Grieving your former self before motherhood

Pregnancy and the transition to motherhood is a complete miracle and something to be cherished. Whenever we think about pregnancy we automatically think about the birth of the baby but we never spare a moment's thought for the birth of the mother. There is a shedding and loss that each woman must experience in order to transform into the matriarch of her family. Grieving one's past self when they have chosen and longed for this opportunity seems strange, but planned or not, major change begets incredible loss.

photo credit - Love Lake Photography

I recently had the realisation that for at least the first 6 months of my pregnancy, I'd been grieving. Grieving the loss of the Britany Dovenor I once knew and loved, all to make space for the new Mumma Brit that was on the horizon. I know it sounds a little dramatic but it was this realisation that finally allowed me to begin healing and come to enjoy my pregnancy, cellulite, stretch marks and all.


I have loved and I have lost. My own father passed away when I was 16 so I don't use the feeling of grief lightly in this context. While both experiences were very different they both contained the 5 stages of grief we are all familiar with; ⁠

  • denial, ⁠

  • anger, ⁠

  • bargaining, ⁠

  • depression and ⁠

  • acceptance.

At first I didn't identify that what I was feeling was grief. It took some time before I was able to explain my feelings in such a simple way. In the beginning, all I knew was that I was angry and hurt by the changes pregnancy had placed on my body, energy and mind. I felt so disconnected from the strong, independent, ambitious, energetic and fun loving woman I had come to trust and rely on. All of a sudden, I was dependent on my husband for simple tasks, I struggled to get out of bed each day, lost my physical strength, and found it hard to keep up with my work load and clients. On just about all accounts I felt like a failure. Lost in my own body, I began to blame my pregnancy which then left me feeling like an ungrateful brat. Soon guilt and shame became my mind's default.


In attempts to claw my way out of this destructive mental spiral I turned to meditation, journaling, coaching and other helpful practices. It was after a solid journaling session where I went back to re-read my scribblings that I began to see the signs of grief and explored these further. My grief looked a lot like this;


Denial

Denial is the way I am sure many women could describe their first trimester. My husband and I had been trying for 6 months prior to see the two faint lines on our at-home pregnancy test. While we were over the moon neither of us wanted to get our hopes up (80% of miscarriages occur in the first 0-13 weeks). We waited at least a month before we told our parents and an extra 2 months on top of that before sharing our news with other loved ones. By not telling the world and pretending nothing was different, I lived deep in denial which definitely did not do anything positive for my confidence as I tried to explain away my plummeting energy levels and increase in weight.


Anger

During my first trimester and into the second I felt so much frustration and anger towards my bouts of morning sickness which left me feeling weak, out of breath and nauseous. My hunger levels were out of control at this stage and my moods weren't much better. All of a sudden, I felt like a complete mess, nothing like the woman I had come to love and depend on. I felt like a failure each time I found myself gasping for air while walking the dog, canceling appointments with clients and losing my cool over something that I really didn't care about.


Bargaining

Very early on my husband was adamant I was not going to lift a finger, eat soft cheese or even look at a sushi roll. We even had conversations about me finishing up work and just resting for the 9 months. I remember us bargaining and agreeing on certain items, from what I was able to eat over Christmas and who would do what around the house. I didn't always feel great but I still wanted to contribute to our family, and not just as an incubator. As hubbie's anxiety around bub subsided I began doing my own bargaining. I would find myself praying to the universe, whatever god would listen, angels and fairies that my favourite clothes would still fit, that my lunch wouldn't make me feel sick or even just to have the energy to get out of bed each day.


Depression

This was definitely the hardest stage. Although I wouldn't say I was depressed, in the clinical sense, I did feel completely betrayed by my body and mind. I found it hard to accept the physical changes my body was going through, finding that I avoided mirrors and cameras. I stopped posting on social media and had huge breakdowns whenever I tried to wear anything other than tights and a baggy shirt. The more disconnected I felt to my body the more self doubt crept into my mind until I was telling myself how horrible I looked. I always felt self conscious and couldn't understand how my husband still found it in himself to hug and kiss me at the start and end of each day. The more I spiraled into self-loathing the more guilty I felt around not being grateful for every moment of my pregnancy. Why was I so concerned with how I looked and felt when I was creating life? Soon, the small amount amount of self-compassion I had disappeared. It was this realisation coupled with increasing feelings of failure that pushed me to get help.


Acceptance

After investing into the support I needed and spending a lot of time self-reflecting, I have been able to rebuild my sense of worth. I am now able to see myself for the incredible and resilient woman I am. I talk to myself with kindness and have a stronger sense of self-belief than I ever thought possible. Working towards acceptance hasn't been easy but each practice has brought me closer to finding peace within myself. I have now come to love my body and all the pregnancy associated changes, bumps, blemishes, stretch marks and all. There are still days where my inner mean girl shouts out or pregnancy throws me a new challenge, but I now know how to overcome these hurdles and can see that each obstacle brings me one step closer to being the mother I want to be for my family.


Throughout my pregnancy I have felt ashamed of not being able to fully embrace this wonderful experience, but the truth is while I have been so excited and feel so grateful to be pregnant, I have also needed time to say goodbye to the person and life I once knew. ⁠I am moving into a life a greater responsibilities where my decisions will not only affect me but my family. I won't be able to spontaneously go out or spend whatever I want on a fun night out, course or gadget I believe will change my life. My body will forever be changed, not better or worse, just different. While all these changes are scary and do have an element of loss to them I know that what is coming, while it will be difficult, will be so incredibly worth it.

My hope is that anyone reading who might relate, can recognise this grieving process sooner than I did. I hope that you can identify your 5 stages and not spend as long in the depths of depression as I did. Yes, you need to grieve your former self in order to undergo your rebirth into the role of mother, but you don't need to suffer. Give yourself space, allow yourself to process all your very valid emotions and know that there is support and various practices that can help you. There are times when you may feel like you will never be able to enjoy your pregnancy but know that you most definitely can. ⁠