The other day, I finally accepted something about myself: I like to eat toast for breakfast. Of course, I’ve known this for years (and my husband clearly thought I was stating the obvious when I told him about this new-found acceptance). In fact, I can (and have been known to) eat toast for every meal. But for the last few years I’ve (mostly) resisted my love of toast because I felt like I needed to eat a healthy breakfast. I peaked during my overnight oats period. But when it comes down to it, I’d always prefer to have toast (spread with marmite or jam) and a cup of tea first thing in the morning. Being a tea drinker has been a big part of my identity for a long time—I used to drink milky tea from a bottle as a toddler—and now I have a new facet to add to my identity: I eat toast for breakfast.
This somewhat trivial realisation got me thinking about identity, about how our identities shift over time, and about how we don’t always realise when an old identity no longer serves us. At the beginning of 2018, I went 99% vegan (the 1% was milk in my tea—my love of milky tea was holding me back from going vegan, so I decided it was better to go 99% of the way there than not go at all). A year later, I found out I was pregnant and quickly developed morning sickness. I ate what I could—fries, Cheetos, and sugary cereal with cow’s milk—and quickly forgot about veganism. I figured I’d return to it at some point, but six months after having my baby, I’m still chugging milk (literally, I worry about calcium a lot!) and chowing down on cheese.
I’m a vegetarian again, something that has been a facet of my identity for most of my life—I was raised vegetarian (technically pescetarian) and, apart from brief spells of meat eating, I’ve been a vegetarian ever since. Though I don’t particularly miss cheeseless pizzas and soy milk, I do miss being vegan. I miss the identity, the label, that comes with it. Though I didn’t become a vegan so that I could gain some moral high ground—I just think keeping a dairy cow constantly pregnant and then separating it from its young is a cruel way to treat another being—I do miss the view from up there. Maybe I’ll hike back up someday, maybe not. And that’s really okay.
Recently, my husband and I were out for a walk through our local woods when he heard a woodpecker. He stopped to see if he could spot it and I kept walking. You’re not really that into birds anymore, are you? My husband asked. It’s true. Time was, I spent weekends down at my local nature reserve with my binoculars and Collins Complete Guide to British Birds. It’s not that I no longer like birds. The first signs of spring are starting to appear, including the return of the birds. I’ve enjoyed seeing them hopping around on lawns that are now starting to come back to life and on the branches of just-budding trees. But I no longer feel the need to reach for my binoculars and bird book. I’m no longer really a birder, and that’s okay.
I also don’t seem to be interested in writing about nature these days. I did an MA in Writing, Nature and Place, and over the last few years I’ve been toying with the idea of trying to make it as a freelance writer. But what to write about? How should I brand myself? Writing about nature seems the obvious route to go. But when I sit down to write, all I want to write about is motherhood.
When we got a dog, I resisted posting too many photos of him on my social media and I certainly wasn’t going to write about him. But I did. When I found out I was pregnant, I was determined not to post too many bump and baby photos (even though I love seeing other people’s bump and baby photos). I also didn’t want to start writing about pregnancy and motherhood (even though I read practically every book on the topic that my local library had to offer).
I didn’t expect the first few weeks or months of motherhood to be a particularly productive time, but when my baby was doing nothing but eating, sleeping, and pooping, I found it quite easy to write on my phone. Now that the baby is getting more mobile and interested in the world (and knows when I’m ignoring her), it’s been harder to find time to write. In those early weeks I wrote essay after essay about this strange new world I had entered. I wrote about my bizarre baby dreams, I wrote about food and parenting, I wrote about only wanting one child. I also read more books and sought out online magazines about motherhood, and I followed mums on Instagram. I found myself drawn to mothers who write or post about what it is really like to be a mother. I wasn’t interested in a picture-perfect, sugar-coated version of motherhood. I’m not interested in sugar coating my own experiences.
So I’m not much of a nature writer these days, and that’s okay. Time passes, we change. We learn to accept parts of ourselves we’ve spent years fighting. We discover that a part of ourselves we’ve clung to, doesn’t fit who we’ve become. Our circumstances change and we find ourselves with a new name. I’m a writer, I write about being a mother. I like birds, but I’m not a birder. And, I like toast.