Child: Tayo, 10 months
Expectations of Motherhood: When I first found out I was pregnant I was quite ambivalent. It wasn’t planned and I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Ask those close to me to describe me and they might say things like ‘errs on the side of caution’, ‘doesn’t like to get her hopes up’, ‘has a tendency to look for the negative in things’. From about three months in things made a drastic u-turn. It was as though this baby was taking over my personality as well as my uterus. I was so happy! My expectations of motherhood were extremely positive (some might say naïve). My daydreams went something like this:
My labour would be calm, paced and natural. Immediately after the birth those first moments would be spent skin to skin, gazing into his eyes and experiencing an intense, blissful wave of boundless love for him. Breastfeeding would be a breeze and we would work intuitively together to create the perfect latch. Suffice to say we were naturals and we would go home later that day.
I had planned a laid back itinerary for our first week at home together. For the first couple of days we would be lounging around the house just getting to know each other and finding our feet. I had my eye on a long white cotton embroidered nightdress from TK Maxx. Comfortable but classy. Teamed with a pair of brown leather flip-flops, my long hair, unkempt and tousled I would be the image of the ‘Mother Earth’ figure I aspired to be. My diet would be an abundance of fresh fruit and leafy greens. Squash and kale casserole, beetroot bourguignon and red lentil daal would be on our menu that week. Though, I’d be breastfeeding around the clock of course. It’d be tiring and painful but I’d get through it. When we felt ready we would have family and close friends over for afternoon tea. I’d definitely sleep when the baby slept (apart from when I was baking scones for said afternoon tea).
I purchased a sling and planned on baby wearing all the time. It was the natural thing to do besides how else would he accompany us on the long country walks I had planned? Prams are so cumbersome! It would be a rich sensory experience for our newborn and a perfect opportunity to walk off the excess baby weight I had gained. Speaking of which, I’d also be getting straight back into my yoga. I’d just fit in a routine around the baby. Once I felt we had sufficiently bonded we would tentatively make our way outside into the world of mother and baby classes and beyond. Oh the innocence! I was a babe in the woods, I was wet behind the ears, I was in above my head.
Reality of motherhood: As it turned out I was a lamb to the slaughter. The calm, paced labour would better be described as unexpected and speedy. Tayo was launched into the world a little too fast for his liking. One minute he was warm and snug, the next he was catapulted out into the hands of a stunned midwife. He was cold, wet and unprepared. The experience quite literally took his breath away. I’ll never forget the stunned look on his face as the midwife passed him to me. Shock is an understatement. I held him dangling in the air, whilst Rudy, his father, cut the cord.
I didn’t see him again until much later that day. I was quite poorly immediately after the birth which, looking back, was quite a good thing. I didn’t have any sense of time or the situation, which in hindsight made it less distressing. Even when I was finally allowed to go up to ICU and see him, I was still very much out of it. I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember the first time I properly met him. There was no skin-to-skin and certainly no breastfeeding. The closest I got to that was sitting alone in my hospital room attempting to squeeze colostrum into a tiny syringe so that they could give it to him via his NG tube. This was not what I had envisaged.
Tayo was on NICU for six weeks in total. He had two infections, one operation and countless painful procedures in his time there. I have no idea how but we managed to get through those terrible weeks of desperate worry but miraculously we did. He has been in and out of hospital since then and a lot of his issues are ongoing but we’ve made it to the mother and baby classes and belated or not, I am very grateful for it. This was and is only a small part of the reality of being a Mum to Tayo. Much bigger than that is the love I have for him and the absolute pride I have in his resilience. He has been through so much but each time he bounces back. (And always with a gorgeous smile on his face.)
Taking your child home for the first time: The first time I came home from hospital was without Tayo. I was discharged after a week and was distraught at the thought of not being in the same building as him at night. I reluctantly left at eleven that night and went home heartbroken. There really is nothing sadder than sitting in bed next to an empty Moses basket expressing milk and listening to Ewan the Dream sheep alone.
