[Best of Birthful] How to Navigate the Identity Shift of Becoming a Mom, with Sophie McEntee

Welcome to the Best of Birthful. Creator and host Adriana Lozada curated and edited each selection in this playlist of the show’s most popular episodes. It’s a tailored introduction to the expansive catalog she amassed over the first five years of Birthful’s 300+ shows.

Have you considered what motherhood* means to you, and how you are going to integrate that, with your current identity? How do you feel about the words sacrifice and devotion? Sophie McEntee is here to tell us why becoming a mom can be such a messy process, and what you can do to prepare. Check it out!

*A content note, Mighty Ones: We at Birthful recognize and honor all birthing persons, parents and caregivers, and their unique identities and the roles they fulfill. While this interview on “The Identity Shift of Becoming a Mom” speaks to a very specific experience— motherhood— please know that we embrace all parents and strive to provide content that explores diverse identities and backgrounds.

 

Listen directly through our website player, or however you usually listen to podcasts.

 

What we talked about:

  • The physical (and hormonal!) changes of becoming a mom
  • The emotional changes of becoming a mom
  • Unpacking what motherhood means to you
  • Why becoming a mom is a messy process
  • Why it’s so common to feel like you are ‘losing yourself’
  • The importance of the ‘integration period’
  • Dealing with the social pressures
  • Stopping the “should”-ing
  • Tearing down the ‘superwoman’ idea
  • Ways of making the transition less rocky
  • How do you want to show up?
  • Creating a plan and finding support
  • Parenting = sacrifice + devotion
  • What to do with all the feels?
  • How the identity shift affects your relationship
  • Squaring away your ideals of motherhood with reality

 

Additional resources and articles*:

 

Related podcasts:

 

Transcript

The Identity Shift of Becoming a Mom, with Sophie McEntee

Adriana Lozada:

Hey, mighty one. With nearly 300 Birthful episodes in over five years, it may be hard to know where to begin listening to the show. To make it easier, we’ve put together the Best of Birthful series, which showcases some of our favorite or most relevant episodes. This is one of those. If you enjoy what you hear, make sure you subscribe. It’s free, and that way you won’t miss a thing. Enjoy.

Hello, mighty parents and parents to be. Thank you as always for all the love you give the show and your feedback, requests, ratings, reviews, and just your general support. All right, the episode for today is with Sophie McEntee, and we’re going to be talking about the enormous transformation that happens during the identity shift of becoming a primary parent or mom. Let’s get right to it. Sophie, welcome!

Sophie McEntee:

Thank you, Adriana. It’s wonderful to be here.

Lozada: Oh, so exciting. Now, tell us a little, we’re going to be talking about the identity shift or the identity crisis of becoming a parent, but why don’t, before we get into that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

McEntee: Well, I’m a practicing psychotherapist and a mom of a six-year-old daughter, and I co-founded a podcast and online resource for mother’s called Honest Mamas. And I’m very passionate about the topic of mothering and specifically really interested in supporting moms on the motherhood journey. You know, their well being, their psychological health, and their spiritual growth, as well.

Lozada: So, let’s talk about what is that about? What shifts in our identity when we become parents?

McEntee: I mean, what shifts in our identity when we become parents or moms, it’s like everything shifts. You know, that’s the short answer. Everything really does shift. Who we understand ourselves to be, this question of who am I now? The qualities that make us up as people, I mean that’s our identity, right? And when we have a baby, it just really resets that identity. Everything changes. You know, it’s sort of like an existential, spiritual, psychological crisis happening all at once, and we can’t really tend to it because when we become new parents, most of us know, is that we hit the ground running. So, the time we had to cultivate other parts of our identity and who we were before baby, I mean that time and energy is no longer there initially.

So, when those pieces of ourselves aren’t being practiced and we’re not living that life we had before baby arrives, we really start to wonder, like, “Well, who am I?” So, you know, an identity is also a role that’s constantly fluid and changing, especially in relationship to our children, so it’s ongoing. It’s always shifting that identity as a mom or a parent.

Lozada: Absolutely. And from my perspective as a doula, I’ve always had this notion and I tell everybody who will listen that birth has to be such an intense, tectonic shifting event, because you need a physical representation of that change that is occurring inside you. I really hate when people go like, “Oh, after you have a baby, nothing will ever be the same.” Well, what does that nothing will ever be the same mean?

