Children: Willow 5yrs, Wilbur 8 months
Location: Levenshulme, Manchester
Expectations of Motherhood: I always knew that I wanted to have children, but I think I wanted to wait for the feeling of being ‘grown up’ enough to become a mum.
I originally did a degree in Art and Sociology, but found when job hunting it wasn’t very useful, so I initially worked in care jobs and mental health. A couple of years later I started a degree in Occupational Therapy to try and combine my creative side and my health care interests.
Half way through my degree we started getting a little complacent when it came to contraception and I got pregnant.
When I was younger I never felt that I understood other women or how I should really behave as a woman, so when I got pregnant I very naively felt like this was my opportunity to be the ultimate earth mother, living “as one” with this beautiful thing inside me that was made out of love. I wanted my birth experience to be calm, happy, the very epitome of womanhood and a bonding experience for my husband and I (and my mum who was supposed to be with me). Of course, it didn’t turn out as I had hoped or expected.
I was utterly gutted when I went for a scan after a small bleed at 12 weeks to find out that my baby had died. I had a horrible miscarriage and cried for weeks. I became fixated on becoming pregnant again, probably to prove I could do it more than anything.
When Willow was born I had planned to breastfeed her exclusively. I was prepared for the sleepless nights and the constant feeding and knew it was going to hurt, but I was determined I was going to feed her myself. I was even naive enough to think that women that didn’t breastfeed their child simply didn’t try hard enough!
As Willow grew up I had very clear vision that I wanted her to not feel restricted to girlie toys and have everything pink. I wanted her to hate Barbie, to climb trees, to get mucky and love it.
With my second child, Wilbur, I had expected to get pregnant straight away; it took three years. In this time I lost three stone and had another miscarriage, then I finally got pregnant with Wilbur. Eventually, I realised that he was a real baby who was going to make an appearance and so I should plan for his birth. My plans were very modest and all I really wanted was for it to be a positive experience, and nothing like my first birth experience.
I had expected motherhood to come naturally to me. I had expected what people tell you will happen; the rush of love for your baby, the elation when they are born and the grief of separation when they have to go to nursery and school. Needless to say, the reality was quite different!
Willow’s arrival could not have been more different than how I had planned. She was breech and I had to have a planned Cesarean section. I had assumed an elective c-section would have been calm, positive and a pain free way of having my baby but I was totally shocked about how brutal the process was and how brusque the staff seemed. I started crying on Willow’s second day and must have stopped only 3 weeks later. Looking back I quite obviously has a rather nasty case of postnatal depression.
Despite my hippy, earth-motherly dreams I was not a natural maternal type. Willow was a very unhappy baby, full of colic and never seemingly comfortable. She would scream from about 3pm in the afternoon until 9 or 10 pm and would be inconsolable. We would call it “suicide hour”.
I knew I had to care for her but I remember not being in love with her or particularly liking her. All the mums at the baby groups seemed to be doting on their babies but I just wanted mine to stop screaming for long enough for me to get some sleep. It turned out that poor Willow had silent reflux but she didn’t get diagnosed until she was about 5 months old. After being put on the right medication she became a much happier baby and we got to know each other all over again. I started to fall in love with her and realise that we had all had a really tough few months, but now things were only going to get better.
Wilbur seemed so easy compared to my first experience. He was easily soothed and he didn’t cry all the time. I exclusively breastfed him, however he got an infection in his umbilical cord and again I didn’t have enough milk to keep his weight up. He lost 15.9% of his body weight and had to be admitted to hospital at 5 days old. I was gutted to have to start mix feeding again but he was going to be seriously ill if we didn’t.
Taking your children home for the first time: Taking my daughter home felt wonderful because I had had such a horrible time in hospital that I thought home was the answer to everything. As it turned out, home was the start of a whole new level of sleeplessness and perforated ear drums from the constant screaming. I ran on adrenaline and hysterics. My mum had come to help us out and ended up not leaving for about three months because I was such a wreck. My mum being around was a blessing and a curse really because she seemed to be the only person who could soothe Willow – I felt increasingly useless.
Taking Wilbur home was a totally different experience. My mum was there again, but I was determined to be more together this time. I was really lucky enough to get the support I needed.
There was a moment when I looked at my daughter and my new baby and suddenly all the hippy-dippy earth motherly feelings I had initially hoped for actually happened! I felt like I had everything I had ever wanted.
The best/worst advice: The best advice I had was from my friend Audrey. I would often take my daughter and go and hide at her house in the afternoon (to try and distract the baby from the evening screamies). She told me everything with children is a phase, even the good stuff – so whatever they are like now, it won’t last forever. That saw me through some very dark times!
The worst advice I had was whilst we were trying to get pregnant with Wilbur. It took three years to get pregnant and I had to go to the women’s hospital for investigations. People would constantly say, “Oh you just need to relax!” and, “Stop trying and it will just happen”. It drove me nuts even though I knew people were just trying to be nice.
The hardest parts of being a mother: The hardest part of being a mum has to be accepting that I have limitations and I don’t always have the answers or solutions to every problem.
Finding (and sharing) the time and energy for the people I love is also tricky. With my first baby I think my husband and I forgot to give each other enough attention, and that made it hard to get on when we were both tired and grumpy.
The laughter and joy in simple and unexpected things is wonderful, for example, the relief in seeing a great big poo erupt from your baby when he has been constipated for days are joyful!
Hopes for your family: My hopes for my family are that we will remain close. I come from a large family of half brothers and half sisters, but none of us are particularly close. I would love for Willow and Wilbur to be there for each other when they grow up.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: Have realistic expectations! Child birth and babies are unpredictable things and trying to have control over every aspect of it can really backfire.