My Identity Crisis Postpartum Is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

Deep self-care is what saved me—and it can help you, too.
deep self care

My husband extended his hand to help me off the hardwood floor in our bedroom. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling down my face. I cried, “I’m so fucking tired! I’m over it!” 

My infant son refused to sleep more than four hours at a time. I was sleep deprived and I was done. I wanted to go back to work; working at a law firm at that time seemed way easier than this mothering business.

The law firm grind never came close to killing me, but I felt my baby might. 

But it wasn’t just the sleep deprivation. Something else was happening to me. My identity was shifting. We often talk about the limited freedom we must accept when we have kids; that you can no longer do what you want whenever you want, because you now have a child you’re responsible for.  

But we don’t talk enough about what happens to women whose identities were largely defined by their work. When they become new mothers, it can feel like everything about their sense of self is being forcibly transformed.  

I remember telling my husband, “I’m not just a mother.” The thought of being “just a mother” made me feel less than who I actually was. 

It was not only the lawyer title that was missing; it was the arduous journey of becoming a lawyer that the title represented, which had so profoundly shaped who I was, my sense of worth and my daily life.

So when a family friend said I should “feel free to take a step back” from my career to be a mother, I wanted to punch them in the face. How dare you, I thought. Do you know how hard it is to make it to where I am, I thought. I’ve worked so hard, and now you’re suggesting I throw that all away

Recognizing then Identity Shift

What I didn’t know then but I know now is at that time, I was grieving. I grieved my old lifestyle of coming and going as I pleased. I grieved the independence I had before I had to abide by a baby’s schedule. The freedom and independence I had intentionally busted my behind to create seemed to have vanished when I became a mother.  

One moment I was feeling upset about it and then the next moment I’m looking at my son in awe of how this little miracle came to be, and singing songs to him with such joy. I’ve learned that  seemingly contradictory feelings can be true at the same time. You can’t completely shut off one feeling to make way for another, and the experience of first-time motherhood is an emotional, mental, and spiritual rollercoaster. Yet, my unhappiness and an emptiness dominated my daily experience as a new mother. 

Something had to give.

I started getting curious about the reasons why I felt this way.

Why was this identity shift so hard for me?

What was all this grief about?

Why did I really want to go back to work so badly? 

Was it because I loved working so much? That wasn’t it.

While I loved my colleagues and the practice of lawyering, I didn’t love the subject matter of most of my cases: securities law. It wasn’t meaningful to me. So the reason I longed to be working wasn’t that I was in love with the work.  

Who am I … without my work? 

That one question— after I had been asking myself so many others—changed everything. I was on the hunt for reasons why I felt so attached to work. In attempting to figure it out, I stumbled upon podcasts and books that helped me explore my own patterns of thinking and behaviors, where they came from and the harmful social conditioning I subconsciously bought into that pit motherhood against career. 

I faced the hard truth about myself: that my identity and my sense of self-worth was almost entirely based on my job and my title.  

My work was how I felt validated as a person. The praise I received for performing at a high level in a fast-paced environment made me feel special, worthy and deserving of being there. As one of the very few Brown woman law firm associates, I was fighting to feel worthy of the very thing I had earned. I had never fully felt deserving of it, so I grinded to show myself that I did. But that moment never came. It never does when you’re running that kind of rat race.  

Separating My Self-Worth 

When I engaged in my own deep self-reflection, I realized how much my identity and self-worth were wrapped up in my work—and it wasn’t an empowering moment. I felt ashamed and embarrassed for relying so heavily on work to prove my worth as a person and to feel validated and important. I felt foolish for giving all that power away, and I decided I’d never do that again. 

I was a lawyer, but that was not all of me— it was only one part of me. So was motherhood. While motherhood is hands down the most important job I have, motherhood does not encompass all of me either.

I have other pieces of me, like the part of me that loves hot yoga, that feels alive when I’m learning and growing in new ways and deeply connecting with my favorite people, or the part of me that’s a first generation Latina who has beaten the odds to even have graduated college. 

When I returned to work after my maternity leave, how I viewed my work, and the meaning I ascribed to it, was different. Rather than seeing work as my entire life, I saw my work in the broader context of my life as a mother and everything else that made me feel meaning and aliveness. While my standards for my work remained high, I found myself not depending on my work to feel any specific way about myself. 

But I couldn’t have gotten to that place if I hadn’t gotten honest with myself about what I was feeling and experiencing while on maternity leave, exploring the reasons why, and re-evaluating who the heck I was. 

Deciding What I Wanted

Over a year after I had my son, the head of Litigation at my firm and my partner mentor shared that I could be up for partner next year. This would have required me to hustle for one year to work on the right cases with the right people, and crush it, to prove I was worthy to join the partnership ranks. 

While partnership is what the pre-motherhood version of me wanted, I had outgrown that person and the expectations that went along with her. I felt a visceral reaction internally at the thought of spending an entire year to “earn” something I didn’t even really want, and having to sacrifice time with my son to make it happen.

I disappointed plenty of people when I chose not to pursue it.  But at some point, we all have to ask ourselves: what do you really want at this stage of life? And at that time for me, it wasn’t making partner. 

Thanks to the fact I’d spent time reflecting, I no longer headed where momentum was taking me or where others expected me to go, but where I wanted to go, and for reasons that only needed to feel right to me.

I wanted more for myself and for my family. Once I got anchored in that, it was easier to take the action to make my internal decision real. The alternative was not an option.

Years later, long after I left the firm for an in-house role—and now with three children—I faced a similar decision when I asked to leave the Legal and Compliance Department to join the People and Organizational Development team in Human Resources to help grow and develop our emerging and current leaders.

Here again, many didn’t understand this: you’re not going to be a lawyer anymore? I’d respond: I’ll always be a lawyer, but I want something else that aligns with who I am now. The work I’ve done designing and leading leadership development initiatives like executive coaching not only aligned with who I had become, but also my coaching practice outside of my day job. My coaching practice lit my soul on fire so I couldn’t have my day job be worlds apart from that, and that’s how it felt until I couldn’t bear that feeling anymore.

These steps are possible because I know what my truth is, and I get to decide whether I want to do anything about it. I get to say: THIS is what I need and want most right now and I’m going to take steps to make it happen—whether it’s saying no to a potential promotion because of what it would mean to the configuration of my life or making a career move to feel more aligned with who I am  

I also get to say: THIS Is what I need and want most, but I can’t change course just yet.

So I’m going to make a plan to make it happen and do what I can with the resources I have, right now. 

We sometimes forget about the opportunities we have to deeply care for ourselves. 

Whether it’s tomorrow or in the next hour, we can take a beat to be honest with ourselves about how much we’ve evolved, what we most want and need in this moment, and start taking small steps to align who we’ve become with how we’re actually living. There’s no right or wrong way to do it; there’s just the way that works for you. You get to decide; that’s where your power lies. It’s been there lying dormant. And it will continue to wait for you to tap into it.


  • Arivee Vargas

    Arivee Vargas is a certified life and High Performance™ coach for women professionals in fast-paced environments. She is a First Gen Latina, a lawyer, keynote speaker, the host of the Humble Rising Podcast, and the fiery mama of three. Learn more about Arivee at and connect with her onLinkedIn.

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