McEntee: Physically, I mean there’s the obvious physical transformation. It’s a radical transformation. I mean, we’re passing life through our bodies, and everything physically that changes in us in order to do that, and there’s no going back. There’s a lot of pressure. And you know, social discourse and dominant messages in media about going back, getting your body back, returning to this really fit body, I think it’s an incredible pressure on women and new moms, because really our bodies… How can they go back? How can they be the same again after such an intense transformation?

And so, that’s one thing. Our bodies change dramatically. And hormonally, as well. There are a lot of hormones, a cocktail of hormones we’re trying to negotiate as new moms. And you know, that can cause a lot of different emotions to surface, so if that leads us into kind of the psychological transformation that happens, so you know you have these emotions you’re trying to navigate. Really big feelings that are surfacing. A new role, an identity that we’re trying to integrate into our day-to-day lives, and physically we’re no longer that person that we were before we had a baby, and all of this is happening, and we don’t often have language for it. It’s just we’re in survival mode, trying to get a shower in or to get a decent night’s sleep.

So, I don’t think these things are talked about enough ahead of time and women aren’t prepared enough going into pregnancy, and birth, and new motherhood in ways that adequately support this identity shift and potential crisis that can occur.

Lozada: Right. And you know, one of the things that I hear, like one of the things that tends to be heard a lot about the postpartum period is that you end up losing yourself, like moms feel, especially those who are having postpartum mood symptoms, right? How can new moms and new parents prepare, how do they prevent getting to that point?

McEntee: I think initially there is a little bit of a shift in losing who we thought we were or who we were at one point, and then this integration period of finding ourselves anew with these new skills, and powers, and aspects of ourselves as mothers. One thing that’s a practical thing that moms can do with their partners, families, or community, is to create a postpartum plan, and this is a plan that can include plan around rest, plan around food, plan around when does mom get to shower. I mean, they seem like little things, but as a psychotherapist I know whenever there’s a big transition, life transition, it’s really vital that people get to rest and have ground, just grounded practices in order to integrate that transition.

And we know as new moms, we don’t get a lot of time to luxuriate in that integration time, but it’s really key. It’s really key in trying to integrate this new identity with who we were before.

Lozada: So, let’s talk a little bit more about how in our cultural idea of motherhood, how usually you’re expected to put your needs and desires in the backburner, or put others’ needs ahead of yours, so it can be that when you’re feeling like, “Ah, I don’t want to be with my baby,” like that give and take, then you get a whole set of because you have this imposition of, “But I should be this kind of mother.” Guilt comes along.

McEntee: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, that’s a really great point. Because I think there are social pressures of how we should mother, you know? And the reality is it can look so many different ways and it’s really pretty messy. And it’s just there are a lot of conflicting feelings. It’s a big adjustment period. Sometimes we love our baby. Sometimes we want to run away from our baby. And for most people, it’s really difficult to hold these conflicting realities at the same time. And so, a lot of moms might think there’s something wrong, like I should be happy, my baby’s healthy, why do I feel this way? It should feel different.

You know, we do a lot of shoulding, right? Like we’re shoulding ourselves into a reality, like it should look a certain way and feel a certain way. And we’re measuring it against these social representations that are just really limiting and inaccurate and unfair. These social messages of how mothers should feel, and behave, and just all of those ideas of how it should be. It’s just a really painful setup for mothers to feel like they’re failing. When that’s really not the case. It’s just a really messy, emotional, complicated transition.

Lozada: Absolutely. No, you need to take the time to integrate and be gentle with yourself, and I love how you said that it’s a messy period. This is a transition. You’re in flux. It’s gonna be messy. You can’t transition without it being messy and finding your new identity, so I think normalizing that and letting people know that… You know, just try to be open and have some grace with whatever is happening.

Lozada: Let’s talk a little bit about the label of mother and how… So, up to the time you become a mother, that label is not yours. It is your mother, right? Mother was never you. It’s your mom.

McEntee: Good point. Yeah.

Lozada: Right? And then suddenly it’s yours and you have to figure out how you put on that suit.

McEntee: Yes.

Lozada: So, my question is twofold, like what do you do with that, and also how do you bring that in, and integrate it, and connect it, and not lose your other labels of a partner, or an individual, or a career person, or a woman, or even a sexy woman?

McEntee: Yeah. Fantastic. Fantastic question. Well, the first part of that I’ll answer by saying I think it’s so important for women who are planning to become pregnant or are pregnant to really do some exploration work around their own relationship to their mothers. And even their own birth, you know? What are mothers’ self-care practices? What does it mean to be a mother? What does it mean to relate to a mother? Just some inquiry around how you hold that idea of mother in your mind and heart.

