Child: Jo, 3
Location: Old Trafford
Expectations of Motherhood: I was always very frightened of having a baby. I knew I wanted children and I absolutely love hanging round with anyone from toddlers up to surly teenagers, but actual, real babies I am always a bit scared of- even now. So it was with this mature and open-minded attitude that I approached motherhood!
I think my apprehension came from the uncertainty of the whole process-what if I didn’t love my child? What if he/she grows up and realises that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing or know who I am?! What if I’m crap? There was a lot caught up in it all, so I just approached it with blinkers on and tried to not think or expect too much, otherwise I would have just got myself a bit tangled up.
Taking your child home for the first time: It was very confusing. I had a really tricky labour, (not that I imagine anyone has a particularly delightful one), but this one lasted a few days, and was even more bewildering as Jo was born on the anniversary of my dad’s s death, 6 hours before my sister had her baby. The whole process was very surreal, not to mention pretty traumatic for my mum and brother who didn’t know what to do or where to go as my sister lived in London at the time.
I think they ended up drinking a fair bit of gin together and then did the standard Yeoman go to of making enough cake and food to feed our respective hospital wards at opposite ends of the country. The confusion lasted a fair while so there is not one particular feeling that stands out linked to coming home with Jo, it was all a jumble. The only clear memory I have is of music and dancing with her as that was a constant feature of most hours of most days. We did all the time as she had really bad colic, and also, it’s a family trait to be totally hyperactive so I think Jo inherited that from day one as well!
The best/worst advice: One thing my friend Bex said to me, who is a Paediatrician and all round amazing lady, really stuck. I was talking to her about being worried that I wouldn’t love Jo before she was born because there is so much talk and emphasis placed on loving your child from the instant they pop out and just feeling overcome with elation. It scared me senseless. Bex said that no-one could dictate what anything would feel like, that we all experience things differently and there was no set way to feel, act or behave, “we’re both drinking a cup of tea right now”, she said, “but it probably tastes different in my mouth to how it does in yours, so how can anyone tell you what being a mum or loving a child will be like, or when that will come, or how?” This analogy stayed with me, and still does. Its really useful when you fall into unhelpful comparisons with others, or when trying to wade through the copious amounts of conflicting advice given to you as a new mum.
Worst advice? No specific example, but I would say that I really struggled with the contradictory pearls of wisdom that I was told by some health-care professionals and anyone else involved in visiting me and checking up on Jo. Every appointment was scattered with personal opinion, anecdotes and rambling stories about how someone’s niece’s cousin’s baby also had green poo once, advice on how to breastfeed, how not to breastfeed, how to interact with Jo, how to put her in a sling to encourage sleep, then to never ever use a sling because of course she would suffocate, and so on. It was hard to keep up with, and when exhausted you just don’t have the resources to steer a clear path through it all.
The hardest parts of being a mother: My sister hit the nail on the head when she said, ‘It’s like you’ve just come back from a festival, but you didn’t get to get drunk, and it never, ever stops’. The hard bit is not any one single challenge, its not one night with no sleep, or the one health scare, it’s the steady and relentless nature of new parenthood that doesn’t let up. It is truly daunting and a little suffocating. But it did eventually let up with Jo, after about 9 months it started to get easier, and fun and less alien. You can’t know that in the moment though and that’s really hard.
The best parts of being a mother: Oh gosh, now it really is great. Jo is 3 and so funny, charming and a real human with a very real mind of her own! She makes me laugh and brim with pride. Watching her grow up is just so interesting and a real honour. The other best part by far is seeing how much she loves her dad, and watching Jo and Dave interact with one another. They have to hang out a lot and Dave definitely does the lion’s share of parenting at the moment – they are a great double act. It makes me feel very lucky indeed.
Has becoming a mother changed you? I’m not sure any one person, even your child, can change you. You have to do that yourself and make active choices to change anything. It doesn’t just happen, even with something so momentous as having a new, tiny person in your life.
I’ve made some giant changes in my life since having Jo, namely opening a business and with this taking some giant risks- though these plans were in the making before she was born. I think Jo being here maybe just made me more adamant to see through my ideas, to feel proud of myself and courageous so that she had that as an example growing up.
Has your perspective on work changed since becoming a mother? As I mentioned, having Jo in my life spurred me on to have both more tenacity and integrity, and to do something that I wanted to do, and would be proud of.
Of course I feel a healthy dose of guilt every day, and I work ridiculously long hours and can’t see her very much but I think that this guilt would come with any job and so its better that I’m doing something I love and not resenting it. I tell myself that a happy mum is better than an ever-present one who is in a job that isn’t right for them. One day it’ll calm down and be more balanced, until then she gets to spend more time with Dave who is far better at jigsaws than me anyway!
Hopes for your family: I do hope for more balance as its pretty full on at the moment. And I hope Jo gets on with her imminent new brother or sister and for us to have some real adventures as a family together. I would like Jo and her future sibling to know that there is no set way of doing things and no right or wrong. I hope that Dave and I can set them off with some solid principles so that they value fairness, compassion and co-operation and use these to steer whatever they choose to do.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: If it feels like your experience doesn’t match that of others, or what you thought it would be, or what you’re told it should be, please don’t worry! It’ll be what it is, and that’s ok.
Sophie is co- owner and one of the bakers at The Creameries, which opened in April 2018. Before launching this project she was a secondary school teacher in French and Spanish and also lived in Spain making bread and cheese on a goat farm.