The Truth about Motherhood:
By Rhiannon Williams
It’s International Women’s Day, a time used to celebrate the past and current achievements of women from all over the world. This year we wanted to talk to the people who are raising our future. Mums!
When my son was first born, everything changed for me. My friend group looked different, my clothes didn’t fit, my hair always smelt ever so slightly of milky sick, and my body wasn’t my own anymore.
I quickly felt myself become this machine-like object that needed to run the house, keep a tiny human alive, love their partner as much as they did before and look happy while doing it.
In the process of making sure everyone else was okay, I fell behind myself. I remember looking in the mirror at about 3am on the way to grab another muslin from the pile clean washing and not even recognising the woman that stood in front of it.
It wasn’t just the way I looked, but the blank expression behind my eyes. The overwhelming sense of tired that absorbed my days and ate away at me through the night.
I forgot who I was, and I struggled to know how to reconnect with the things that had once made me happy. There never seemed to be time!
Of course, my son made me happy, and I love him more than anything in the world. That’s why I felt so much guilt about the fact that he wasn’t enough for me, I needed something else.
There’s a pressure in society that expects mothers to be the perfect parenting robot. There are countless classes and articles that teach us how to birth, bathe, discipline, breast-feed, bottle-feed, sterilize, nappy change, sleep train (the list goes on…and on…and on)
The internet isn’t short of opinions on exactly how to look after a child, in fact you will probably hear the unsolicited advice from family, friends and the old lady waiting in line at your local supermarket.
The thing that no one seems to have a 3-day-snacks-included-worksheets-provided class on is how to stay connected to “yourself” even though you will never be “yourself” again.
For me, it was a journey that started with a fizzy bath bomb and a cup of tea. I spent a little extra time in the bath on a Friday evening while my partner took over so I could have my own personal space back, even if it were just for an hour.
This moved on to finding a good babysitter who could take over once a month so my partner and I could reconnect with the stranger that we had both become after many busy days and sleepless nights.
I’m almost 18 months on from that mirror moment now and I can honestly say my heart has never felt so full. I recognise myself but I’m stronger than before, more kind and willing to love. I am selfless and sometimes selfish because it’s okay to have both.
Yes, my eyes still look tired, and my tummy is wobblier than before, but I have figured out the balancing act that is being a mother, and it is the greatest circus trick there is to learn.
I wouldn’t change being a mum for the world, but I wish I knew there was more to motherhood than looking after a baby. If I could turn back time, I would remind myself to take more time for me.
Everyone who came to help out wanted to hold the baby, but I think as mothers we need to feel held too.
I felt really isolated in this experience until I started talking to other mums, and I realised that most mothers felt they had lost a piece of themselves in the chaos of motherhood.
I decided that the truth about motherhood needed to be heard. The good and bad!
That’s why we’ve asked 4 mums to share their experience in motherhood and what it means to them.
Meet Our Mums
If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be?
Heidi, 30, North Wales:
Organised, Outgoing, Overwhelmed
Jade, 21, Brighton:
Bubbly, Compassionate and Optimistic
Lily, 31, Hertfordshire:
Thoughtful, Intuitive, and Strong.
Viola, 37, Sussex:
Slow, Thorough, Thinker
What does motherhood mean to you?
H: Raising happy, supported, loved little people who will go out into the world and make it a more kind and accepting place. I aspire for my kids to be mentally sound and know that they have stability from their parents, everything else comes second to that.
J: Being a mum is the best thing that has happened to me, my son gave me a purpose, a path in life that I’m excited and proud to be on. Motherhood is so much more than just “being a mum”. It’s a journey in your life that is excitement, lessons to learn and new experiences.
L: Motherhood means love, so much love but also chaos.
V: It makes me feel part of something, like being part of a gang. I felt that belonging through all the prenatal groups and baby groups and with school parents. I wish there was more of a fatherhood. I don’t see much of that for Dads.
Since having children, do you feel like you have struggled with your identity?
H: After my first I struggled to feel anything other than ‘frumpy mum’ despite the fact I was only 23 and put time into hair, make up and clothes. I put that down to not feeling ready, it took a long time to adjust. After I had my second at 28 and third at 30 it took no time to feel myself again, especially now I exercise to fit back into my old clothes, buying a whole new wardrobe would probably make me feel a bit lost.
