I Gave Birth, But It Took Me 5 Years To Become A Mom

Making sense of motherhood using a management framework.

Woman's difficult transition to motherhood pixelshot | Canva

“The moment you hold that baby in your arms, you will never be the same.”

“Oh, you’re about to start such a special phase of your life. Enjoy it!”

“You will be sleep-deprived, but it’s going to be so worth it.”

Just over six years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, these were some of the many well-intentioned, encouraging messages I became accustomed to hearing from women around me. I would listen, smile, and nod along. I did not doubt in my mind that these statements were true. I was convinced I was about to enter a special phase of my life that would be challenging and rewarding and would turn me into a new person. A mother. I felt ready.


In a way, I had been preparing for motherhood all my life. I had a very clear idea of the kind of mother I was going to be: the kind I wish I had had. I would be patient, loving, and accepting of my children. I would stay calm even when they challenged me. I would strike a balance between taking care of them and meeting my own needs. I had always wanted to have children and do my best raising them. That dream was about to come true.

What I didn’t know at the time was that while many, if not all, of those things, could come true, they would take much longer than I had anticipated, and possibly be a work in progress for the rest of my life. I also didn’t know that the journey would be much harder than I had imagined. Finally, an important lesson I have since learned is that I couldn’t possibly have met my expectations of motherhood so quickly because while having a child is a change, becoming a mother is a transition.


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In his book Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, organizational consultant William Bridges suggests that there is an important difference between a change and a transition. While a change transpires as an external event or situation, a transition entails people undergoing an internal, psychological shift.

While Bridges’ work was mostly focused on organizational changes, his framework can be applied to personal situations as well. There are times in all our lives when we go through a change expecting a quick transition, and are left disappointed. 


If you’ve ever taken up what you thought of as your dream job, only to realize you didn’t know what you were getting into; or if you’ve tormented yourself to lose weight because you thought that would make you feel better about yourself — only to realize that your feelings about yourself weren’t about those extra pounds in the first place or if you’ve moved to a new city to find a sense of adventure only to learn that you don’t fit in the way you had imagined — you’ve experienced the disconnect between a change and a transition.

This is what happened with my experience with motherhood. For various reasons, I had thought that I would transition into being a mother as soon as I had a baby. And while my life did change almost instantly, it took much longer for me to fully transition into my new role and identity.

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Here are the 3 phases of a transition:

According to Bridges, all healthy transitions have three phases: ending, neutral zone, and new beginnings.


this felt so relatable❤️ from “transitions” by William Bridges

♬ original sound - EX7STENCE™

Phase 1: Ending

A transition always begins with an end to something that was. Endings often come with the loss of an old identity, an end to life as you knew it, and a letting go of the person you used to be.

The birth of my first child marked the end of my relatively carefree way of existing with few responsibilities. Intellectually, I knew this was coming, but it took a while for me to fully grasp how all-consuming caring for young children can be. My situation was made worse by the fact that I lived far away from my extended family and didn’t have a robust support network to rely on. Mothering a baby who refused to take the bottle — and nursed every 90 minutes, day or night — had serious implications for my life. The initial months were especially frustrating. I couldn’t go anywhere by myself. I couldn’t sleep at a stretch even for a couple of hours. Even bathroom visits had a frantic quality to them. 

During this phase of the transition, it was hard not to miss, and long for, the life and freedom I had left behind. I was also extremely upset with myself for not being an eternal embodiment of calm in the face of these challenges. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how, after a lifetime of preparation, had motherhood taken me by surprise. 


At some point, I came to face and accept the reality: There was an unignorable gap between the mother I thought I would be and the mother I was. Being able to let go of my imaginary ideal of motherhood was a major step that helped me move forward.

Phase 2: Neutral zone 

The second phase of the transition is an uncomfortable, no man’s land where the old ways have definitely come to an end but the new ones are still taking shape. This phase is marked by a sense of uncertainty, emptiness, and a state of limbo. You’re no longer sure of who you are anymore.

In my experience of early motherhood, I was particularly challenged by the open-ended uncertainty that seemed to govern my life. By the time my older daughter was 3, we had had another child. Will I ever get a full night’s sleep again? Will I ever have a social life again? Will I ever be able to go to the bathroom in peace? These were the kinds of questions I grappled with during the “neutral zone,” which I prefer to think of as the “messy middle.”

But then, miraculously, around the time my kids turned 5 and 2, both of them started sleeping through the night. They stopped following me to the bathroom (for the most part.) I got my sleep, my energy, and my life back. I could finally look ahead with some sense of certainty about my basic needs being met. I could even plan my life a week or two in advance! I had entered Phase 3 of the transition — new beginnings.


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Phase 3: New Beginnings

After 5 years of motherhood, I got a glimpse of the light at the end of the tunnel. I was no longer a new, struggling mother. I was a bit more experienced, a bit more seasoned. I had the energy and the capacity to be more loving and present with my kids. I could finally see that all was not lost, that if I tried, it was still possible for me to be the kind of mother I had always aspired to be. 

More importantly, in looking back, I could see that my struggle with motherhood was not so much because I wasn’t capable of being the mother I had wanted to be, and more because I didn’t know that I was in a period of transition. Learning about transitions has helped me find grace, empathy, and forgiveness for my former self.

And I know that this stage of my life won’t last forever. Within a few years, I will experience other, major transitions — becoming a mother to teenage girls and then an empty nester and then being a mother to fully grown, adult children. Life is going to be full of transitions — as it usually is. But I think there are a few valuable lessons I’ve learned from my 5-year long transition to motherhood that I can apply when I experience major life events in the future.

@peanut Can you relate? Tell us in the comments. 👇 We’ve got you. ♥️ #motherhood #postpartum #momlife ♬ original sound - Peanut App

The first lesson is to remember the difference between a change and a transition. Just because things have shifted on the outside doesn’t mean the deeper psychological shifts are also complete. The inner shifts are essential for the new normal to take hold.

The second lesson is that transitions are inherently messy and often take longer than we’d like. A change — even if desirable, like motherhood in my case — can come with a sense of loss and grief. It is important to make space for that. And as tempting as it can be to beat ourselves up for not rising to the occasion and meeting the expectations we had of ourselves, treating ourselves with empathy is more useful for making progress.

The final and perhaps the most important lesson for me is to realize that I have no idea who I will become in the face of a particular life event. The best I can do is stay humble and open to whatever growth and evolution life has in store for me.


If you’re going through a transition that feels tough, I hope you find solace in knowing that transitions are hard, that it’s not your fault that you’re struggling, and that one day, you’ll have the capacity to find the light at the end of the tunnel.

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Yashi Srivastava is a positive psychology coach, teacher, and writer helping people uncover and address the root causes of their unhappiness so that they can live a deeply fulfilling, regret-free life.