Founder and owner of Cadenshae - Nikki Clarke embraces her newborn, Billie, just days after her birth.
How does motherhood change you? It’s a question of five words, but will take thousands upon thousands to express exactly how becoming ‘mum’ completely changes your life, and you. I can’t go on for too many thousand words, but I'll try give mothers-to-be some sort of idea of what to expect. And even though motherhood can be so tiresome, difficult, challenging, and at times, heart-breaking, becoming a mother changed my life, and changed me personally for the better...I believe the same can be said for most other mums too.
There’s three major categories to explain how motherhood is a life-changing experience (aside from the obvious physical changes). There’s the changes to your logistics, your identity and your emotions...especially your emotions!
Let’s begin with the logistical side of things.
Before you have children, the only thing you’re truly responsible for is yourself, and perhaps a few pets. The only food you have to prepare is for you and maybe your partner. The clothes you buy are just for you, the doctor's appointments you make are for you only. You go to work and make money for you and perhaps for your partnership. When you want to go somewhere, you just have to get yourself ready and go...wherever you want, for as long as you want. There’s no restrictions or curfews, at least none given to you by anyone else but yourself. You make your own rules, your own choices. You’re essentially, completely free.
You have time. So much time...and even on your busiest days, you will still find a little time for yourself. You don’t realise how much spare time you had until you have children. You just don’t get it, until you’re a parent. Then...when you do become a parent, you wonder what you actually did with all that spare time...usually...whatever you wanted. You slept in. You went for a run, for a walk, to the gym...you went to netball practice perhaps. You took your time making and eating meals. You went out for breakfast, lunch or dinner...perhaps all in one day. You went shopping. You travelled...you worked late. You watched movies on a Sunday afternoon on the couch, while you nursed your hangover, or recuperated from a big work week. You did what you wanted with your time, because your time was yours and yours alone.
"Time is just bizarre after kids. Everything is both too fast and too slow. And you appreciate how much freedom and time you actually USED to have. Why didn't I take up more hobbies, or learn more things?" - Caroline Carpenter, mother and Playcentre President.
You are well rested. You won’t realise it, but you are. Even on your hardest days, where sleep evades you...you will eventually find the time to ‘catch up’ because for the most part, you can do what you want, when you want...so there’s ample opportunity to get back on track. As a parent, when you’re exhausted, you remain that way for a very long time, with little reprieve. You may catch up a little bit, but only if your child allows...you don’t get to catch up when you want to. It’s not up to you anymore. It’s up to them. You’ll be in a constant state of exhaustion until your body adjusts and settles into a life of multiple wake-ups and fewer hours rest. Eventually you’ll learn to function on less sleep...but even so, you are not well rested. Not like you once were. One day when your children are older this will change...but for the first few years...you’re tired.
"When you’re pre-children and you think you’re tired, you're not tired, you’ve never even come close to knowing what feeling tired is like! Anxiety levels also rise with having the responsibility of these little people. Love. The love for your child/children is next level, indescribable." - Kirsten McEwan - mother and farmer.
Olympian and mother of three - Alysia Montaño catches a few zzzzs while wearing her 'Smoothie Crop' in confetti/white.
The things you have in your home are for you and your partner’s convenience only. You may have a fabulous coffee machine, and an uncomfortable but stylish couch. A large bed with as many pillows and cushions as you desire. You don’t have things in your house to please anyone else but you and perhaps your partner. You are void of certain equipment...equipment that at this point in time, you have no idea even exists. You will know about prams and cots and car seats, but you may not be aware of Lulla Dolls and sleep sacks and bed rails and baby swings...and all the rest of it!
And then there's your identity. For this one, I got the expert run-down from Clinical Psychologist, mother of identical twin girls and owner of ‘EmpowerMums’ - Dr. Missy Wolfman.
"When a woman becomes a mother, there is a significant change in the way she perceives herself and the way others perceive her. Take me, for example: as soon as I had my twin babies, I was instantly known as 'that twin mum' in my local neighbourhood as I was constantly pushing around the beast that is our twin stroller! I wasn't known as 'Missy' but as 'Aria and Lexie's mum.' Everyone would coo and talk to my babies, and sometimes I felt like another accessory attached to the twin stroller rather than a human with a whole life, career, friends and passions of my own...long before my kids came along. My own sense of who I am also changed after becoming a mum and I had to question a lot of my values, priorities and how to fulfil my kids' needs while not losing who I am."
Let's not forget the emotions...so...many...emotions!
