I promised myself that when I became a mother, I would not be like the other mothers. I would not forget my passions, my career, my social life. I would never let a tiny human being redefine my existence as I had known it for 25 years.
You see, I had always been a well thought out and organized person. Everything in my life had to be compartmentalized into neat boxes; there was a medium-sized box of work time, a tiny box of family time, and most importantly, there was the large overflowing box of me time. When I decided to have a baby, I thought I would just have to get another box and label it. Little did I know, that it was going to knock away all other boxes and leave one box of motherhood.
When I held my baby for the first time in the hospital after my c-section, I repeated my mantra to myself. The doctor had prescribed eight weeks of recovery and I decided I was not going to take a minute more to indulge in the process. I had goals and plans and my newborn son would just have to be accommodated in my busy life. I had figured out the formula of motherhood. How difficult could it possibly be?
And with all this in mind, I returned back to the workforce as a high school English teacher. I remember dressing up for my first day of work. I pumped out ample milk and wore a nursing bra and breast pads to contain my ever leaking breasts. I remember the look of disgust I gave myself looking at my stretch marks and my scar in the mirror that morning. “Nobody will know what’s going on inside if I just covered this hideous reality with an oversized top,” I thought to myself. And so, I set off feeling an impostor in my own body.
As I taught the first class of my career (I somehow thought soon after having a baby was the right time to enter a new field), I struggled to articulate sentences as coherently as I used to before. I felt like something about me had fundamentally changed. Of course, I now weighed 10 kgs more than my pre-pregnancy weight. But along with my body, I felt like my mind had changed too. My diligence as an employee faltered as I now had my baby on my mind all the time. I checked my baby monitor obsessively, burdened by the new responsibility. I felt like a complete and utter fraud. I did not deserve to be here. I did not even know why I was hired in the first place.
The feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy gnawed at me. It was almost as though in becoming a mother, I had ceased to become everything else I was before: a reader, a writer, a literary enthusiast, and an academic. In search of validation, I waited urgently for feedback from my manager. However, I viewed even her positive comments as pity towards me.
Though the impostor syndrome was bad at work, it was far worse at home. I did not adapt to the role of a mother as seamlessly as I thought I would. I struggled to cope with this new life that depended entirely on me. I developed anxiety and restlessness as the echoes in my mind telling me “you don’t deserve to be a mother” grew louder. I kept thinking, there were so many women out there who struggle with infertility and would be ecstatic to have this blessing. I felt ungrateful.
I did not feel like a good employee or a sound intellectual. But I did not feel like a great mother either. Every day, I was scared that someone would discover my truth. Well, one of my truths: the fact that I was just a selfish girl in a mother’s body. Or that I was an obsessive mother disguised as a career woman. Pulled apart by my conflicting roles, I lost track of who I was or who I had ever been before my child entered my life.
The existential plight just heightened every day, and so did my resentment towards everyone else. When I looked at my husband, I was resentful that the universe had bestowed this biological function on me. That I had to bear the brunt of this all-consuming task that is childbirth and child-rearing. When I looked at my coworkers, who had the same workload but hours of leisure, I grew furious. Here I was sleep-deprived and working consecutive shifts, and struggling with both of my roles. My confidence shattered.
Along with everything else in motherhood, I also felt isolated. I felt like I was the only woman who had experienced any of this. My ego prevented me from ever reaching out to anybody else. After all, I thought I was invincible and that I had the formulas of life and motherhood figured out. So how could I admit my weaknesses? And the funny thing is that many people would compliment how well I was balancing life. There too, I was an impostor, waiting for my disguise to be exposed any minute.
So what happened with all of this you might wonder? Well, I quit my job after having a panic attack (the first of many) unable to cope with this facade that I had built of myself. I got help through therapy and acknowledged that what I was going through was normal for most mothers, especially women who return to work too quickly after having a baby.
Saying “I’m not like the other mothers” is a lot like saying “I’m not like other girls”. These words come with a false sense of superiority. They are insensitive to the personal journeys of so many women out there. Actually, we are all similar in our fears and doubts about our new roles. Starting a dialogue about our fears of inadequacy with other mothers gives us a sense of community and keeps us grounded. It reminds us that we are not alone. And most importantly, it does not let the impostor syndrome distort our perception of ourselves.
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