So, then another exercise could be like, “Well, how do I want to show up as a mother.” Right? You ask yourself personally how do I want to mother my child and what do I want that experience to look, feel like, and be about, so it’s an interesting exercise to do just to kind of compare those different inquiries with one another. So, and I’ll also want to add a third piece is that we also inherit this sort of collective understanding of what mother is, right? That’s very specific to this day and age and culture, and that, we also inherit baggage with that, and hopefully things will be changing and are changing in certain ways, but I think that was surprising to me, too. It’s like, “Oh, right.” There’s no paid maternity leave here in America and it’s certainly not adequate.

Whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re trying to integrate all of that between diaper changes, and on little sleep, and so to answer the second part of your question around how do we stay connected to these really beautiful parts of ourselves that aren’t just a mother, right? Or aren’t mothering only. We’re also sisters, and partners, and friends, and we have relationships to ourselves. We have interests. We have desires. Maybe we had a career before baby or maybe we’re still trying to negotiate career with baby.

So, all these other dimensions of who we can be as women, we go through growing pains around that. We sure do. And part of your question is how do we stay connected to those places. You know, I think initially at first, to be compassionate and know that we might not, we might lose connection with some of those parts, and that’s okay momentarily, and in time to trust that there will be a way that we can integrate those aspects of ourselves that still matter to us back into our day-to-day life.

Lozada: You know, some things will return. Some things, you’ll be able to get back to, like the gym.

McEntee: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Lozada: Some things are gone forever, and you should do what you need to do to mourn that and move on, because otherwise you’re just fighting the whole process.

McEntee: Yeah. It’s so true. Well, I think we do naturally let go of some things that don’t serve us on the motherhood journey or the parenting journey, and I think you’re correct, and like we live in a highly individualistic society where it can be a lot of me, me, me, iPhones, and it’s about the individuals. I mean, I think about two key sort of postures required to be a parent and one is sacrifice, and one is devotion, and I remember becoming a parent and very surprised about the level of sacrifice and devotion to this little being in front of me, and thinking like, “Wow. I haven’t really been on a path in my life or felt really adequately supported by this society to really drop into sacrifice and devotion.”

And it’s a tough transition when we haven’t been in that mode of practicing those in this culture, and this dominant culture, Western culture, of practicing those things.

Lozada: Yeah. I mean, this idea that parenting requires sacrifice and devotion, of course it does. If you’re a parent, you know this. But I don’t think that I, and I don’t think a lot of people, when they’re thinking, “Oh, I’m gonna have a baby and I’m gonna be a mom!” And all these things, ever think, “Oh, I am going to sacrifice so many things and be devoted absolutely to this kid.”

McEntee: No.

Lozada: That concept of… We don’t say vows to our child of we do like, “In sickness and in health,” if we got married to our partners, but we don’t go like we’re gonna sacrifice and devote to you little kid when we become a mother.

McEntee: Yes. It’s a great point.

Lozada: Oh, my goodness! Because if you… Even though we, I do sacrifice and devote to my child, just the thought of having to sacrifice and devote to anything, just like my body automatically clenches up, like, “I don’t want to do that!”

McEntee: Right. Right. Yeah, because I think there’s this understanding that if we do that, that we lose ourselves. That somehow it’s all about others. Because I don’t think in the dominant discourse we’re really shown how to stay with self, honor self, and show up for others enough. And it’s.. That, to me, is the core practice of parenting, is how do I show up for myself? How do I honor myself? And how do I show up for this being in front of me? And the devotion and sacrifice… Well, just the devotion. The devotion is the love, right? And the sacrifice is, “Okay, there are gonna be times where I put my need to the side.” But how do we do that? How do we skillfully put that need to the side but not abandon ourselves completely? I think that’s the… The society that we’ve grown up in, that’s that polarity, right? It’s them versus me. Do they get their needs or do I get my needs met? And that’s what we come to, I think, as parents, which is incredibly unfortunate and painful, because it’s not a healthy way to parent. It’s not a healthy way to live.

And inevitably, someone loses themself in it, right?

Lozada: You know, one in seven or more parents are having some symptoms of postpartum mood disorders, like we’re… The system’s not supporting. And so, by just taking that step back and going, “I am going to introspect. I am going to integrate. I am going to pay attention, and choose, and know that sometimes I’ll make mistakes. Often I’ll make mistakes. But I’m going to pay attention, be mindful about what I’m doing because I am also modeling it for my child.”

McEntee: Right.

Lozada: That’s gonna start making some big changes.

