Catherine Cameron: Who am I?
Who am I?
Before I gave birth to my daughter, I often filled in enrolment and application forms on autopilot.
Name, age, place of birth, passport number…these were promptly followed by automatic answers.
Recently however, there is one word in which my pen has begun to pause.
Occupation. A word that until now, has never been difficult to define.
For years, my occupation wasn’t simply what I did, it was who I was. It determined how I dressed. It influenced how I spent most of my free time. It shaped my mood. It gave me a sense of purpose. It made me accountable.
My occupation introduced me to ambition. And before long, I was addicted to it.
Even once I fell pregnant, I continued to look into the future with the same ambitious eyes. I applied for a promotion. I made plans to accelerate my overseas travel. I made promises.
And then, she was born.
And the dotted line that had always been so nonchalantly filled with ‘teacher’ suddenly had to give way, to ‘mother.’
In fact, so did everything else. My needs. My time. My thoughts.
It was never a matter of ‘I guess things will have to change,’ but more, ‘how have things changed so much?’
For me, looking down the barrel of maternity leave was strange. At the beginning, I wasn’t exactly keeping a diary and thinking about the weeks to come. I was surviving one day at a time.
Sleep deprivation consumed me. My days became divisions of awake times, nap times, and feed times. I became a different version of myself; one neither my husband nor I had met before.
However, the more my girl grew, the more my days were glittered with activities, and the more I got to know this new version of myself.
And before long, we found our groove.
Lesson planning morphed into nap scheduling. Late night emailing morphed into twilight baby Googling. My morning shower and hair straightening morphed into frantic scrubbing and a mum bun. Preparations, writing, marking and assessing morphed into meal preparation, cleaning, organising, and washing.
Prior to motherhood, the anxiety that came with work stress was overwhelming at times. But the anxiety that came with motherhood made looming deadlines, unfinished emails, and lingering assessments seem like a walk in the park.
Every waking moment was consumed with the responsibility and maternal love I felt for this little beating heart.
Before long, I found it almost impossible to imagine what my days looked like before motherhood. Although I was still planning on returning to work, I felt as though I lived on another planet.
And here I stand, on this other planet, and I often ask myself -
What am I now?
Who am I now?
The truth is, the answer to that isn’t so clear anymore.
There are no longer frequent appraisals, affirming emails, and gratuitous students. I am no longer answering to an alarm clock, that I control myself. There are no longer adult conversations, long lunches, toilet breaks, or ‘sick days’.
Although at times I felt as though I was running from one thing to the next in my profession, the roads were always straight, and many I had visited before. The roads of motherhood however are never straight, and rarely have you travelled them before.
This lack of control, and unpredictability has caused me to feel lost at times. A feeling that is fuelled by the isolation motherhood brings. And perhaps it is this isolation that has been most confronting, as I am so used to being part of a team.
But this is why motherhood can be so confusing. Because with these feelings of isolation, or of searching for the life that once was, comes a realisation I can’t quite explain.
Sure, underneath the mum bun and unplucked brows there is still a career loving woman scratching her way to the surface through piles of washing and dirty dishes.
But she’s different.
I, am different.
The linear fashion in which I lived my professional life has been expanded, folded, and re-arranged.
And finally, I am realising I like it better that way.
I know when I eventually return to work, the adult interaction and accountability of my profession will recommence. I know my job will soon be exactly as it used to be, and perhaps, so will my days.
But I won’t be.
At each stage of motherhood I feel as though I am getting to know myself for the first time. And with that come questions, reflections, and realisations. At times this can be scary. But mostly, it is empowering.
Whether you are a stay at home mum, a working mum, or something in between, you too are empowered with a version of yourself you may not have known before.
And this version holds just as much importance, if not more, as the occupation you once wrote, or still are writing on the dotted line. And whatever this version looks like for you, be proud of colour it adds to what used to be a definitive answer.
You are still you, just that little bit brighter.