Name: Leander (AKA ‘Leo’s Mum’)
Children: Leo: a three-year-old boy who knows exactly which buttons to press and Sofia: an eight-month-old who seems to store porridge in her cheeks like a hamster.
Location: Bolton, a place that I originally thought was just full of terraced houses and tiny back yards, but once I’d moved up here, three years ago, I was introduced to the beauty of the local reservoirs, Rivington Pike and the views across Manchester from Scout Road.
Expectations of Motherhood: I had a truely naïve expectation of motherhood; I expected that the baby would fall into a comfortable routine, sleeping through the night from four months old, that family and friends would insist on constant updates and be as enthusiastic as me about the tiniest developmental leap, and that breastfeeding (which as a spectator, looks incredibly easy) would be a doddle. Oh, and that I’d be back in my pre-pregnancy jeans by the time he was three weeks old.
Reality of Motherhood: At first it was horrifically isolating and, having moved 170 miles away from my own support network of close friends and immediate family, I had very few people who I felt I could turn to.
Too proud to make any admission, I refused help, telling people that I was coping when I clearly wasn’t just because I didn’t want to be judged. I felt like I had to prove myself, to be seen as though I was succeeding. I was inundated with copious amounts of unsolicited advice meaning that in someone’s eyes I was doing it wrong, and that was enough to tip me over the edge.
Unaware of my own mental state, I turned to writing poetry to channel my intrusive negative emotions as a form of self-therapy (www.postpartumpoetry.co.uk); No one really knows how hard parenthood is until they experience it for themselves, or how they will react to it – it’s just like shellfish; you don’t know if you’ll react to it until you do it.
I didn’t manage to breastfeed for the year despite so much superb support from the NHS breastfeeding team, and after my fifth bout of mastitis, I turned to formula. By this point my boy was consuming enough Weetabix to build a small house so I knew I’d done my bit.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Luckily, I met some incredible mums in my local area who had babies of similar ages. They were key to my success as a mum and we supported each other through a plethora of trials and tribulations.
Taking your children home for the first time: Now this was interesting; Do you sit in the front of the car where there’s lots of room, or in the back so that you can keep an eye on the baby and observe every breath, checking for irregularities? I honestly can’t remember where I sat. I was exhausted. And then, within half an hour of being home, the family descended. My husband barely had time to have a shave before the front door bell went. The first thing my Dad did was give me a cuddle and made me a cup of tea – my last hot cup of tea.
The best/worst advice: The best advice was from my mum: “lie on a towel when you go to bed because you’ll get the night sweats”. Luckily, she divulged this information, as I was unaware that this was a thing! Aren’t night sweats fun… soaked from hormonal sweating, leaking breasts and collecting lochia in your mummy nappy. The joys.
The worst advice we received was for me to sleep in another room with the baby so that my husband could get some sleep. My husband hated the idea but I encouraged him to let me and the baby sleep in the spare room. After about three hours, I remember him coming in and asking us to get back into bed so that he could be there to support and help if we needed him. He’s a keeper!
The hardest parts of being a mother: Watching your little one in pain and thinking that you would do anything to rid them of it, is enough to make you want to rip your own heart out. My boy experienced over 22 double ear infections in the first two years of his life resulting in a general anaesthetic to insert plastic grommets. Within four days of the operation, his body had rejected the plastic grommets and he was to endure another nine months of infections. He underwent a second surgery to insert metal grommets and we have recently been discharged from audiology but still see the ENT department every few months.
The best parts of being a mother: Everyone will say it, but the smiles and laughter of your children, especially when they realise that the toilet roll unravels if you throw it down the stairs… Those moments completely outweigh any negativity.
Also, participating in baby groups with full vigour and gusto, wearing silly hats and crazy costumes resulting in even more smiles and laughter, mainly from the other mums around you.
Has becoming a mother changed you? Yes. Some would say that motherhood has developed their character, however seeing as motherhood erases the majority of your identity, I believe that I have rebuilt myself as a mum, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. My perspective on life has changed. I see life as an adventure, one with huge peaks and troughs. The issues that I have overcome, for example: postnatal depression, anxiety, OCD and loneliness, have all influenced who I am today. My ambition was once to become a Blue Peter presenter or perform on the West End stage; I now want to work from home, writing poetry and raising awareness of maternal mental health, enabling me to join in the fun of the school run.
Has your perspective on work changed since becoming a mother? After my first, I was eager to get back to work. I was due to start a new job and I wanted to really make a name for myself in the area. I put in as much effort into my career as I had done before children, but this was not sustainable and both sides suffered.
My priorities seem to have taken a shift this time, and I am more aware of the importance of my role as a mum in my children’s lives. Plus, selfishly, I know that once I return to work full time, I won’t have the opportunity or creative energy to continue with my poetry, but it is necessary to balance the books. To what extent do you allow your life to be rules by finances?
Hopes for your family: Everyone wishes for their children to experience happy, healthy, honest, inspiring lives full of adventures and stability; participating and socialising with confidence in various hobbies; securing jobs that enthuse and challenge them.
My only hope is that my children outlive me.
What advice would you offer to new and expectant mums: It’s ok to not cope, but don’t underestimate asking for help.
Additional info: Why do I write and share my poetry if it’s a form of self-therapy? My plan is to share these common experiences with other parents with the aim to raise awareness of the other side of motherhood, unveil the lies of perfect parenting, extinguish this need to appear happy and shiny 24/7, update the old-fashioned values and expectations embedded by older generations, and to eradicate maternal loneliness. So, I want to fix the world, basically.
I love it when my poems are shared, followers tag each other saying “this is us”, or when I receive gorgeous messages saying that the poem has made someone feel slightly more positive about the situation. It makes it all worthwhile. Please feel free to have a look at my poetry, www.postpartumpoetry.co.uk