Finally at six weeks old we got to take him home. It was strange leaving hospital. Although we hated every second of it there was a sense of comfort knowing that he was being cared for. The monitors kept a check on his breathing and the nurses administered his medication. Taking him home was a frightening prospect. It was all we had hoped for since the day he was born but we felt completely unprepared. His first night home I played radio 4 all night to try and recreate the noise of the hospital ward. I was terrified but so happy to have him home with us.
The best/worst advice: It’s not advice as such but I recently read a book called Life After Birth by Kate Figes. Hard hitting would be putting it lightly. It was both exciting and terrifying. In one sense it really prepared me for the realities of motherhood, but in another it scared the living daylights out of me. The tiredness, the physical pain, and the effect it has on your relationships, your body and your mind. It was a tough read. Amongst the bleakness though there were stories of joy, love and strength. It was inspiring and gave me a sense of belonging. It didn’t dampen my excitement nor did it awaken me from my fanciful daydreams of motherhood. It made me feel ok about how I was feeling and took the pressure off my concerns. It helped quieten my critical voice.
The hardest parts of being a mother: Juggling lots of different things at the same time with half the brain you had before pregnancy. Despite my best intentions, I haven’t managed to avoid feelings of guilt. I know it’s not useful. I know we can only do our best but somehow I always manage to feel bad about something I did or didn’t do.
The best parts of being a mother: The absolute joy he brings to me and those I love. All the sentimental clichés that the pre baby me would have balked at; like his beautiful smile in the morning, the cuddles the pride you feel when they do something for the first time. I also love that I now have a valid reason to dance around the living room to Orinoco Flow with a host of silk scarves and ribbons. All in the name of creative play of course.
Has being a mother changed you: Being a mother has definitely changed me. For the past twenty years I have suffered from various mental health issues. Before Tayo I was very much a ‘why me!’ sort of person. I thought bad things happened to me because I deserved it or I had some sort of curse on me. When Tayo was in hospital I realised that it wasn’t just me. There were so many other parents there with poorly babies, some much more sick than Tayo. It had just happened and there was no reason for it. I couldn’t go down the road of blame or guilt because I don’t think I’d have come back. I couldn’t let myself, and I think that’s where the real change in me is. Tayo hasn’t taken away my mental health problems but he has given me a reason to want to stay as well as I can. So I push myself to do all the things I know will help me keep myself at bay. I’m under no illusion that I’m cured but I do think I am more stable now than I have ever been before. I also eat much faster, rarely wash my hair and to my teenage self’s horror I now own a fleece, a backpack and a cagoule.
Has your perspective on work changed since becoming a mother? I think my attitude towards work had already begun to change direction before I had Tayo. I had started to work on my own projects and felt like I was beginning to find more confidence and more of a focus. Becoming a mother has changed me in many ways and I definitely feel this has had an effect on the project I had started to develop before I had Tayo. The central theme is still there but the direction has changed slightly. I don’t want to lose my creativity but I’m aware that it’s harder to find time when you have children. There are limits and priorities change. I think I worry about my identity in terms of work. I worry that people might see me as out of touch. I worry they don’t see me as the same person as I was before and that I have somehow given up on my career by becoming a mother. This is nonsense of course. I’m not even sure who these judgemental people are! I am hoping they are just a figment of my neurotic imagination. It is for this reason that I like spending time with other Mums that are in the same field as me. It reminds me that I’m not alone and that just because you’re not actively creating something doesn’t make you uncreative, if that makes sense!
Hopes for your family: For Tayo to be healthy and well and to keep being the happy boy he is. I hope that we can bring him up to embrace his differences, to feel worthy and loved.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: Don’t feel the need to justify yourself to anyone. The reasons behind our parenting choices are so personal and so complex. Some of those choices have been agonised over. I often feel like I have to explain why we can’t breastfeed or why I chose to stop expressing after six months, but I know the reason and that should be all that matters.