Becoming a mother makes you more emotional, more sensitive...and this is by no means a bad thing. You’ll cry watching the news and during movies when children are ill, hurt or in emotional pain. All you will see is your child/children in that moment and you’ll be torn apart by it. You’ll be overwhelmed with this huge responsibility and almost crippling love that your emotional state becomes more fragile than it once was. You’ll see all children in a different light and want to protect them all...not just yours...and not even just human children! The kittens your cat has will mean so much more now you’re a mum, and you’ll feel a larger connection to all mothers, animal or human!
"Pre-motherhood, most people think that being a mum would bring the best emotions out of you. There is a cultural expectation that becoming a mother is the most joyful process and that having kids means you will be at your happiest. This can be true for most mums, but the actual reality is that motherhood makes all emotions more intense - love, happiness, sadness, fear, anger, shame, guilt. Lots of mums feel guilty that they get frustrated and angry with their baby or kids because they think they should feel intense love for their kids 100% of the time. My kids bring me the most joy and love, and I am so proud of them whenever they achieve something - even more proud than my own achievements. However, I've never felt my emotions so intensely including anger, until I had my kids. This can feel like a taboo subject for some mums but it's important for our emotional wellbeing to acknowledge all of our emotions - even the 'shadow' ones like anger and sadness. Feeling all of these emotions does not make you a bad mum - after all, you are a human being first and foremost." - Dr. Missy Wolfman.
Motherhood makes you a powerhouse of protection. When that child is put in your arms you would walk through flames to keep it safe. You would take on a bear to protect your child and you wouldn’t think twice. You will feel something within your gut you have never felt before...and it will not only scare you at what you’re now capable of doing for your child...but it will also empower you.
"Motherhood changes you in the best way possible. Until I became a mother, I had no idea it was possible to love someone else so deeply and so profoundly that you will never be the same again. You laugh louder, cry more easily, love harder, worry more and it’s hard to explain the constant wave of emotions that you feel, every single day." - Gemma McCaw - mother and former New Zealand Black Stick.
This one surprised me and I'm so glad it happened. I became more patient. I am the most impatient person in the world, yet when my own mother sees me with my children, she often comments on how patient I have become...with them and in general. I think you simply have to be more patient or you’ll go mad. Children take ages to get their shoes on...they may take forever to finish their potatoes, they want you to read 10 books before bed, not just the one and so on, and so forth. Whether you consciously do it or not, you will become more patient and also, more understanding.
You’ll happily put yourself second when you become a parent. Before, you did whatever you wanted, now...you’ll do almost anything to make your child/children smile, even if it means giving up or sacrificing what you need for yourself. You become selfless. You constantly give and you don’t expect anything back. Although, when they first run up to you after being apart for a few hours, or the first time they tell you they love you...it’s reward enough I tell you.
Dr. Missy Wolfman with her twin daughters, Aria (left) and Lexie (right).
Motherhood makes you more sympathetic and less judgemental...not only of other mothers and parents, but of all the people around you. Before having children you had ideas on how you would raise them...I bet what you thought you’d do and what you actually do are somewhat different. You learn to forgive yourself, be more sympathetic and less judgemental to yourself, and so this flows on to others. You understand why some babies have a dummy until they're five...it may not be your cup of tea, but you understand now that a mum has just got to do ‘whatever works!’ You saw children on a leash at the airport pre-babies and thought ‘how bloody ridiculous!’ And although you may not go that far, you do get it, and are sometimes tempted after your second to third airport experience, particularly with multiple children! You smile knowingly at the mother who is dealing with a child having a full meltdown because she wouldn’t get her an ice-cream...you get it, and you hope she holds strong! ‘Stick to your guns mama!’ You see other mothers and you appreciate them, you sympathise with them, you support them and you are in awe of them, just as they are of you...
You’ll trust your gut now more than ever, and the further into it you get you’ll realise the true power of your intuition. A mother’s intuition is somewhat magical. You know instantly that there’s something wrong if she’s sick...you’ll know right away if you don’t get a good vibe off of the daycare teacher. You’ll know when he’s had enough to eat, or not enough…your gut will guide you...don’t question it, always pursue it. No one knows their child like their parents, and again for many, no one knows their child like their mother.
Motherhood brings out your inner child. You’ll find yourself dancing to ‘Crazy Frog’ at 9:30am because your kids are having a ball...'why the heck not?' you think! On the odd day you'll go for an ice-cream just before dinner because ‘YOLO! You’re only a kid once!’ You’ll find yourself playing ‘Spider-man vs Hulk’ and ‘Mummies and Daddies’ more times than you probably did when you were a kid, and you’ll love it...because they do. You have a passport to be silly, to be spontaneous and to just be...fun. If my kids remember nothing else about their childhood and how I was as a mother, I want them to remember I loved them wholeheartedly of course, but also that I was a ‘fun mum,’ I got down on the ground and I played with them...even when I actually DESPISE playing with LEGO.
