Child: Annie, 2
Expectations of motherhood: My pregnancy was unexpected and very welcome. I thought I’d cherish every moment of being a mother. But I was worried I’d find it a bit boring too.
I have quite a contradictory personality, my work background is in behaviour management so I knew I’d be strict and have firm boundaries from the get go, but I’m also quite hippyish and envisaged lots of healthy outdoors fun, using a sling, breastfeeding on demand, slow pace of life and even meditating with my daughter.
Reality of motherhood: So much harder than I ever thought it could be. I didn’t know that I’d have a child with some medical needs who still wouldn’t be sleeping after nearly three years. I knew the first months would be tough but hadn’t considered that sleep deprivation could continue for this long.
I’m definitely quite strict with her in some ways, e.g. With safety and with kindness, but after that I’m so slack. She wanders around playgroups, she eats her meals on various places around the room, usually under the chair. I’m just too tired to correct every behaviour, and also I no longer think I should. She’s got her whole life to follow rules so I’m quite free with her. She’s a pretty good egg though so I get away with it. Slings didn’t happen, I breastfed her so much that I just wanted time away from her, not to have her attached to me all the time!
Taking your child home for the first time: An amazing sense of relief. I had terrible anxiety throughout my pregnancy but once she was born it pretty much left me. She was out, I could see her, I knew that she was OK.
We had her in the backseat and my husband pulled over and demanded I get in the back to check her. I remember thinking, ‘What’s he worried about?’ But of course I’d just spent a whole night in hospital with her by myself and he had barely seen her!
Best advice: My Mum told me not to pressure myself into taking Annie to baby groups. In the early days I was forcing myself to get out of the house and go to yoga, as that’s what everyone seems to do, then sat tearing up listening to how happy and content other people’s babies were while I was surviving on barely any sleep. I didn’t make any friends at the groups I went to, I just found them stressful. In fact I’ve only made ‘mum friends’ this year now that Annie is older and I can chat to people while she plays.
Worst advice: Sleep when the baby sleeps. Everyone pedals this gem out and it’s nonsense! I needed time to myself, to have a shower, to do chores, to go for a walk. I really like having a clean and tidy house and loved getting everything in order while she slept. Some people can’t wait to drink after pregnancy, I couldn’t wait to clean!
Hardest part of being a mother: Without a doubt, losing my sense of identity. For a long time I felt I had nothing in my life outside of the sphere of motherhood. And then I felt guilty for feeling that way. I’ve never had my identity questioned before and it seems like such an existential thing to worry about, but it really bothered me. I felt devalued as a stay at home parent, and like I wasn’t worth talking to or being interested in, but I was still me.
Best part of being a mother: It’s like I’ve grown my own best friend. We have such a laugh together, we have little family in jokes and games that we play. I love how much we laugh. I love seeing days out through her eyes, she’ll stop and look at a worm for twenty minutes. She really makes appreciate the little moments in each day.
How being a mother has changed me: I’m almost completely selfless when it comes to my daughter. I wasn’t spoiled before, but I certainly liked things to be my way! Now I put myself second for everything, without question. It may not be right or healthy for everyone but for me it comes so naturally. For example, the first time we were both ill at the same time I went from being totally out of it, laid up in bed with gastric flu to up like a shot, cleaning vomit and comforting her as if I was totally fine. Something just takes over when she needs me.
Hopes for my family: I really hope that my daughter’s medical issues are resolved soon and that she is able to sleep. This affects everything else in our lives and it’s hard to see past it some days.
Advice for new and expecting mothers: Read a variety of parenting books and see what vibes with you. Slow down and enjoy the little moments. If your baby is enjoying one particular toy at a play session, don’t rush them on to play with the next thing and the next, just enjoy the one toy with them.
Take one day (or night) at a time and don’t look too far ahead. Just as you get through the first cold, there’ll be the first tooth, the first stomach bug, the first growing pains, it’s too much to think of all at once, but you will handle it. In fact you’ll be amazed at what you’ll be capable of.