In all honesty I can say that my expectations of being a mother were fairly low which I now believe stood me in pretty good stead. As a child I have memories of doodling wedding dresses when bored in class and was totally sucked into the Disney version of Happy Ever After despite coming from a broken home. I wanted to find The One and share my life with someone but from a young age and arguably into a significant part of my adulthood, children never featured in my vision of the future.
For plenty of friends they did. Being a mother was something many longed to be from childhood. Sitting round a Uni friend’s table many years ago now over a boozy dinner I remember vividly the topic of conversation turning to pregnancy. Most of the (all) women were looking forward to the experience as well as that of giving birth. On the contrary I thought that if/when I ever became pregnant I would feel claustrophobic and found the idea of something actually inside of me, living, quite alien. And giving birth. Gulp.
Children too I had no problem with per se but would sometimes watch families when my now husband and I were out for lunch and notice with disappointment sullen children bored at the table, surly and unresponsive or playing computer games or Nintendos. I guess it would be fair to say that it wasn’t exactly something I aspired to but interestingly it was something I just assumed I would do one day because that is what you did. As a wife and a woman I never thought to question that and assumed that feeling maternal would miraculously happen ‘when I got older.’
My twenties passed and my married thirties followed. I was in a fairly intense period of study so managed to avoid starting to have a family for a few years and then D-day approached when in our early thirties we agreed that there was ‘no perfect time.’ The Pills got ditched and we waited to see what would happen. And waited. And waited. And waited. This hormonally and emotionally charged time ended out arguably to be the best thing that happened to me/us/our family. Having been marching towards motherhood through my own sheer inertia, the will of my husband and the expectations of society too perhaps, I was suddenly and frighteningly slapped round the face by unexplained infertility. Not to make light of something that came to dominate my life (and obviously that of my husbands) for four years but there’s nothing like not being able to have something to make you want it. Or to put it into sharp relief and focus and crystalize what you really think.
This for me was the understanding that even though I still wasn’t mega maternal, have never felt broody in my life and still don’t understand what that means and find babies immeasurably dull, that didn’t actually mean rather unexpectedly that I didn’t really want to become a mum. I’d never questioned this before but now, faced with it not being an option I had never wanted anything more.
As luck would have it, after four years, I got up the duff and gave birth to our son. As everyone inevitably tells you, you do feel totally different about your own child and the love I felt when he was first placed on me was of the purist, most soulful kind. But that still didn’t mean that those early days were interesting. Not really. They were so utterly, utterly special and the excitement of taking him home, introducing him to our wider family and spending time with him was simply magical. But I remember being asked by someone probably around a month in ‘how was I finding motherhood?’ I answered truthfully that it was pretty boring and I was trapped on a treadmill of feeding, nappy changing and getting the little man off to sleep. She looked extremely surprised and I in turn was surprised that she was surprised. Wasn’t that how every mother felt – love is unconditional but it doesn’t mean you have to find changing nappies riveting?
Everyone is of course different and perhaps some mothers love those early days but struggling to establish a routine and the obsession around feeding times, sleeping patterns and so on wasn’t really my bag though it didn’t mean I wasn’t extremely happy and contented. Tired too yes, but I was also peaceful, relaxed and for someone who usually races around at 100 miles an hour, I was still. I just was. I would sit on the sofa with my baby sleeping on me and I really enjoyed him. I didn’t read, watch TV or talk on the phone. I just enjoyed the weight of him, the smell of him and these new feelings I was experiencing. I wasn’t planning on doing it again and so I was absolutely going to make the most of it.
I met a new mother recently and she had a baby who was around seven months old and was still up hourly during the night. She told me how much easier she thought it was going to be. She would go to the gym, get fit and generally enjoy not working but being at home. As it was every spare second she got to herself she went to bed and caught up on sleep. Admittedly this is super unlucky as is quite an extreme example of a bad sleeper but I think we should all be honest and admit that though we love our kid(s) it doesn’t mean that it can’t also be tiring and occasionally relentless. They can drive you demented through constant demands and the pull on one’s patience can be extreme. Ultimately the love you feel for them keeps you on an even keel but let’s all do each other a favour and admit that it can be tough – picture perfect parenthood – p*ss off!
The realities of looking after a child or being responsible for a child 24/7 isn’t a fairy tale and can’t and shouldn’t be filtered to perfection through Instagram. Glamourous celebrities effortlessly juggling children, multi-million dollar careers and a supermodel body also raise the bar too high so can we just bring it down a little bit, be honest and admit that though we wouldn’t swop our experience for all the tea in China it doesn’t mean that it’s always easy. Motherhood can be tough and it should be ok to say that and for us not to be harshly judged if we do.