So I wanted to apologise for being off the radar for a few days. I’ve been really quite ill and have been doing not much else than lying on the sofa watching Hell’s Kitchen and praying for the sweet embrace of death…
I have also been doing a lot of thinking as Emmie grows older and had all these thoughts in my head that I needed to release, so what better way to release than to blog? I’m a young Mum with a mental illness and it’s tough. The past few days I’ve barely made it through just with the support of my partner. So I thought I’d do a blog post on things that being a mother has taught me so far.
To be perfectly clear: all these thoughts are mine and mine alone. You are fully free to disagree with them or think my parenting is wrong, but this is all me.
1. It’s Not All Sunshine and Rainbows
This might seem like an obvious one but parenthood is hard, and I’m not necessarily talking about in the ways you may expect. People talk about long sleepless nights, zombie-like days, making bottles, changing nappies, etc. but there are plenty of other things you won’t hear about as often.
For example, you might not feel that flush of fantasticness that everyone expects from a new mum. You may not be glowing and abound with love and joy. Because babies are hard things to deal with, and having one, physically and mentally, is a hard thing to adapt to. It will take time and experience to deal with all the new feelings, hormones and physical changes you’ve gone through. You might see yourself and your partner in a new light, and they you. This will take time to work through.
Unless you had a relatively easy birth, you probably won’t be able to do fuck all with your new family for the first few months. Sometimes you see new Mums on social media with full makeup out and about with their babies and enjoying days out with their friends and family. When I gave birth, I was pretty holed up with no makeup on for the first months. I went out only a couple of times when friends and family were visiting, but even then I was exhausted because breastfeeding was taking all my energy, and my vagina was still stinging with pain from birth.
Breastfeeding can be way more challenging and draining than it looks. We all know it’s healthier, we do. It does not need to be rammed down our throats as aggressively as it is. In fact, my friend just had to put in a complaint to a bf support group due to the constant barraging she has had about whether or not she is breastfeeding. You may want to pack it in and reach for the bottle. This is understandable.
You may question why you had a baby. This is normal. Please believe me.
2. You Don’t Need All That Stuff
You tend to see a certain trend with people who have had more than one baby: the first baby they’ve spent thousands on getting the ‘right’ stuff, they’re overprotective, they have timed schedules and exactitudes to everything they do… but by the second they are a lot more relaxed, not putting the same emphasis on what was ‘crucial’ to them before. The reason for this is simple: although babies are our young and it is basic instinct to protect them at all costs, there isn’t a lot that actually needs to go into it.
Yes, it is nice to have that expensive bouncer, it is nice to have that fancy pram, it is nice that they’ve got a brand new wardrobe. Is it necessary? no.
Let’s take for example: changing time. When we had Emmie we didn’t have room for a changing table. I was freaking out because obviously you need a changing table, even though they’re fucking expensive. But we never ended up getting one, and I never missed it. This was the same with expensive changing bags. We never even bought a cheap one. We just used a satchel that Ell had, which had plenty of compartments for stuff, and sometimes when I went out with Emmie on my own I just used a big handbag. I just never had a problem with changing her on a cheap mat on our bed or on the floor, and I probably saved about £200 in doing this.
Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there that find these things incredibly useful, but if you find yourself thinking “do I really need this?” when you can’t really afford it, chances are you don’t. It is okay just to use a floor changing mat. It is okay just to use a microwave steriliser. It is okay to use the shop bought bottles. don’t beat yourself up about it. You’re probably doing great as it is.
3. You Can’t Study Parenthood and Expect to Ace It
Being a parent is not an exam.
There are loads and loads of books out there on pregnancy, babyhood, toddlerhood and parenthood in general. These are incredibly useful, and I do encourage people to read what they can… but this is not an exam where you can study the textbook and follow directions accurately to produce a desired result. All parents are different. All babies are different. We have the same basic makeup, but yes, babies do have a personality from an incredibly young age.
I don’t at all subscribe to the notion of “it was good enough for me/my parents, it’s good enough for them” because society is constantly evolving and changing. I don’t advocate doing the same as what our parents did for us as some of those things can be harmful. Ell and I knew we wanted to learn ourselves and bring our daughter up in a different way, so we studied a lot, and learned that there are so, so so many different ways to raise kids. we picked one and ran with it. Have we followed the rules? No. Because “the rules” didn’t work for us. We didn’t want Emmie watching tv, we soon learned this was unavoidable. We didn’t want her eating fast food, we learned that this is crazy and there is no problem with it in moderation. I wanted to breastfeed for at least 2 years, this was impossible.
