Written by Dr Suzanne Henwood & Anwen Robinson
You have worked hard to get to where you are. You have studied and put in the hours, you have overcome obstacles and glass ceilings. Your career matters to you.
Then you have a baby.
Whether or not your pregnancy was planned, having a baby is a significant identity shift. You stop being just you and become someone’s mum. Unlike any other time in your life, the arrival of a baby doesn’t allow you to revert to your ‘normal’ life. This can leave you feeling trapped, at a loss and lonely. It can take some deep adjusting to a new life.
In this article we explore the relationship between our gut, heart and brain to make sense of the internal conflict and offer a simple exercise to help you find fulfilmentin your new chapter, from career woman to motherhood.
Our sense of self is located in our ‘gut brains’ discussed by Soosalu and Oka in their book mBraining. We are not talking about your head-based story of who you are – your ego, but that deep sense of who you are at your core. When this deep sense of self change in any significant way, that change may not then be in alignment with the head-based identity of who you think you should be or who society is telling you to be. It may not be aligned with your ‘heart brain’ – what is truly important to you. This can cause internal conflict and may require you to then work out, ‘who am I now?’ It is important to know that experiencing this is completely normal – particularly after a significant event, like having a baby. By reflecting on the changes at identity level, it’s possible to minimize this and move on more quickly to a new, aligned identity.
Finding out what is important to you – your values
An effective starting point is to map your heart-based values – that is, the things that are important to you. This can be done by answering one simple question:
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Look to your right…
What is important to me about…?
1. Start with your career:
What is important to you about your career/job/vocation.
Write down whatever words come to mind. For example, you might write values such as:
This list is not exhaustive – just keep asking yourself, ‘what else?’ until no more words come to mind.
You can test your list by asking yourself, ‘If I had all of that – what would make me want to leave?’ This may generate another few words.
2. Now ask yourself the same question about motherhood/being a mum:
Using a fresh sheet of paper write down your thoughts on ‘What is important to me about motherhood?’
Your values which are contextual, are likely to be quite different, although some may be duplicated.
Your core values may not be the first to come up, so keep asking ‘what else?’
Examples here might include:
3. Next create two lists and for each list ask yourself:
‘If I could have only ONE of those – which value is THE MOST important?’
‘If you could have TWO – which value would you add to that list?’
Keep going until you have two new lists, each containing your top eight values.
Eighty percent of your motivation in any context comes from your top five values. So, it’s important to be aware of your values and to create an environment that stimulates them.
Now it’s time to reflect on your values and put your lists to work. For each list consider:
Which values are being met? Is there balance or is it one-sided?
What values would you like more of?
Are there values that appear in both lists? It may be these are your core values which go across contexts. Are they being met?
Do any values clash or conflict? If so, can you find a value that allows you to have both? Or are you willing to compromise anywhere?