When did I become a mother? Was it when we first started saying things like “this would be a great place for a family day out”? Was it when we first stopped trying to not get pregnant? Was it when we first looked at the pregnancy test? (not a whole lot of time between those two thing – not much time to get used to the idea). Was it when I made a choice to not have that glass of wine as you aren’t supposed to and realising that my body was no longer my own? Was it when we bought our first pregnancy book? Was it at the 12 week, or the 20 week scan? Was it when big girl arrived, when I first held her? Sadly it was none of those times. I didn’t truly feel like a mother until nearly three years later when my little boy arrived. That was when I got it…. That was when I felt that thing that people talk about, that love at first sight, that losing yourself in the wonder that is the little person that you created. That sense of belonging.
It’s hard to explain. I was a mother, right from that moment when food and wine tasted weird and I thought I should do a test. I cared deeply for her and would have done anything to protect her and make sure she had the best life possible. (That sounds like she isn’t here any more, not my intention, she most certainly is alive and kicking and driving me crazy!). It’s just that I didn’t feel like the love thing was switched on properly. I watched my new antenatal friends coo over their babies, and tell them that they loved them and I forced myself to do the same. Because of my work with parents over the years, I knew that it was normal to not feel that instant bond and I didn’t really worry about it too much. I threw myself into motherhood with all my practical and organisational skills and seemed to be doing ok. I marvelled at how well I was coping, how well I recovered from the traumatic birth and c section, at how much we were doing. Of course I wasn’t ok.
I don’t think that love thing ever really switched on. I worried that I wasn’t capable of love. That maybe I couldn’t love her. I don’t think she would have known. If anything, that practice I’ve had all my life in hiding my true feelings came in super handy. There was no way I would have risked her feeling unloved. I was so afraid. Of loving her. Of being a mother. Of messing it all up. Of ruining her. Of losing myself.
In big girls first couple of years I embarked on so many different projects. I didn’t stop. This wasn’t because I am some superhuman, it was the fear. I was afraid that if I wasn’t paying attention, that I would slowly disappear and all that would be left would be a mucus crusted, vomit and poo stained, fat husk of a person with no original thoughts or value to the world. Harsh…maybe, and I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, but that’s what it was. I was determined not to let having children ruin my life or my career. I became a childminder, not because I was desperate to care for other people’s children, or even because I really wanted to stay at home. I became a childminder because to professionalise parenting made it ok. It made it easier for me to deal with the identity shift. It wasn’t enough though, I still felt lacking so I also went back to uni. I studied early years teaching as well as being pregnant for a second time. Clearly I was going out of my mind.
So fast forward to little boy being born two years ago. Such a different experience. Another traumatic birth. A second go at not being able to feed. I had to spend his first five days in hospital but I suddenly got it. I could just stare at him and hold him for hours. I told him I loved him over and over. Luckily he wasn’t really sick, so I just got to be with him. I didn’t have many visitors, even Daddy was more needed at home with big girl so I could just spend time thinking and feeling and healing. I now understand that I did love her. That the battles I was fighting with myself were all about love. If I hadn’t loved her, I wouldn’t have tried so hard.
I’m still trying. I working on my expectations of myself. I’m working on my perfectionism. I working on remembering that I am only part of their story. I’m working on being me and being mummy. I working on accepting the mess (both literal and emotional) that is parenting.
I am a mother. I would do anything for these monsters. But I am also me.
Note: These photos were taken by my lovely friend Lisa. http://www.lisavictoriaphotography.co.uk