Mother’s Day; the day when we traditionally acknowledge the hard work and sacrifices our Mothers have made for us. It’s an uncomfortable truth that, for many more women than our society is prepared to acknowledge, the daily grind of motherhood is mentally and physically challenging and not nearly as ‘natural’ as we’re brought up to believe. Not all mum’s are blissfully counting down to delivery day. Many are apprehensive, confused and worried about what the life change will bring. I was one of those Mothers.
When I found out that I was pregnant I felt scared and alone and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t tell anyone (including my husband) for well over a week, as I knew that when I did, that would be it, my pregnancy would be true and I knew there would be no going back.
Looking back I realised that being recently married, I felt I was ‘expected’ to produce a child. I was 30 years old, my hormone-fuelled body clock was ticking and I didn’t give enough thought as to whether it was the right thing to do. Having had a termination years previously, I also had feelings of guilt about the ‘life’ inside me and pushed my misgivings aside.
But those feelings didn’t go away and through my antenatal check-ups I tried to discuss my fears with my midwife. I was given the routine responses of this being a natural process and that my fears were unfounded and, to give them their dues, when my son was born, I did experience a rush of unconditional love and swore to myself that, as imperfect a Mother as I thought I was going to be, I would always protect him and be there for him.
However, what they don’t tell you at antenatal class or in the baby books is that it’s not the first two or three weeks that are difficult, they are in a physically exhausting round of sleeplessness, upheaval and visitors, but that’s noting compared to the following weeks when everyone’s back at work, the visitors have been and gone and you’re left alone to get to grips with being an instant super-mum!
I didn’t have a grip on very much at all. I’d gone from being a successful and fulfilled Training Manager with Relate Counselling Service to being a ‘full time Mum’. I’d left my career, colleagues and ambitions behind and felt isolated, fatigued and out of control, loosing all the confidence I’d spent years building up. After a few months things got so bad that I started to self-medicate, having a brandy around 4pm just took the edge off my low feelings, enough to help me cope for the rest of the day.
Thankfully, my professional training had taught me to recognise my own warning signs and I had enough fight to want to do something about it (looking back I could have been identified as having post-natal depression, but that’s another story). I could have asked my GP for a tablet to make all the negative feelings go away. Instead, I decided to confront myself to get to the bottom of why I was feeling the way I was? Why did I feel like the day seemed to last forever? Why was I feeling like an incomplete Mum because I couldn’t get excited about playing with jigsaws? Why didn’t a discussion about the bowel habits of my five month old with other playgroup parents make my day worthwhile?
Finally, it dawned on me that, as fortunate as I was to have a healthy and happy child, I needed more in my life. Giving myself permission to acknowledge these feelings as not only real, but also as not being ‘unnatural’ was my saviour. I wasn’t a bad Mum or an unloving Mum, but I was, and still am, a human being with many different needs.
One of these needs was to be a Mum, but others were as strong such as teaching and empowering other people, and learning and developing myself. Being ‘just’ a Mum wasn’t enough, for me. My mental health was in jeopardy and if I let it continue to be battered, it would be my child who would suffer. An unhappy Mum can go through the physical motions of changing, feeding, bathing and caring for a newborn but what a child needs from day 1 is love, affection, attention and stimulation. Because I wasn’t enjoying my experience as a full-time parent, I wasn’t enriching my son’s emotional development.
Sometimes, being the best parent you can be is about making the hardest of choices for the benefit of your child. The ‘hard choice’ I made was to ask my sister to care for my son part-time whilst I was University studying for a degree in counselling. This was a tough choice, but one I had to make. I knew I could only be a happy Mum, raising a happy child, if I was a happy person.
Today, I’m proud of myself for having made that tough decision and I believe I became a better Mum for having made it. My son, Luke, is the centre of my world and each day I balance both our needs to ensure we are both becoming the best we can be.
Follow your own truth to find out how you can manage your needs to enable you to manage your child’s.