Again, you can’t beat yourself up for making a choice you feel is right for you. When Emmie was nearly 2 we went into Glasgow one day and ended up getting McDonalds for lunch. Ell and I decided we couldn’t sit and eat that and get her something else, so she had her first chicken nuggets, chips, and apple sticks. There was a couple with their son about the same age as Emmie on the table next to us. He was eating Belvita while his parents ate Burger King and looked miserable. He kept grasping for his Dad’s chips and I knew that we had made the right decision for us. And the right decision for us was if we’re eating it in front of her, she’s eating it too. It’s the reason most of our takeouts are clandestine post-bedtime snacks.
My point is, you can learn a lot of useful stuff from studying books and reading the entirety of BabyCentre, but at the end of the day it’s just you and your kid. And you should know what’s right for them.
4. It’s Okay to Get Doubts and What Ifs
I’m sure that I don’t have to state that I love my daughter more than life itself. I would die for her. I would give up everything I own. She has all of me.
BUT I have thought about life without her. Because parenthood is tough. And sometimes you’re sat there on 3 hours sleep in the same amount of days and asking why you did it. And sometimes you’re wondering where your career would be if you weren’t on month 3 of cleaning up another daily bowl of food thrown on the floor. And sometimes you’re wondering if you would’ve bought that fancy house and fancy car if your money wasn’t going on them.
Sometimes it feels like your life is continuously on pause and repeat. You wake up, make up bottles, change baby, feed baby, soothe baby, watch crap tv while baby naps, change baby, feed baby, try and shower but jump out after 3 minutes, soothe baby, sleep, feed baby, sleep, feed baby, sleep, wake up… and your life is like that for a long time. If you’re lucky you have a partner who does just as much as you do, or a family to support you. Even then it’s still hard. Sometimes you will see your friends doing stuff without you. It happens. Your life is completely different and it’s normal to question whether it’s a good different. And if you’re not going through that stuff at the same time as your friends are, well, it’s really hard.
I think it might be human nature to take a “what if” attitude, and we’ve all been there at different point in our lives. What if I hadn’t quit my job? What if I’d have gone to Uni? What if I had gone travelling? What if we didn’t break up? What if I hadn’t had met this person? We all do it. So naturally, you’re bound to do it to some degree at what is one of the toughest things you go through in your life. It doesn’t mean you resent your child. It doesn’t mean that you wish they weren’t born. It doesn’t even really mean you want to change anything. But you’re allowed to go through the motions of feeling this way because it’s human.
5. Toddlerhood is a Bitch
I heard a phrase years ago which were “girls are restful babies, restless children; boys are the opposite”. I don’t believe in old wives tales, but in my experience this has been generally true. I had a baby girl who was the calmest baby you could have imagined. Just after giving birth to her, I remember asking about her Apgar score when she had her hearing test and they said she got 9/10. The only one she missed a point on was because when she was born she barely cried. There was nothing wrong with her. She was breathing fine. She was just super chilled out. I remember them handing her to me straight away (as I wanted) but then taking her because she didn’t cry, then handing her back 30 seconds later because she was fine. She just kind of led on my chest with wide eyes.
Emmie was so quiet for that first night I was pretty much in shock. We got moved to a room and she fell asleep straight away. They put her in the little crib next to my bed and I stayed awake all night watching her. She was born at nearly 1am and I was still watching her sleep at coming up for 7am the next morning, so I woke her. She didn’t cry until about 10am that morning when she was given her first bath.
As a baby, she stayed generally like that. She only cried if she was super, super upset. She slept a lot. She laughed a lot.
So nothing prepared me for toddlerhood. Everyone talks about the terrible twos but my firsthand experience hit me for 6. It began when she was about 1 and a half. Everything was “no”, there was food thrown on the floor, she didn’t want to be near me. In fact, she didn’t hug me or come near me at all unless she was coerced to. Then when she was 2 she started hitting, kicking, punching and screaming. Ell and I are very anti-hitting and smacking is hitting in our household. We don’t play fight. We don’t hit. We don’t hit. We don’t hit. She knew this. But, she started hitting… specifically, me. That caused us to start doing time-outs. We had never had to do that and we didn’t really believe in doing it, but we felt it was the only way she would learn.
Trying to put her in timeouts caused me to have bruises she would beat on me so much. Her behaviour was so bad we started monitoring her health and what she was eating super closely as we were concerned (When I was her age a bout of bad behaviour turned out to be a side effect of meningitis which hospitalised me). There was nothing medically wrong with her, but I didn’t know toddlers could get this aggressive. There were times when I had gouges in my skin, bust lips, and scratches right down my face.
She scratched Ell so hard that he went temporarily blind in one eye. He went to the doctor to get it checked and he had eye drops he had to constantly put in to try and heal the symptoms he was having. When his vision returned he found that it was slightly distorted and his minor vision problems from before had been exacerbated, and when he went to get it checked out found out she had permanently scarred his cornea.
