of your identity.

We wish you windows and tastes of “your old life” with a fresh perspective to enjoy!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Emma Devin (they/them) is a full-spectrum doula with a decade of experience in care work — in their practice, they specialize in support for 2SLGBTQIA+ families and doula agency structures and have been a part of over 500 births. Emma is a co-founder of Brood, Western Canada’s most trusted doula agency – providing doula care to families and create the next generation of career doulas through meaningful business support, mentorship and training. They have four kids and one dog in their family structure and love to spend weekends at the farmers market.

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