It’s so difficult to explain exactly what it feels like to be a mom. There’s no love quite like it. As I write here on Mother’s Day with a five year old who means the absolute world sat beside me it’s a challenge to try and remember what life was like before he existed. Before I was a mother.
How do you explain motherhood?
At the hardest times it’s exhausting. Nothing can prepare you for those early newborn days and the lack of sleep, there’s lots of advice out there for that. I’ll be honest “Sleep when they sleep” is a lie, from the moment they are born there’s an overwhelming sense of responsibility for something, someone who means more than you. From then on you learn to be truly selfless and to put their feelings before your own.
When I think back to my teenage angst and how I grieved breakups and lost loves with sad music and alcohol, feeling like my world was ending (at least according to my journal entries) I almost have to laugh because what I thought was love then is nothing compared to the true love I have for my son. It really is unconditional.
When you say you’d die for someone, then you end up going through a traumatic pregnancy where you are admitted in to hospital it really puts things in to perspective. I struggled with Hyperemesis Gravidarum for the whole nine months and it was certainly an emotional rollercoaster. Going through the first few months without any medication to ease my symptoms because it could have had an impact on my baby was a decision I made easily in a heartbeat. Suddenly the little person growing inside of me meant more than I could have prepared for.
All the self sacrifice.
Putting someone else first despite your own feelings is tough. I’ve spoken on many occasions about smashing the patriarchy, and the glass ceiling and campaigning for flexible working and better support for families. The truth is that before my baby came in to the world I was delusional. I thought I could go back to work full time and continue with my career almost seamlessly.
Then I very quickly realised that all of the things which mattered to me had changed. I was the person who would leave the house at 5am and stay out at work squeezing in more client and customer appointments. Travelling across the country and staying overnight in hotels felt like I was living the dream in my mid twenties but suddenly I didn’t even want to be away for a single meal and miss out on my sons first experience of a new food. It sounds almost ungrateful to say that the perks of the job which I loved suddenly felt like obstacles to my enjoyment of motherhood.
I don’t think any employers I have experienced really accommodate well for this. There’s lots of baby milestones you experience on maternity leave when you’re at home for six months to a year but then when these babies grow older and start school it’s very difficult to be there and be present. I’ve got no idea what happens during the time Arlo is at school now. It’s hard enough for him to remember and communicate what he ate for lunch.
The mum guilt is real.
It also doesn’t help that as much as there’s some fabulous supportive groups for women, that the choices you make can be quite divisive. The only other people who really understand what you’re going through as a mother are other mothers and it’s easy to feel judged by those who make different choices. There’s no place more toxic than a social media thread where women, mothers argue with each other about breast feeding and vaccines. The worry about the decisions you make is not eased when you constantly worry that you aren’t doing as well as stay at home “Sally” who seems to have her shit together on the school run. Sally who knows when all the non uniform days are and has the time to show up to all the assemblies and bake cakes for the PTA events.
Sally probably has her own stuff going on, in fact I know some real life Sally’s who say that the flip side of giving up work entirely to be a stay at home mom has got just as many challenges. Not so secretly I sometimes wish I had a rich husband who could pay all the bills so I could stay at home, but I also know I could never give up my financial independence and rely solely on one person. Whilst motherhood is redefining, work also gives me a sense of self and having time away from my son makes me truly appreciate the free time we have together.
That’s probably why we go and have a lot of adventures together. I’m obsessed with making every moment count. Of filling up our scrap book with mementoes of new experiences. I love seeing my sons face as we see new places. Standing back and watching him run towards the ocean or look up to a rainbow in the sky in wonder is truly fulfilling. It makes up appreciate the world in a new way, almost as if you’re vicariously living your own childhood again through their eyes.
At least when my son was in nursery I got updated through an app. They would send pictures of play activities and I would stop whatever I was doing to read all about finger painting and then feel a pang of guilt that I was missing this, but also felt empowered that my son was gaining his independence, developing confidence and that I was able to work and support him throughout. His achievements were also mine. I made him and I know it’s probably more appropriate to be humble, but I will celebrate every single one of his successes and give myself a quiet pat on the back at every single opportunity.
Let’s face it, there’s very little reward or praise for motherhood. It’s expected that you’re supposed to just slip in to the role. There’s certainly a gender imbalance there (which is another topic I could write about for hours). Women are usually the default parent. We take on the mental load. We’re the ones who know shoe sizes and book doctors appointments. We’re the first emergency contact and the person who buy school uniform and keep the family diary and show up to all the birthday parties and nativity plays. Day in day out we do all of this for our children and often forget to take some time out to take care of ourselves. I can’t remember the last time I sat in the bath for longer than ten minutes without an interruption.
We lose our sense of self
and our identity to shape these new little humans as they grow. A friend of mine shared a meme in a group chat which said that flamingos lose their pink when raising babies as it is such an intensive process – but eventually their pink comes back.
Becoming a mother gave me the strength myself to change my own career. If I was going to have to be away from my son for any length of time then I was going to make it count and not work for a company where I felt like I was just another cog in the wheel. My values changed and no longer aligned with the career I had worked so hard to build for almost a decade. Sitting in meetings where people discussed trivial issues with nonsense of urgency made me feel as though I was wasting my time. I travelled for hours to sit in board rooms and found myself thinking that all of this nonsense could have been put in an email.
When my son started school, I finally got a routine where I knew I was going to have Monday to Fridays available. I took a leap of faith and went back to study myself. Changing my whole life to become a teacher because as soon as Arlo was born, child development and learning became a real passion of mine. As soon as I told people of my plans, the reaction I got was one of expectation. People always thought I would have been a good teacher but before I had my own child I would never of dreamed of surrounding myself with kids.
When you become a mother, saying you’ll catch someone when they fall takes on a new meaning – you spend the first few years hovering over your child to catch them before they even take their first steps and then ca almost communicate telepathically and pre empt their falls. I’m talking literally here. Whenever I arrive at a playground I scan it for all possible dangers and figure out where to stand knowing exactly how my child will want to approach the obstacles and where exactly he will want to jump. You really understand what it means to catch someone when they fall but you’re too exhausted to pause and reflect about this, and probably bruised and aching from still scooping up a not so little one anymore after a day trip out.
Now my son is five. He’s started school and has his own little life. Everything he achieves makes me proud. I look at his stickers he comes out of school with on his jumper covered in food and felt tip and I could just burst. Because I made him. It seems like so long ago but also like if I close my eyes I can remember him being placed on my chest for the first time as I shivered in shock as I realised I was a mom.