Taking To Motherhood (Or Not)

I was at my mum’s house a couple of weeks ago, flicking through the magazines that fall out of newspapers, and I read this article where Bryony Gordon (who is now my favourite) and her mum compare experiences of motherhood. One line in particular caught my eye.

“I think my mum was really shocked by how badly I took to motherhood. She didn’t say anything at the time, but she didn’t need to – the stunned look on her face said all that I needed to know.”

I relayed this to my mum, laughing, and said she probably thought the same about me. But instead of sharing my amusement, she looked at me, surprised, and said that that was absolutely the opposite of what she thought. And that, in fact, all my dad, and my older sister, and everyone else ever talks about is how much better I’ve taken to motherhood than they all expected. And that they are proud.

My initial reaction was to beam with delight and pride and do tell me more! Followed swiftly by, are you kidding me?! I’m a mess!

I was genuinely surprised that she said that. Because most days my house is a dump and my parenting skills haphazard at best. My mood is a jumble of unreasonable emotions, and I’m exhausted, and not always completely enamoured with this motherhood lark. A lot of the time I feel like I’m losing and I generally have no idea what on earth I’m doing. At least once a week I question whether I am in any way coping. Sometimes I just can’t be bothered with it all and that makes me a bad mother. Often I lose patience with the whinging and that makes me a bad mother. I bloody hate playing with the Playmobil and reading stories and watching CBeebies that makes me a bad mother. I am so much worse at all of it than I ever expected to be.

Mum tells me I’m doing just fine all the time. Every time I doubt myself. But, for whatever reason, what she said this time has stuck with me and now, every time I feel like a failure, I’m trying to remind myself that people are having conversations not about how I’m barely scraping by, but how well I’ve taken to being a mum. It makes me feel proud. I think people should be telling mums things like that more often. We’re all doing just fine, even if we don’t feel like we are.

Much later, when the toddler was in bed and I was still revelling in the glow of being a successful parent in other people’s eyes, I had another thought: just how badly did they expect me to fail that this looks like success?! But, hey, either way I’m still up on expectations. I think that’s enough for me!


Smash Your Inhibitions


Oh, hey, just thought I’d start a blog post with an image for a change. Here’s Liam from One Direction smashing his inhibitions.

So I took the toddler to the aquarium a couple of weeks ago. Partly because I needed to look at something new with my eyes that wasn’t anything to do with laundry or Playmobil and partly because I wanted to try out my new ‘you can walk! we don’t need the pushchair! look at us going into cafés and not being in the way!’ backpack that I’d just swapped the changing bag for. (Spoiler alert: my arm muscles got quite the work-out that day).

We’d been before, every now and then, each time with me hoping that she might at least acknowledge the fish, if not actually enjoy herself. But this time she did! She saw the fish, she named the fish (“sea fwors!” “gally fish!”), she ran up and down the ramps, she danced over the patterns the light and the water made on the floor… and she wanted me to dance too. And I didn’t want to. I felt awkward. There were people around. And however fun and silly I think I am while I’m doing the full dance routine to One Direction’s Best Song Ever in my pyjamas in the mornings while the toddler watches me with a mixture of glee, confusion and concern, I am the worst when it comes to going out of my way to be invisible when in public. I even like the people I am with to be invisible. And yet “Mummy! Dancing!”, she insisted, and it suddenly occurred to me that, even if she had been able to understand an explanation of why I didn’t want to dance, I wouldn’t have wanted to say it to her. Because what an awful thing, to assign negative qualities like embarrassment and self-consciousness to something as innocent and carefree as dancing over the patterns of light. I want her to grow up feeling as free as I feel when I’m dancing around my bedroom. In public. In private. Uninhibited. At least until someone or something else inhibits her. But I don’t want that person to be me, so from now on I’m going to have to try really hard to smash those stupid inhibitions and be the person I want my daughter to see. Starting with bopping really horribly awkwardly over the patterns of light in the aquarium. Honestly. It would have been less cringey if I’d gone all out with the dancing. I’m going to hate every minute of it but I must try harder. For her. And for me too, I guess.

