Jennie, Eleanor and Sam

Name: Jennie

Children: Eleanor, 11, and Sam, 8

Location: Chorlton, Manchester
Expectations of Motherhood: I always wanted to be a mum, one day, but was always apprehensive about the job description and how much it would change my life. I’d wanted to become pregnant at 35, but when that time came I was having such a great time, and I was really unsure whether I should re-arrange everything. 

In the end, I became pregnant the first time that we tried. It was a real shock. I’d anticipated a year or two of getting used to the idea of having a baby soon, but suddenly it was really happening. I wasn’t prepared at all psychologically and it all hit me quite hard. 

Reality of Motherhood: It’s hard to put into words how much the experience has impacted on me, with the way I now see the world, and how I relate to other people. I still have an incredible life, but I’m no longer in the centre of it. This is actually a hell of a relief! It’s great to get some respite from my own little world, and to have felt it widening out in ways I could never have predicted. Eleven years on, I wonder what I’d be doing if I’d decided not to have had kids. Without a shadow of a doubt, I now know we did the right thing- it’s a huge adventure and most of it has been really enjoyable.

Taking your child home for the first time: Well, I wasn’t able to do that, as I was very ill in hospital and missed a lot of her first three months. It all worked out in the end, but it was a shocking start to motherhood. 

I contracted a serious form of meningitis when I was eight months pregnant. I fell into a coma at home and totally missed my daughter’s birth. Luckily my partner found me and realised I was very unwell. The medics were very unsure what was wrong and suspected I’d overdosed on illegal drugs. As I came out of the coma (eight days later) I experienced severe mental trauma: terrifying hallucinations and suffering paranoid delusions. This then morphed into life-threatening Post Natal Depression. I made it out the other side (thanks to incredible support) but it wasn’t the start I expected! 

That three month period was utterly life-changing on every level. We were extremely lucky to survive without horrific physical side-effects, and not a day goes past when remind myself how incredibly lucky we are to be able to live a very full and independent life. The NHS absolutely surpassed itself and I’ll be forever grateful to all those clever and caring people who chose those careers and brought us through it all. My own parents gave up a big chunk of their life to look after me and had endless patience during my re-hab. They made a massive impact on the speed of my recovery.

The best/worst advice: Tricky one! The best advice has probably come from Supernanny! Her calm and clear approach, with everyone taking time out when needed, really helped me (and still does). The worst advice has to be anything from Gina Ford. Looking back, her unfeeling approach doesn’t make me feel at all comfortable and never worked out well for us. If you come to motherhood with little experience of babies, as I did, I think it’s very natural to scrabble around for a manual. A friend said you end up “finding a book that suits your child”- I think there’s enormous wisdom in this insight!

The hardest parts of being a mother: Accepting that my kids sometimes want to do things very differently to how I think they should be done. I’m not sure if I’ll ever reach this nirvana, though!

My partner works abroad a lot (and we often don’t get much notice) and this has probably been the toughest part. I cope pretty well with his absence, but we can both find it very hard to integrate, as co-parents, on his return. We both get used to being very autonomous and pretty much managing things as we want. When we get back together, we can clash together quite hard. Gradually, we get used to compromise again, but it can be surprisingly challenging.

The best parts of being a mother: The incredible privilege of being able to experience life again and again, by doing things with your kids. The way you can notice things and see things afresh because they are constantly doing that. And of course, the super-sensory experience of being so close to your kids, those unique and powerful connections at all levels. At the heart of it, for me, is that sense of purpose and the feeling that I’m doing a crucial job that I feel enormously motivated about. It’s a corny cliche, but I’ve got no doubt, now, what life’s all about and why I’m here!

Has becoming a mother changed you? Absolutely- especially the whole experience of being so ill during childbirth and the months after. I’ll never really know if the changes were due to motherhood, or to the extreme experiences around that time, but it all changed my perception of the world in a substantial way. It’s given me a much deeper understanding of how humans operate and what circumstances might lead to our behaviours. That’s certainly helped me to be a better manager at work, as have many of the motherhood skills. 

As my kids get older, I’m having to question myself a lot about how I represent womanhood to them. It’s making me quite strong and I do feel that real need to be the best role model I can be, both for my daughter and my son. I want them to question and challenge the way life should be and what we need to do to be active in that process. 

Hopes for your family: I’d like them to be healthy and fulfilled and if I’m really honest, I hope they are going to be able to use their abilities and privileges to have a positive impact on their community (rather than become very rich and self-serving). I hope they will be able to chose healthy adult relationships with people who are emotionally stable and share their aims in life.

What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums?: There are lots of myths about how wonderful motherhood will immediately feel, but it can take years for things to feel right. I don’t think I bonded with my daughter until she was three months old (because of my illness and absence) but I’m so proud of what we have developed. 

I would also say, “Don’t get too hung up about the birth itself.” My mum always says, “It’s just a day- there will hopefully be another 20,000 days of parenting to come.” Whatever happens, you’ll have a great story, and we have incredibly advanced health care which gets most of us through in pretty good shape.

For parenting, I would say that in the long-run, everything is a lot more enjoyable if you can put your kids’ needs first. I don’t mean buy them every toy they want, just try to get their basic needs sorted. As an adult, I’m pretty awful if I’m very tired, stressed, hungry, feeling ignored or scared. If someone helps me get these things sorted, then life quickly becomes pretty nice again and I tend to love that person (quite a lot!). I don’t think kids’ needs are that different. For me, it’s not about buying our kids all the latest gear, it’s about caring about the basics and trying to get that right.

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