Becoming a mother gives you a new take on life. You look at things differently, you appreciate things more and you care far more about the future of the world than you may have previously...because there will come a time when you’re no longer there for your children and you’ll want to ensure you leave them in a safe place. Well, as much as you can. Your children will become your world, their needs will trump yours and that creates a major shift in your views and how you experience things. You feel more deeply, and tread more carefully.
"It changes your perspective on everything because you want the world to be a better place for them. Everything is filtered through a new lens of what that will mean for your child." - Chantelle Komene - mother and Communications Manager.
You'll experience the worst kind of guilt - mum guilt. No matter what you do, you'll feel guilty about something. You'll feel guilty for having to go back to work and dropping them at daycare, but you may also feel guilty for not going to work and earning less money for the family. You'll feel guilty about being so tired that you just need time for yourself, so you put the T.V. on....you're so tired, you need a rest, but you still feel guilty (even though you shouldn't!). You'll feel guilty for snapping at them, even though you were at the end of your tether (you're only human)! And almost abnormally, you might feel guilty for NOT snapping at them when maybe they needed a wee telling off...'do I spoil them? Am I too much of a pushover?' No matter what you do, you'll feel guilty...especially in the beginning, but these feelings will ease, or you'll learn to rationalise the mum guilt with yourself. The best advice my mother gave to me was, 'you're only one person' when I was feeling guilty for not spending as much time with my eldest when my second was born. That's so true - you can only do so much...and really, if you're worrying and feeling guilty about being a good mother - then you already are.
"Motherhood has brought a new feeling for me called guilt. I say this without a heavy heart. I knew I would struggle and other mothers told me I would too, but they also said it would be okay. I have often had to fight the thoughts of feeling guilty because I still want to chase my Olympic dream. In those moments I pause and think what would I tell my daughter? “You and your feelings matter and motherhood should add to your life in the most beautiful way.” When I think of this it makes me more intentional in everything I do." - Dawn Harper-Nelson, Olympic Gold and Silver Medalist, 100m hurdles.
Dawn Harper-Nelson, doing some training in her Cadenshae elitewear while her daughter Harper tries out a block start too!
In saying all that though, you’ll also learn to give less !@#$s in some areas! Some things you’ll worry about more of course, but the things you used to hold in such high esteem you just won't care about as much anymore. You won’t care about washing your hair every second day, or wearing make-up to go to the store. You won’t care about replying to a work email IMMEDIATELY like you used to...it can wait, your kid needs his bum wiped. You won’t care about the latest fashion trends or being at the party...you just won’t care, and it’s so unbelievably freeing. Zero !@#$s given and it’s awesome.
"You don’t sweat the small stuff as much and all you want is for your baby to be content. You lose a bit of yourself, but you find yourself too. Your perspective changes and you appreciate the little things when you become a mum. The joy of a baby smiling at you, the tranquillity of a shower on your own, the freedom of an hour to yourself, the bliss of a hot coffee and the luxury of a full night’s sleep." - Gemma McCaw - mother and former New Zealand Black Stick.
To begin with particularly, motherhood is scary...but once you’ve been doing it for a while, you'll become so much more confident in your abilities, in who you are as a person and who you are as a mother. You tend to care less about what other people think and how other people parent, and you march to the beat of your own drum...because your child is unique, you're unique, there is no coupling in the world the same as yours...so do it your way, just as the mother beside you is doing it her's. There’s no comparison...you begin to own your decisions and your intuition and it’s a damn good feeling once you get there (can take a few months/years though!)
The motherhood experience. It makes your stronger, it gives you a true sense of worth and purpose, it shifts your priorities, and of course among many other changes that will occur...your heart will now burst with a love you’ve never experienced (for some of us this might take a few months, and that's okay too!). Motherhood does so much to a person that it can not ever be explained in one article, but I hope we have given you an inkling at least.
You’ll soon understand when you join the 'mum club,' and what a club to belong to. Unreal.
Motherhood - it will change you - but you've totally got this.
Written by Ellen Chisholm in conjunction with Dr. Missy Wolfman of 'Empower Mums,' Dawn Harper-Nelson, Chantelle Komene, Caroline Carpenter, Kirsten McEwan and Gemma McCaw.