Anyway, overall we had a lovely day. We ate cake. We looked at boats. And then on the way home we got stuck in an excruciating four-hour (FOUR HOUR) traffic jam, ended up having our tea at a deserted service station as bedtime approached, sang 40 minutes of nursery rhymes to stay awake on the home straight and came away from it more bonded than ever. Funny thing, motherhood.

All My Happy Friends

It started a couple of weeks ago. I had that uneasy feeling that it was coming. I made jokes about it to test the water. And then it happened for real and caught me unprepared. And now it’s just one after the other.

These people who had babies at the same time as me are pregnant again.

First it was a local friend. I hadn’t seen her for a while or I would have noticed before. I happened to glance at Facebook one lunchtime at work and was greeted by a scan photo and a billion congratulatory comments. I did a silent impression of a fish and gushed my (actually genuine) congratulations via text message. I did the good friend thing and offered to take her one-year-old off her hands if she ever needed a rest. I stared at that photo several times over the course of that day and my heart sunk a little more each time.

And then, obviously, this morning it was the Duchess of Cambridge. And I’m only exaggerating a little bit when I say I actually wanted to throw myself from my third floor office window. I was already feeling, shall we say, not the best I have ever felt, and that news not so much tipped as shoved me really hard over the edge. I wished I could just shut myself in a dark cupboard and be on my own. I barely spoke to anyone all day.

My daughter is exactly two months older than Prince George. About a month younger than my pregnant friend’s son. Three months older than a close friend’s son. Someone at work had a baby the same week I did. Another went on maternity leave shortly after. I reconnected with a friend I had lost touch with about four years ago after we found out we’d had babies a few months apart. It seemed like 2013 was the year for people I know to reproduce. And now we’ve all passed the milestone first birthday and our babies are toddling about, of course it’s only natural to think about adding to the family. You certainly don’t want to leave it more than another year. What if it takes ages to get pregnant again? It’s lovely, isn’t it? Seeing a happy couple with a toddler and a baby bump between them. Lovely.

Unless you’re an unexpected single mum, who spent years thinking she would have four children, and their names would all begin with M (Mabel, Maeve, Martha and another I can’t remember now), and they’d all giggle their way around Tesco wearing stripy jumpers. (I don’t actually know why the fantasy involved these specific things, but anyway. It did.) Or that mum who found she didn’t necessarily take to motherhood as naturally as she’d expected and had to try to process the slightly crushing realisation that she might not be able to cope with more than one baby. Ever. Or that mum who wonders quite often whether she’s teetering on the edge of late post natal depression or just needs to pull herself together. Or all of those things.

I used to be no different to everyone else: I had the daydreams about the wedding and the happily ever after. Except not a single one of my daydreams came true. Call me bitter but I haven’t yet found a way to come to terms with that. It was already hard enough to see couples being happy with one baby. To feel the grief of not being a little family unit like I pictured. Now, with all these second babies on the way, these mums are doing what I physically cannot do (with no man on the horizon) and mentally may not even be capable of. 

I can’t bear how much that hurts me. I can’t find a way to come to terms with that, either. Maybe it doesn’t make sense for me to be so upset over the wave of second babies when I’m not sure I could cope with another one anyway, but the thing is that I thought I would be able to cope. I thought I would love it. Throw myself into it. Be delightfully domesticated, surrounded by my little brood. All preferably with a ring on my finger, and all those other clichés. I never in a million years thought I would end up on my own with a baby, and never in a billion years thought I would be one of those people who only had one. Every time I see my daughter play with another baby I feel guilty that she most likely won’t have any brothers or sisters. Every time I enjoy spending time with my brother it is tinged with sadness for what I cannot give to her. My own mum – who also didn’t enjoy motherhood all that much – said that the only reason she had another baby after a truly awful experience with me was so that I was not alone. That is literally the most selfless thing I have ever heard, having heard the horror stories of a baby that barely slept for two years and refused to be left with her own father, let alone anyone else. It makes me feel so unspeakably selfish that I do not think I could voluntarily put myself through more than I have already endured with the one baby I do have.

