Coming out of the operating theatre, my brand new baby daughter in my arms, I had become a different person. Suddenly, life revolved around someone else, had a whole new purpose, and there was a pride and joy like I had never known before. It was the most surreal rite of passage of my life to date. I was a mother.
You’d think that with a 9-10 month preparation time, I’d have been ready for this. Physically and practically, I definitely was. Emotionally and mentally, however, motherhood was still a complete enigma. Having felt so ready for her to arrive just hours before, I was suddenly lost and confused: I felt like a different person entirely and was now responsible for this tiny, helpless thing resting in my arms and completely dependent upon me.
I struggle with being a Mummy. Even two years on, it still feels like a conflict within – for me, I think it is fair to say that motherhood does not always come naturally. I love my daughter so very much, but being a parent is the hardest, most relentless thing that I have ever done. It is repetitive, messy and some days, let’s be honest, entirely unfulfilling. Not quite the picture that I had in mind before she came along, where I thought that I would just ‘get the hang of it’, that it would ‘click’ because I had given birth to her and all would be well and we would form a picture of domestic bliss through some sort of genetic magic. This tiny little person who makes my heart burst with love one minute, makes me laugh the next, can still reduce me to tears or anxiety mere moments later.
In the early months, I worried that I was the only one feeling a so disconnected. I felt that I was failing because I hadn’t fully grasped motherhood, that I was missing something. I hadn’t expected to be the stereotypical ‘earth mother’, and I knew having a child would not be easy, but it just felt like it was a steeper learning curve than it should be.
I thought I was doing such a rubbish job of being a mother. Looking back, I was doing okay – no better but no worse than anyone else. What I had failed at was recognising the pressure I was under as a new Mum. Navigating a whole new balance (or imbalance) of hormones, working on roughly 3-4 hours sleep a night, feeding on-demand which is physically exhausting, and getting used to a whole new lifestyle, the rules for which seemed to change with regularity with no warning are no mean feat.
The way through it? Well, I have had to seriously alter my expectations of myself as a mother, block those ‘perfect mother’ images in my mind (and on social media, quite literally block them!) so that I stop trying to live up to something that is, quite frankly, impossible and, finally but crucially, understand that everyone struggles with being a parent in some way, shape or form.
For me, finding other Mums who felt the same pressures was key to understanding that I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t doing as useless a job as I thought I was.
I hadn’t done pre-natal parenting classes, but I did find an NCT ‘bumps and babies’ coffee morning that anyone could drop in for at a local café, I signed up for a health-visitor led 4 week course on ‘getting to know your baby’, and I registered for the Mush app too. I won’t lie, meeting people through Mush does feel a bit awkward – like a Mummying version of Tinder to start with. If I hadn’t gone on there though, I wouldn’t have met an amazing friend who lives a 2-minute walk from me and has a little one just 3 days older than my daughter. We got on so well, that I ended up spending time with her pretty much every day for about 5 months of my maternity leave and we are still friends now…being able to talk through what I was feeling with someone who understood really helped. I began to get some of my confidence in myself back, and feel a bit more optimistic again.
More recently, I have started following inspirational Mummy bloggers too. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are my staples for those short, snappy and easily accessible affirmations that it is okay to find mummying hard (let’s face it, who has time to read long blog posts like this with regularity when you have a baby or toddler?!).
One evening recently, I found a TED talk, quite by accident, ‘A new way to think about the transition to motherhood’ by Alexander Sacks (MD), and it resonated so deeply with me. Everything I had felt about motherhood was suddenly given a name and was a real thing, explained in simple terms.
After watching it through, I felt relief. I wasn’t alone in this constant feeling of parenting inadequacy! I had definitely experienced ‘matrescence’.
I want every mother to know that it is okay to find it hard. We all find it hard, but it does get easier – be gentle with yourself as you adapt, find friends who are experiencing it too and talk about it. Naming the beast really does help!