When I became a mother, I gained a love I’d never known the likes of before – but I also lost myself.
At the time, I didn’t realise it was happening. I simply didn’t have time to. I was consumed with the humdrum routine of washing and feeding and doing the school and nursery run; to dealing with the physical, emotional and mental effects of a long-term lack of sleep. Parenting is hard, we all know that. I accepted it as my lot, and buried the growing feeling that I wasn’t entirely happy.
After all, it’s hard to focus on yourself at all when you have young children to look after. There are scraped knees to kiss, ‘booboos’ to affix plasters to, squabbles to intervene in – and the ongoing struggle to manage an effective work-life balance. There’s also the pressure of maintaining relationships with your partner, parents, siblings and friends.
Becoming a mother or father comes hand-in-hand with a sudden, devastating lack of time to yourself; when even being able to go to the toilet in peace without a small human wanting to come with you feels like a luxury you only distantly remember.
It’s not that I’d swap my life with two small and incredible children, not at all. I’m truly fortunate to experience being a mother – being their mother. But ask any parent the truth about how they feel about themselves, and chances are they might admit to feeling a little… lost.
What I’m talking about is a ‘sense of self’, a sense of identity. The understanding and appreciation that you’re still the person you were before you had kids, however buried that person is beneath nursery rhymes, piles of washing and leftover fish fingers.
So I started thinking about how to change the way I felt, how to reclaim myself and my body, now that it was no longer carrying or breastfeeding small babies. One of the ways I got ‘myself’ back was by having tattoos – acknowledging its years of service, applauding it for pushing out two 8lbs babies on gas and air alone.
But the method that felt even more appropriate to me was to change my name by deed poll.
When I got married 10 years ago I took my husband’s last name, but my views on that particular cultural tradition have changed and polarised. While I respect those who choose to do so, I wouldn’t make the same decision for myself today.
I’ve always worked using my maiden name anyway, with my married name reserved only for my passport, bank cards and GP appointments. My kids already assumed I had a different last name – so I didn’t need to explain it to them – and my husband had no issue with me doing something he knew would make me feel more fulfilled.
I thought about it carefully for a year, or longer, before I went ahead with it. I researched a lot – there are many services available online – but I eventually used the official Government ‘enrolled’ deed poll service. I paid £36, asked a good friend to be a witness, had my documents verified by a solicitor for a fiver, then applied to the Royal Courts of Justice to make it official. A few weeks later, my certificate came back – along with official notification in The Gazette.
Not everyone will understand my decision (particularly older members of my family), and I know I might encounter issues if I want to travel alone with my children – if you have a different last name, you may have to carry their birth certificate – but it still feels worth it. My sense of identity was so strongly tied to the name I used for 28 years before becoming a wife and a mother, that I had to ‘reclaim’ it too.
And I couldn’t be happier. I will always be a mother, but I’m also myself again. At last.
(c) Victoria Richards