McEntee: I agree. I really do believe so. Yes. And I think in that process, it can get messier, and in that process, the more awareness we bring to it, it also can become fodder to like beat ourselves up about how we’re not quite getting it. So, I think extra compassion in this process, in this mindfulness, it’s been broken. It’s been a broken system. And I think if that was held at a larger level, that that would trickle down and really communicate to women that you know what? This is a difficult time. And we want to support you at a political, government level. We care. And we’re gonna provide resources during this time of transition.

So, it doesn’t have to be put on mothers alone, that responsibility, like another thing to get, another thing to master, another thing on the things to do list to get perfect. There really needs to be this call to action for the larger collective at all these different sociopolitical levels to step up and really start taking better care of mothers and parents.

Lozada: Yeah, and what a hit to your identity in this shift that not only are… The message that you’re getting socially, culturally, politically, is that as you step into this role, your identity shifts to a devalued state.

McEntee: Yes. Yes. Exactly. Another tricky thing to negotiate in terms of identity is have a dominant culture that really supports independence. You have a life that really practices independence, and then all of a sudden you have this little being that’s incredibly dependent on you and all these feelings internally of needing to depend on community, family, and even a larger political system. There’s this need for dependence on that and that’s completely healthy, I think completely okay, but I think this is where we fail women, right? And fail mothers specifically. We don’t really get how much support moms need. And so, instead of going, “Okay, I’m feeling all of this dependency stuff which is tough for me to negotiate personally and I turn around to see my community, family, and larger society holding for this dependence.” And there are drops in the system and that’s where women falter and feel unsupported, and then start to blame themselves for that.

Lozada: Yeah.

McEntee: Like, “I must be doing something wrong.”

Lozada: Yeah. I’m inadequate. Yeah.

McEntee: This is about me. I’m inadequate because-

Lozada: Yeah. What do we do with all those feels?

McEntee: Well, you know what? It’s so important to let them come, because any transformation or change in a larger collective or paradigm shift that I’ve witnessed is initiated by people that are getting pissed off, upset, and saying, “This is not right.” Something needs to shift here. So, to let your upset come, to let your anger come, to have compassion for yourselves, to know that there’s something larger happening here that isn’t just about you being “a bad mom,” or not getting it. So, to sit with some of those feelings and to find a trusted friend, a counselor, talk to a family member about what’s going on, join communities. There are so many fantastic communities now, whether it’s online, or in your community, of like minded women that…

You know, I mean sometimes this can happen in moms groups, but my experience is with some moms groups, things can stay a little on the surface, but really find those community of moms that are willing to have those harder conversations, and that welcome the grittiness, and the messiness, and some of those harder feelings around the motherhood journey.

Lozada: I want to officially tear down the concept of the super woman that can do it all and have it all.

McEntee: Yes.

Lozada: Because that is a trap that is letting us all down.

McEntee: Absolutely.

Lozada: So, if you’re out there listening and you think, “Oh, I’ll just do this, and have my super career, and I’ll have my baby, and everything will…” No. So, do yourself a favor and let go of that idea.

McEntee: Yeah. Oh, amen to that. Yeah. And I gladly join with you to just tear down that concept of super women. You know, because I am all about mothers living their most empowered and expressed life, but I think that’s very different than feeling like you’ve gotta do it all and be it all, and I think there’s an incredible social pressure and an unrealistic standard that women should do it all, and it’s a painful, painful setup for burnout in moms.

Lozada: Can we also talk about this, another concept that is just what you were talking about triggered in my brain, is this idea of the fantasy that we create in our minds of what… The mother we’re gonna be, and the baby we’re gonna have, and the life we’re gonna lead. And what happens when that matches… When you actually have the baby and are in those first few weeks and months of motherhood, and how that reality does not match up with your fantasy.

McEntee: Yeah. We’re maybe dreaming for this experience of being a mother and then when we get there and we arrive there, the reality doesn’t measure up to the fantasy, and there’s inevitably an adjustment period that happens during that time, and I think for a lot of women it can bring up grief, and I think that’s totally natural and normal. And anytime we have an expectation or idea of how something’s gonna be and then how it’s actually met with reality, we can grieve that fantasy or that idea of how it should be, or we thought it should be, and so just to be gentle with yourselves, to have a lot of compassion for that adjustment period. It may take a few weeks. It may take months. It may take years just to really be kind with and allow yourself to have those moments of what you did dream or fantasize about to find new versions of it in the reality before you, and to let all your feelings get a place at the table to be there as you transition into what is actually real before you.