It’s very hard to explain to someone how hearing that someone you don’t even know is pregnant can make you feel sick. These are ugly feelings that do nothing but make me look petulant and childish. I see the expression on the faces of even very close friends when I say something negative about someone’s happy news. But try to imagine how it feels to not only have your dreams snatched from you by someone else, but to realise that you’re not actually the person you thought you were at all – you are much more selfish and much weaker. And then watch everyone around you enjoying all the things you wanted – less selfish and stronger than you are. Getting it all right while you can only look on and wonder how you got everything so wrong.

The media is not going to stop talking about the new royal baby. It’s going to be unbearable. I don’t know how I’m going to cope with it. Or how I’m going to hide the fact that I’m not coping with it from everyone I know. Maybe I should change the name of this blog to The Things I Can’t Say To All My Happy Friends… Because at the moment it seems like it’s just too much to ask to be one of them.

Not A Perfect Mother

Today it occurred to me that I might actually suck a bit at being a mum.

I had no idea motherhood would be like this. I didn’t have much of an idea what it would be like, but I definitely didn’t think it would be like this. For starters, I kind of assumed that, as the grown-up, I’d be in charge. Ha. Ha ha ha *cries* At this stage in the game, the toddler is calling 99% of the shots. Strangely, our opinions on just about everything seem to differ quite dramatically. For example, I would really like her to be able to appreciate the finer points of Tesco from the trolley. Quietly. And to not be afraid of anything bigger than a chicken when I’ve just paid £15 for us to have a nice day out looking at animals. And maybe just recognise that getting dressed in the morning isn’t the same as being tortured.

There are lovely moments. Like the time I came home from a dentist appointment when she had just learned to walk and she staggered over to me as soon as I came through the door and gave me a big hug. (I should probably point out here that Granny was babysitting and I hadn’t just left a one-year-old to fend for herself). Or times when I laugh despite myself. Like today, when she repeatedly ignored my very serious requests for her not to climb the stairs on her own and, once she had finished throwing herself around the floor in protest at being removed from half way up the staircase, she looked at me with those dark defiant eyes, said “no” and did a fake sad face, which felt an awful lot like she was mocking my telling off face. I have endless boring hilarious mum anecdotes which I merrily wheel out at a moment’s notice (sorry, work colleagues), so we must have some good times together.

But sometimes she whinges for 13 hours straight. Sometimes I am angry and stressed for the entire day. Sometimes it seems that I can do nothing right in her eyes. Sometimes she throws her food everywhere on purpose or pulls a plant pot off the windowsill or hits me in the face with a spoon and I shout at her (and then immediately feel like the worst person in the entire world). My house is a tip by 7am every day without fail. I am never on top of the laundry. My entire life revolves around timing the morning nap right. A car journey that takes longer than 20 minutes is pushing my luck. The only time she stays still is when she’s eating. There is literally no way to make her do something that she has decided she doesn’t want to do. The list of things she does want to do is subject to change at any time with no notice or forewarning. If we are in a shop or a cafe or a restaurant the only direction she wants to toddle in is the first door. I cannot have nice things. My hip hurts every time I stand up because 25lbs of toddler insists on being carried as her primary means of getting around when out of the house. I can’t make a phone call unless she’s asleep. I am essentially a slave to her every whim. More than once I have eyed up the bottle of gin at 3pm. And don’t even talk to me about the gardening.

It’s frustrating. It’s exhausting beyond anything you could imagine. It is the most stressful thing in the world when your child is ill or – even worse – “acting a bit off for no obvious reason”. And it can also be depressingly mundane.

I hate the books she loves the most. I don’t want to sing Row Row Row Your Boat 20 times in a row, every single day for a month. Certain CBeebies programmes make me want to smash in the TV screen with a plastic xylophone. Sometimes it’d be nice to be allowed to hold the spoon myself when I’m eating my cereal. And I can’t remember the last time I went to the toilet without an audience, or with the door closed.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m not actively enjoying motherhood a lot of the time, but when everyone around me seems to be enjoying it so much I can’t help feeling that I’m getting it all wrong. I remember talking to another mum at a baby group when I must have been about four months into motherhood, in the midst of a sleep regression where my delightful baby would wake up every single hour of the night without fail. I’ll never forget the way she looked at me when she asked me, so casually, whether I was enjoying it, and I said quite frankly that I wasn’t. It was like she was mentally dialling social services.

