Children: Eloise, 2 1/2 and Imogen, 7 months
Expectations of Motherhood: It’s difficult now, after the chaos and drama of the past few years, to remember what my expectations were. I remember that I was 33, had met the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with and wanted a child so much before it was potentially too late.
We were both surprised and ecstatic when I fell pregnant very quickly. However, I was so sick during pregnancy (both times) that I didn’t have time to think much about what motherhood might actually be like. I was just focused on getting through it and having a healthy baby. I suppose there was some vague idea in my mind that everything would be ok and we would just ‘deal with it’.
Reality of Motherhood: The reality was a complete shocker and those first days with Eloise were a mixture of joy and terror in equal measures! The lack of sleep was just mind-numbing, especially to someone who used to lie in bed until 11am, then maybe wander down to a local cafe for some brunch.
I remember crying on the phone to both the health visitor, and breastfeeding counsellor, sniffing, “I just want someone to help me!” Breastfeeding went terribly for me, and I just couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working.
There were many fantastic moments, too, of course. I feel like I have an imprint in my mind, a photographic memory of the exact expression on both girls’ faces when they were born. Eloise looked sleepily happy, and I would swear she was smiling, whereas Imogen looked positively dumbfounded! (Well she was born in 17 minutes).
The reality is that there’s a new reality. Life changes and you get used to that new way of life. I’d say my life is a lot more rewarding – each day is so structured and military and hectic, but when I’m finally relaxed on the settee in the evening, I feel so much better for it.
Taking your children home for the first time: We were typical first time parents. My partner had to ask a random person for help with the car seat. We drove home at about 3 miles per hour. I then collapsed into a chair and kind of thought “what now?”. But we got on with it and found our feet very quickly. We kept calm and, with hindsight, this helped us a lot.
Taking Imogen home for the first time was a little different. We had a two-year old by then and had to stop at a supermarket on the way home to buy her a present from her new little sister!
Worst advice: Probably from a health visitor, who said “whatever you do, don’t give her any formula”, when I was struggling with breastfeeding Eloise. She really made me feel that I would be doing the most awful thing to my child if I switched to the bottle. I then struggled for longer than I should have, and unnecessarily. With my second, I was determined not to feel that way, but I still felt the pressure a little. In the end, I breastfed both for 5 weeks, and I’m proud of that achievement.
I have to also make mention of “sleep when your baby sleeps” – advice that seems to be trotted out to all new parents. I mean, really – does anyone do this? Surely these are the times to get the washing on and have a quick brew?!
The hardest parts of being a mother: For me, the hardest part is the constancy of it all. It really is unrelenting day in, day out, especially with two. It’s difficult to make a phone call, to read a text message, to even hear yourself think. It’s a huge treat to get out for a coffee with a friend, child-free. I was even treated to a spa day, recently, and my friend and I fell asleep for approximately 2 1/2 hours of it!
The tiredness is also challenging, but I’ve surprised myself at how well I’ve coped with that. I think my brain has adjusted and I now power-sleep when I can.
The best parts of being a mother: Seeing your child become her own person, with her own little character, facial expressions and views of the world. Also, seeing the potential in them, and being so privileged to be one of the few people who will encourage them to achieve it. My daughters are already very different. Eloise is so chatty, loud, adventurous, and self-assured. Imogen will quietly take everything in and consider it, then suddenly burst into song and smiles.
Has becoming a mother changed you?: Without a doubt. Everything I did used to be about me. I used to be a worrier, but what did I worry about? Me?! I’m perversely less of a worrier now. Maybe there’s so much to worry about with being a mother that my brain simply can’t cope with it all so has decided not to bother.
I’m more practical and am constantly thinking ahead to the next ‘task’ to get ahead of myself, just to cope with the day.
Obviously I think about myself much less and about the needs of my family most of the time. Gone are the days of buying a new top every time I went out at night (Thursday, Friday and Saturday usually, during my early twenties!). Now I get excited at the children’s clothing section in supermarkets!
Another interesting change is a compulsion to write. I just seem to be experiencing so much as a mother that I want to not only write it down, but share it. For this reason, I started my own blog, and asked to participate in The Mothers project. I’m hoping that my daughters will enjoy reading about their mother’s experience of their early years when they’re older.
Hopes for your family: I hope that my daughters feel secure in their upbringing, and secure and confident in themselves. I’m worried (despite being less of a worrier!) about the power of bullying, and I hope they can be resilient enough to rise above this inevitable possibility. I want them to believe they can achieve whatever they want, and that they can always turn to us as parents for help.
My biggest hope, however, is that they support each other throughout life. They’re so lucky to have each other, and have such a small gap in age, and I really hope they capitalise on this and lean on each other during life’s ups and downs.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: Listen to your instincts, as you’re the one that knows your baby and yourself the best. As a new mum, you’re flooded with advice, from family, friends, hospital staff, health visitors, doctors, media…it’s overwhelming, but take a step back if you can.
Liz is a Policy and Strategy Officer, working in the Public Health department at Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council.