She started coming out of this phase about 2 and a half, and turned into – and remains – an (almost) angelic child again at 3. That period for me was living hell. I felt like shit. Like my daughter didn’t want me. And there’s nobody you can really talk to about that shit, because it’s embarrassing. So yeah, toddlerhood can suck it.
6. Your Views and Ideals of the World Will Probably Change
Elliot and I always joke that we TOTALLY became that family guy episode where Brian discovers he has a son and completely changes and constantly says “as a parent, as a PARENT”
And it’s true. You become that person (n.b. this section will not be good for you if you dislike walking cliches). You change into that person where your child is your world, and it’s kind of an alien, transcendental feeling. You know when people say shit like “you don’t know love truly until you have a child” or “you don’t know what it’s like to be a parent until you are one” or “when one person is your whole world” – yeah, that. So, OF COURSE, your life is gonna change. You’re still your own person, and you’re still a couple that exists outside of your child, but certain things you thought about in the past might change. You know? Travelling around America in an old mini van might not be the best idea when you’ve got a little person to worry about. Having that 5th shot of vodka when you’ve got a toddler waking you up at 6am might not be a good idea. That kind of stuff.
But the biggest change that happened for me after having my child was realising that I did not, in any way shape or form, want any more kids. To give you an idea of how big a change this was, this is what I thought my life was going to look like: me, a housewife, serving my 6 kids and husband round the dinner table while they’re all grown and home from university, etc. Like a fucking Bisto advert or something. 6 was my number. 6 kids!
When I gave birth that changed completely. First of all it happened because labour was way more painful than I expected. Yes, yes I know everyone says most painful experience in the world blah blah blah. But people keep doing it, so it can’t be THAT bad right? Wrong. Now, labour is different for EVERYONE and I am COMPLETELY against shaming people for their experience of pregnancy or labour because you genuinely cannot know. But people’s bodies are different, people’s births are different, etc. I had a completely natural vaginal delivery. I had had gas and air a few hours before but the tube kept breaking. By the time I decided I wanted any pain relief it was too late and so I birthed natural, but ended up with an episiotomy AND a third degree perineal tear. The placenta also tore and within a couple of weeks I had bad endometritis, and I also developed gallstones at around the same time and didn’t have surgery for 11 months. So I was in pain a long time. I know that this obviously doesn’t happen to everyone, but even without the latter things happening, my experience of birth IMMEDIATELY changed my mind.
By the time Emmie had had her first birthday I was healing up from the trauma my body had gone through and was finally able to eat normally again due to my cholecystectomy, and we started thinking about it. Then toddlerhood hit and we were back at square one.
It has been hours of discussion and debating and weighing up pros and cons between my partner and I when it comes to this subject. Frankly, I think it’s a miracle that I got so lucky in having a partner who was so understanding of my views and feelings post-birth when we both wanted such a big family. Now, he is even more settled on not having any more than I am.
Now, of course people do have babies and go and have more, I’m not guaranteeing that this will happen, but what I am guaranteeing is that having a child will change the way you see the world. Everything is different once you’ve had a baby and there’s no denying it.
7. Being a Mother is My Favourite Identity
I have been a lot of things in my life. I have been a student, an employee, a supervisor, a girlfriend, a friend, a daughter, a granddaughter, a sister, a niece, a cousin, an aunty, a fiancee, a wife… but nothing has trumped being a mother.
When I was younger it was the only thing I was 100 per cent certain in my life I wanted to do, and it was the main thing I strived for in everything I did. A lot of my life felt like a waiting game ticking down to when that happened. Now it has, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. As I have said above, it’s fucking hard, and it’s something that when I’m down I question, but I would never, ever in my life want to be separated from my daughter.
The moments I live for are when you look at your kid and know you did something right. I have felt like a fuckup most all of my life, in everything I do. And a lot of days I feel that way as a mother. But then my daughter will do something that astounds me and I realise she has learned it from me. She is so generous, and caring, and loving, and smart, and emphatic. Sometimes I think “how the hell could something so beautiful come from me?”, but then I try to remember that even thought I don’t feel that way about myself most of the time, I am all those things too. And she’s learning those things from my husband and I.
All I think people should strive to be in this world is a good person, and I think it helps to know that I can raise one that way too.
N.B. I want people to understand that this post is not PRO-MOTHERHOOD. I am completely supportive of people who do not have children, whether by choice or not. Parenthood is a commitment, and one I believe you have to be 100% behind it if you do it.
I am also supportive of people who have experienced parenthood in a completely different way to this post, be it through adoptive or fostered children. I have a background of this myself, and I hope that the way this is expressed does not in any way dictate that a baby has to come from your uterus to be a parent or feel love in the way I have described.
This is simply about my experiences and the things I have gone through, in my particular world, as a mother.