This isn’t the mum I thought I’d be. I wanted so badly to be that happy, smiling, lovely mum that takes everything in her stride, managing to combine motherhood with having actual fun with her offspring (as well as looking just generally glamorous). In reality, most often I look forward to going to work just for a break from it all. Adult conversation that I can actually participate in without simultaneously chasing around after/chain-feeding a stroppy child. The opportunity to use my brain? I’d forgotten I had one! A lunch break?! EVERYBODY JUST CALM DOWN. I don’t know if it’s possible to stop giving myself a hard time for not being that perfect mother. I try to remind myself that if we make it to the end of the day and we’re both still alive I must have done something right. But I always feel I should be doing more with her, feeding her better food, teaching her more stuff. She’s so smart – I feel like I’m wasting her intelligence. The weight of being responsible for the well-being of this entire person is terrifying, especially when you don’t have a bloody clue what you’re doing.

I had a bad day today. She was being difficult and I felt like a failure. We clawed our way to the end of the day. And then, as I stood looking at her mutter “piggle piggle” as she watched In The Night Garden before bed and my heart filled up with love, I realised the most important thing: I might have days that end with me lying face down on the bedroom floor in despair and exhaustion as a whingey toddler climbs on me and throws board books at my head, but it doesn’t mean that I adore my precious amazing beautiful little girl any less than those mums that don’t end every trip to Tesco sweating and swearing under their breath. For all my complaining, I know really that I wouldn’t want to live in a world where she wasn’t with me. And that, I think, is the main thing.

Things I Can’t

There are some things about my life that I find hard to accept.

I’ve been battling a chronic, incurable, untreatable, but thankfully by no means deadly, illness since I was 18. I was especially ill between the ages of 19 and 21. I wasn’t quite bed-bound, like many people with Fibromyalgia find themselves, but I think that was probably more to do with my stubbornness and how hard I am on myself when I feel like I’m being lazy or not trying hard enough. I went from being a self-assured teenager, excited by life’s possibilities and believing only good things about my future, to someone I didn’t even recognise. It took a lot of fighting, but by the time I was 22 I had managed to rehabilitate myself back into some semblance of normal life, with a job and a boyfriend and a driving licence – even if, behind closed doors, I was utterly exhausted by the effort to maintain this ordinary unremarkable life. I never found my way back, mentally, to that happy confident 18-year-old who had her whole life ahead of her. Illness stole my youth from me, and I don’t think I’ve ever properly come to terms with that.

Many years later I became a mum, and for twelve whole months after my daughter was born I didn’t see a single symptom of my illness. I was tired, but only as tired as any new mum was. No aches and pains. No reliance on bottles of supplements and medication. Nothing that made me different from anyone else. Cautiously I started to believe that, somehow, pregnancy and motherhood had cured me.

And now she is 15 months old, and slowly the ailments have begun to slink back under my skin. The kind of exhaustion that sleep will never fix, and that has thrown the exercise regime and diet that I was so proud of out of the window. The apathy and lack of enthusiasm for anything. The pain that accompanies every activity. This person that is so quick to stress and anger. I thought I’d left her behind.

My mum took the baby out for the day today and, instead of making the most of the blissful space and the quiet, I found myself unable to do anything except lie under a blanket on the sofa. The exhaustion consumed me, but not as much as the guilt did as I watched the wasted seconds tick away. I couldn’t enjoy any of it.

I don’t know yet how my illness fits in with motherhood. The only thing I do know is that, somehow, it has to. It’s just me and the baby. There is no “I can’t”. I’ve got a lot of work to do here, physically and mentally. Accepting the things I can’t change is probably a good place to start. In the mean time, I suspect I’m going to be watching a hell of a lot of Netflix.