Motherhood - The beautiful truth
Have you ever arrived on holiday only to realise that you’ve packed for a fantasy version of yourself who lounges around wearing kitten mules and a kaftan - when in reality you want a sturdy pair of Birkenstocks and some lightweight linen?
That is a little bit how I feel about motherhood.
Before I became a mother, four years ago, I was totally oblivious to the shocking amount of propaganda that is thrown at pregnant women. Motherhood is often talked about in books and by other people in a way that elevates Mothers to an almost deified state of perfection. But the problem with ‘perfection’ is that it leaves very little room for reality.
“You’ll make a lovely mother”, people would say to me, looking wistfully at my bump, “Oh how I miss those early days!”
The bigger my bump, the more longingly people talked about my transition into motherhood. Slowly, I was lulled into believing that I was actually entering Elysium, where I’d spend my days lying comfortably on a cloud in a state of serenity; my little putti playing happily at my feet.
Just to clarify, this turned out not to be the case.
If I had to distil the propaganda into two words they would be these: “natural mum”. Let the records show that this has now become one of my least favourite ‘compliments’ that you can give a woman: what, after all, are the implications about your mothering skills if you are not, as it turns out, a “natural’? And if, say, you spend the first few weeks with your newborn weeping because you can’t breastfeed, even though trying to has given new meaning to the word agony, and you’ve got nothing – nothing – left to give. (This is something that wasn’t even raised as an outside possibility at my NCT class, where they talked mainly about your baby finding its own way to your boob to ‘self-latch’. Ha!). Or if you find yourself wondering where the heck your old life has gone and why you have to stay at home alone expressing milk and bouncing on a birthing ball with a baby who won’t stop crying while your husband gets to go to work. And wondering, guiltily, why you are not enjoying these early days, as much as you are ‘supposed’ to.
Please do not misunderstand me. Yes, we had a tricky few months at the start as we worked out how to manage going from being two to being three, and slowly gathered the confidence to believe that we really were capable of taking care of this teeny, vulnerable dictator who had taken over the house. But I am fully-blown loonily in love with my gorgeous little boy, who couldn’t be more adorable if he tried. And becoming a mother is certainly the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s just that the reality was a shock. And that was made worse by the prevailing pressure (often perpetuated by other women, I noted) that motherhood should be perfect; the very completion of you as a woman. Welcome to the club, mum!
But the problem about clubs is that they come with rules – and the expectation that things should be a certain way. All the books that I read in preparation talked a lot about how motherhood ‘should’ be. But none of the books I read even remotely prepared me for my reality. And if things do not turn out as they ‘should’, I found, it’s a shortcut to feeling inadequate.
The pressure for parenthood to be a certain way doesn’t ever really stop. The trick, I have realised, is to try and hang on to the idea that my way of doing things is the right way - and that no one can do a better job than me.
And that is why, when it comes to Mother’s Day, you can count me out. I freely admit to being the kind of person who gets into a massive strop when my husband takes me at my word that I don’t want any fuss made for my birthday. But when it comes to being part of the mum’s club, I’d rather just do my own thing.