Candace Ganger

9 Ways I Kept From Losing Myself In Motherhood

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The days after I brought home my firstborn, my daughter, I remember feeling so incredibly lost and like the biggest parts of me had vanished overnight. I hadn't realized it'd actually been a slow process, as pregnancy stole little bits of me every single day. The woman I once was would try to dissolve, until all that was left was the parts of me related to being a mom. Over time, and after the birth of my son, I've found ways I kept from losing myself in motherhood because I couldn't, and wouldn't, endure it again. Not that way.

When I had my daughter, I didn't know what the hell I was doing. Every step was a new lesson in humility and grace under pressure (still is, actually). At 24, in a relationship with her father (un-married) for not even a couple of years, it felt like we grew up together. In going about it this way, I was definitely susceptible to losing whatever pieces were left of me. When you're a stay-at-home-mom, alone with a new baby while your partner works full-time, it's hard not to.

Five years later, after surviving postpartum depression (PPD), two miscarriages, and fertility issues, I was better prepared when I finally heard a strong heartbeat during my son's ultrasound. Before I claimed that pregnancy and shouted it to the world, I knew myself and what I needed to do in order to make sure I didn't repeat the same patterns I had with my daughter. In turn, I think they now both have a better mother. On that note, these are some things I did to maintain my identity as a woman, partner, sister, friend, daughter, and anything else unrelated to motherhood. To be clear, if I hadn't I wouldn't be writing this today.

I Made Self-Care A Priority

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Motherhood is synonymous with being lost. I enveloped myself in the experience of motherhood thinking it was best for my daughter. It wasn't. Instead of relishing in how much love I had for her, I stopped caring for myself and that made for a cycle of self-depreciation. My mental health deteriorated, because when you're self-deprecating you can't possibly give enough love to someone else (because it's absent in you).

With my son, I learned that in order to be a better mother, I had to take care of myself first. It's similar to how airlines require you first give yourself the oxygen mask, because you can't save someone if you're dead. I liken self-care to the same. When I'm putting mandatory time aside for me, I'm better for everyone.

I Sought After Career Ambitions Even Harder

Having children didn't mean I had to give up on my dreams. A lot of women I know do just that, thinking their time is up because there's another life to care for and I admit, after my first baby, I felt the same way. But I was miserable.

Why should I sacrifice all I'd previously worked towards? When I was pregnant with my youngest, I took on (probably) more than I should've because that fear of giving up hovered near. I knew if I gave up to solely do the mom thing (which is totally awesome, by the way), I'd always wonder what could've been. In going after my goals even harder, I retained the core of who I am and remained more than a dreamer, but a doer.

I Made Time For Friends

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I've never had a large circle of friend but, when kids came into the picture, I needed those friends in different ways for awhile. What would've initially been a late night out would become an early dinner or coffee, but in keeping these important friendships with those who had kids, and those who didn't, I was able to tap into other aspects of myself. I might be a bore to my kids, but my friends think I'm funny. While I might be "The Queen of No" here at home, those friends reminded me I could be fun, too. This perspective was everything.

I Spent Alone Time With My Partner

There's never a more important time to spend with your partner than after children. The time once taken for granted now becomes something sacred. Believe me. Sometimes I don't remember a full, uninterrupted conversation, a quiet meal, or the ability to look into each other's eyes without having a child push us a part. These things matter. They're part of my womanhood and part of my relationship with your partner of nearly 13 years. It's not less important once there are children. It's more important. A strong foundation regarding us, and myself, will give our kids the kind of security they deserve.

I Regained Control Of My Health

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I gained so much weight during both pregnancies, and it changed the way I lived my life. I was so uncomfortable postpartum, I didn't want to be seen in public. Insecure and lacking in self-esteem, I knew one of the best ways to regain control of myself was to find something active I enjoyed doing.

What I discovered was a love for running I'd never had before and, in the four years since I began, I've run everything from 5 Ks to ultra-marathons (I'm training for Boston now!). Not only did I get healthy, but I'm proud of myself for pushing through the discomfort in order to find myself again, and discovering parts I was sure I'd lost for good. Hopefully, if my kids learn anything, it's to persevere in everything they do and especially when it's challenging.

I Let Things Go

When you're a mom, there's this intrinsic need to do everything and all the time. I don't know if it's the way we're wired or we just thrive on chaos. Regardless, after my first baby I thought I had to maintain everything I had before she came into the world: clean house, meals cooked, whatever. All it really did was kill my spirit. Then, when I spent time with my baby, I was drained and it wasn't fair to either of us.

I learned with my son to just let things go if need be. While I fully expect my partner to contribute, and my kids are big enough to help out as well, I'll just leave it if overwhelmed already. If I didn't, I'd be so consumed and I wouldn't be able to enjoy the parts meant for me (running, a hot bath at the end of a long day, writing time, or time with my family).

I Discovered The Power Of Meditation

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It sounds simple enough, but is actually hard to do. When you're stressed from the kids, finding a moment to realign your thoughts can be daunting. I've found, when I take a few minutes at the end of every night (or when in the middle of losing my sanity or patience), if I take a few deep breaths and visualize somewhere calm (like the ocean), I instantly feel better. While it doesn't keep me from losing myself in motherhood completely, it definitely saves me from falling all the way in at times.

I Scheduled For Sitters When I Didn't Need Them

Those early days of exhaustion after a baby take their toll. It's hard to find the right balance between sleep and function while simultaneously giving into your baby's never-ending needs. I remember wearing the same sweatpants for days, because a shower had become a luxury I didn't have time for. It shouldn't be this way, you guys. While my baby didn't know any better, she deserved a mother who made that shower a priority because it would've improved my mood and overall sense of being.

We didn't always have people we could call on to watch our kids, but there are times I reached out just so I could get that shower. Sometimes it comes down to taking a mandatory break, before you break.

I Embraced The Changes

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Although I failed at times, and ended up being one giant "motherhood" magnet, the biggest lesson I've learned with my kids is that in order to remain me, it's imperative I embrace some of the inevitable. If I stop fighting the fact that I have some responsibilities I won't love, and stop pretending I can do it all (without sacrificing myself), all will be fine.

The hardest part of motherhood is embracing the changes that come with being a mother. I'm not who I was before my kids, but I am some version of her. I'd like to think that in allowing myself to be a lot of different things to a lot of different people, I can be better for myself and my partner and kids. In making myself a priority, I'm a more improved version — one lost only in being a mom, but in being me.