Everyone Told Me My Body Would Change but No One Told Me My Identity Would

Stretch marks? Extra weight? All par for course. But feeling differently about your career? The biggest surprise of all.
identity and career changes postpartum

With my first child, it was natural and almost instinctual to begin preparing for her arrival months before she was born. The list of to-dos on what we needed for her, our house and our car was long and detailed, and I was excited to check each and everything off (except for maybe buying the car seat and putting together the dresser). I took the recommended infant CPR class and a six-week labor and delivery class, and, as it got closer to my due date, I felt as prepared as I could be.

As I would soon realize after her abrupt entry into the world, absolutely nothing can prepare you for the changes that occur mentally, physically and emotionally once you become a mother. 

I knew that I would gain weight, that it would be difficult to lose it and that I may never really look like I did before having a baby. That didn’t worry me. It was a rite of passage I was comfortable with—and proud of. Of course I would gain weight to carry a child and my self-worth wasn’t tied to how fast I could lose it. I’d be fine (or so I thought).

What I wasn’t prepared for was all the other body changes I encountered when I was pregnant and postpartum that I was completely unprepared for.   For starters, I did not expect to lose so much hair or to suffer from extreme tendinitis where I could barely use my right hand in the morning. I did not prepare for my daughter’s refusal to be put down in her crib and only sleeping in 45-minute increments.

And I most definitely did not prepare to lose absolutely all sense of myself as a person.

I’m not sure how a fellow mother could have prepared me for these challenges in the wave of my glowing joy and excitement during pregnancy, and I’m not even sure I would have believed her if she tried.

What I struggled with most was having nowhere to turn to when I was in the thick of this new and difficult experience other than my incredibly patient and loving husband, while as helpful as possible, couldn’t truly relate to having lost any sort of connection to myself.

When I had my daughter, I was 30. I had experienced a great career progression and was passionate about my job. It was very clear to me that after my 12 weeks of maternity leave, I would return to my job and settle into my role as a “working mother.” However, it wasn’t quite as simple as I had imagined it to be. 

My daughter was five weeks premature, but my maternity leave, most of which was unpaid, wasn’t adjusted. So not only was she incredibly small, but I was forced to leave her at a daycare that was unfamiliar.

The weeks leading up to that first daycare drop-off day were excruciating.

How was I going to be okay leaving my daughter with strangers for an entire day, five days a week? I was lucky and secured her a spot at my first choice daycare which was very clean, professional, and caring, but I still struggled with the transition.

After a couple of weeks of being back at work and settling in more, I looked at my computer and something hit me. “I don’t care about this anymore,” I thought. “This doesn’t matter.” 

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to work anymore and wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. As guilty as it made me feel, I knew that being a stay-at-home mom full-time wasn’t right for me.

This acknowledgment led me down a path of self-doubt, often asking myself questions like:

“What’s wrong with me?”

“Why wouldn’t I want to stay at home all day with my sweet baby?”

“Didn’t I love her enough?” “Am I selfish for wanting a career?”

“Will this impact her when she grows up?” 

I knew I wanted to work and seek passion and fulfillment outside of motherhood, but what shook me to my core was the unfamiliar feeling I had within myself with no understanding of what motivated me, what I enjoyed or even what was important.

I had no idea what I liked doing or what I cared about anymore. I felt like an intruder in my own body. How had I had such strong feelings and opinions and passions before having a baby and now I had absolutely nothing I cared about? 

Everything that mattered to me flew out the window and was replaced with my love for my child alongside a big empty hole.

When I was with her, I was incredibly happy (minus those 2 a.m. wakeups and breastfeeding demands). I loved being a mother. It came even more naturally to me than I anticipated. My daughter and I were connected from the very beginning and I felt incredibly lucky to share such a strong bond with her. I felt equally lucky that my husband was an amazing father and partner to me, too.

My heart was so full.

And then I would leave the room she was in, and I’d feel vacant. Like a ghost of a person that didn’t really exist if no one was looking at me. My husband suggested that I needed a break.

The demands of being a new mother are intense, and I hadn’t left the house to go anywhere but work or daycare in months. “Go do something that will make you feel like YOU. Go do something that would make you feel happy.”

Blank. Nothing.

I’ll just stay home. I have no idea what I’d even do and it’s just more complicated leaving since you’d have to give her a bottle and I’d have to pump and everything. I’m fine.

But I most definitely was not fine, as most of us aren’t when we proclaim we are. So my husband took a little more of a lead. “You’re going to drive to the mall and get a chair massage and boba tea. You used to love doing that. You can be gone as long as you want, but it’s a short amount of time if you want to come home right after. Here are the car keys. I love you. Bye!

I felt weird and uncomfortable. I sat in the car for a moment and teared up. I desperately wanted to feel like myself again and I knew I probably needed a break, and I didn’t want to go.

Yet another thing I learned as a mother, the duplicity of our emotions and how we can feel so many seemingly opposite things at one time.

But I listened and I put the car in reverse and headed out. It took about six minutes before I was singing at the top of my lungs, bawling, with the windows down. And slowly but surely, I started to recognize myself again.

I was only gone a couple of hours, but I returned completely different. I had no idea getting that bit of space was what I needed to invite myself in again. I didn’t realize I had filled every crevice with responsibilities, to-do lists and expectations.

Before becoming a parent, I didn’t realize that’s how we stay ourselves, by actually spending quality time with ourselves.

I just had to experience everything again and learn how this new version of myself felt about it.

But identity is also bigger than the experiences we fill our days with. It took a lot more than a couple of hours and a rejuvenating Taylor Swift car session to help me realize what I wanted to do professionally. It took me years.

The rediscovery journey of figuring out who I wanted to be alongside being a loving mother and wife was nothing short of excruciating.

But I’d like to think I used what I learned during that afternoon break. I’d have to push myself toward action and do things, instead of only thinking about what I could or should do. 

I think the scariest thing about going through a loss of identity when you become a mother, or really during any major life transition, is that unless we actively do something we may stay lost.

As I became a more veteran member of the new mother club, I realized it was a challenge for most of us, but because of that, it’s almost accepted as okay or at the very least understandable. 

Thinking on top of thinking doesn’t solve it. Action solves it. I would have to try things, experiences, and hobbies I liked, as well as brand new ones, to see how this new (and improved) version of me felt during them. 

What I discovered was I still loved running small businesses, but I needed to find a venture that was more in line with my new passions. Eventually, I had the opportunity to be a part of a company, Grow Together, that supports parents in relationships and even co-authored a book about roles and responsibilities with my business partner (And I was sure to include a section about feeling that loss of identity). 

I learned that I don’t like sweet potatoes anymore or most red wine. I now like walks around the neighborhood, having dinner early, and a nice, cold glass of Chardonnay. As unnerving as it can be to get to know parts of myself again, I tried to eventually settle into the process and have more fun exploring what has changed.

My daughter is now at the age where she sings Taylor Swift right along with me in the car with the windows down, but I still make sure I sneak away every once in a while for a good chair massage and boba tea by myself. Sometimes I don’t even notice the disconnection, but after spending some time alone, I always feel rejuvenated and full.


  • Jessica Trouillaud

    Jessica Trouillaud is COO and co-founder of Grow Together, the company supporting the struggles relationships face during parenthood through online courses, private coaching, and interactive resources. She is also co-author of In It Together: A Practical Guide for Balancing Roles and Responsibilities in Parenthood, a comprehensive guide for couples struggling to balance the demands of parenting with maintaining a healthy and connected relationship—AKA your one-stop shop for effectively dividing roles and responsibilities in parenthood to avoid burnout and resentment.

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