Lozada: So much. Because it is so hard. It is so hard to just accept what you’re going through and not… and step into that instead of fighting it, and try to figure out how to live it, and then improve it if there’s things you don’t like about it.

McEntee: Right. Yeah. And to know that you have agency in it, that it might not measure up, but this isn’t a reality necessarily that you just have to live with it in a victim way, like end of story, but how to find your agency in creating something that you are really fulfilled by with what you’re given and what the reality looks like.

Lozada: Yeah.

McEntee: So, work with it. Yeah.

Lozada: Sophie, one last question. How can this identity shift affect your relationship? Because this isn’t happening in a vacuum. It’s not just you. Usually you have a partner that’s in this with you.

McEntee: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. It’s such an important topic and a really important thing to discuss with your partner, because that transition to two to three is really one of the most profound challenges a couple will ever face I think, is letting their relationship grow to that number three. Because you know, you have less time, you have less communication, you’re on less sleep, possibly less money or freedom, and less time to really cultivate the relationship that you have, and less privacy. And I think all of these things can be really taxing on a relationship and especially when I think in this day and age, North American parents feel… They’re bombarded with information. I think they’re very overworked and potentially overwhelmed. That you know, it really takes time. It takes time to adjust to these new roles and these new identities in your family.

And to welcome in this little baby and to find what the family… how the family rhythm is, and what it feels like to be this family of three, and it does take time. It can take weeks, and months, and sometimes years just to find your bearings again, and you know, parenthood in general, it’s this real emphasis on routine, predictability, and regularity, which initially can be a bit of an intimacy killer with parents, right? Those things, that kind of routine, predictability and regularity doesn’t necessarily set couples up for that sparkly romantic connection.

So, just to be again, kind and gentle with that transition to try to have as much communication with your partner as possible about some of the struggles or challenges that might be coming up, and also becoming new parents or first-time parents, I think it can bring up a lot of emotional triggers in a relationship, because both partners have a way of or an understanding of what it means to be a mom, and what it means to be a dad, and again, that might not be an accurate match with how your partner is showing up, so I think that can stir up potential feelings and triggers from the past, or even your own experience in your family of origin.

So, again, just a lot of different challenges to navigate with your partner, and it can also be a time of incredible celebration, and beauty, and bonding with a partner, as well.

Lozada: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. And we don’t want to be like, “Hey, identity shift. Check it out. You’re screwed now. You’re a parent. Welcome.”

McEntee: Right, right.

Lozada: Welcome to eternal sacrifice and devotion! Right? But I think the more you even know that this is gonna happen, then you can prepare for it, be ready, and join up as a team with your partner to move forward through what you’re going through, and like really make it so that it brings you closer together.

McEntee: Right. It’s the whole information is power.

Lozada: Yes.

McEntee: I think that’s the point of the podcast episode here, is that we just want to give a lot of information and give people the heads up, because I think we were both moms that were like, “Why didn’t anyone tell us?” You know?

Lozada: Right.

McEntee: And so, I think to me, this is an answer to that call.

Lozada: You’ve been listening to a Best of Birthful episode. To listen to the original, longer version of this episode, click on the link on the show notes. And there are many more where this came from. Look for episodes with the words Best of Birthful in the title to continue your deep dive to inform your intuition. You can find the in-depth show notes for this episode at Birthful.com. You can also connect with us directly on Instagram. We’re @BirthfulPodcast.

Birthful was created by me, Adriana Lozada, and is a production of Lantigua Williams & Co. The show’s senior producer is Paulina Velasco. Virginia Lora is the managing producer. Cedric Wilson is our lead producer. Alie Kilts contributed to the production of the Best of Birthful series. Thank you for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen. Come back every week for more ways to inform your intuition.

CITATION:

Lozada, Adriana, host. “Best of Birthful: How to Navigate the Identity Shift of Becoming a Mom.” Birthful, Lantigua Williams & Co., October 19, 2020. Birthful.com.

 


 

 


 

Courtesy of Sophie McEntee

About Sophie McEntee

Sophie McEntee is a licensed psychotherapist with a combined thirteen years of training and clinical experience specializing in the emotional and spiritual well-being of women, specifically mothers. She is the co-founder of Honest Mamas, an online collective that is dedicated to supporting women through the transitional and transformational times of motherhood, including fertility and pregnancy. Sophie works virtually and in person with women who are pregnant, in the postpartum period, and working through issues around Motherhood Identity. Sophie hosts the Honest Mamas podcast, a program dedicated to supporting mothers emotionally and spiritually on the motherhood journey.

Learn more at sophiedmcentee.com and at honestmamas.com

 


 

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