J:At first the main thing I struggled with, and unfortunately am still struggling with is my appearance. I don’t quite know myself anymore when looking in the mirror.
The stretch marks, loose skin, the weight gained naturally during pregnancy and any other differences since before pregnancy really made an impact on knowing who I was, and I couldn’t understand why I felt so detached from myself. However, each day gets easier, and I know that I am still me, but now with a beautiful baby boy that my body gifted me with.
L: I struggled a lot more in the first year of her life but now I’m settling more into the role of being a mother. I had no idea who I was for a while, and I missed my old life terribly. I felt as if I had lost my carefree, adventurous, and spontaneous self. I felt dull and lifeless.
V: No, I don’t feel I need an identity. I don’t really think about my identity or what that is. I don’t think I did before kids either.
Does having children stop you from doing what you would like to do?
H: Not much socially, I have a very supportive partner who insists I make plans with friends, although getting time for us to spend time together is harder. It has definitely put a halt on my career though.
J: I thought having a child young would make me feel like I was missing out on my “prime years” however I feel like I’ve had more opportunities since having him. Things that mean so much more to me than having a hangover; actual memories with the people I love around me!
L: I would love to go back to study whilst also being able to work full time but it’s just not doable with a toddler. I would love to travel or just be able to hop on a plane spontaneously and see friends in other countries like I used too.
V: It stops me from working, but that may be a good thing! I don’t do so much of my hobbies now or go on long walks. But I’m not sad that it stops me from doing those things because they’ve been replaced by so many more lovely things.
Has having kids changed your life in a way you didn’t expect it to?
H: Before I had kids, I had no goals or aspirations, I didn’t finish high school or do uni or college and actively avoided putting myself forward for promotions at work because I didn’t want the responsibility. Now I have goals to work towards, I don’t sleep all day or get totally consumed by small negative things because I have other little people to focus on.
J: I think having kids changed my life in such a positive way, I sort of expected to feel lost in myself and not know what to do once having a child as it’s such a life changing thing. However, I feel like having him just set me on the path I was supposed to be on, it feels extremely natural, and I couldn’t imagine not being a mummy.
L: I feel like it’s the making of me in a lot of ways. As hard as it is (and it’s very hard) I didn’t realise how good I would be at it and how much I would enjoy it and how much love I had to give, as corny as that sounds.
V: I think I mostly expected it. I expected the unexpected perhaps. And I still don’t know where it’ll go from here. Let’s wait and see.
What does “feeling like me again” mean to you?
H: When I can go out with my friends without my kids, I can eat a hot meal, hold a real conversation without being interrupted, I can talk about relationships, work, and family.
J: I think I’d define “feeling like me again” as fitting back into my favourite outfits, looking at myself and feeling beautiful and confident like I once did. I’m not in a rush though and I’m content with the way I am now.
L: I don’t think I’ll ever feel like the old me again because there are parts of her that don’t exist anymore. Most of those parts had served their purpose anyway and I’m happy to see them go. Feeling like me again now feels more like just being able to have more time for myself and being able to do things I enjoy without mum guilt, anxiety, or intrusive thoughts.
V: I guess having the freedom to do the things you like. I like having kids and I chose to have them. I feel like, having kids and all that comes with it, is me.
Do you separate being a mother and being yourself, or is it one person?
H: Funnily enough when I’m with my mum friends it’s all the same person. When I’m with my non-mum friends (none of my long-term friends have kids) I can feel like my old self again and chat about things other than school stuff, sleepless nights and worrying about odd rashes on the kids.
J: I am still my own person, I don’t think being labelled a mum is necessarily taking away from my own identity as I am a mum, and being a mum is amazing! I don’t need the separation between the two as being them together is perfect for me.
L: I’m unsure actually…I feel both ways. Some days it feels like one person and other times I separate the two in my head. Maybe in times I feel more carefree and want access to ‘just’ me.
V: It’s one person to me.
Do you think mothers are given enough support to be who they want to be?
H: No, the childcare situation is a nightmare, if you don’t have time away from your kids to breath, self-care and unwind how are you supposed to fully feel how you want to?
If you can’t do the job or course you want to, you don’t have hobbies and only have enough time in the mornings to run a brush through your hair how are you ever supposed to feel you’re who you want to be?
Being able to access affordable childcare could mean a mum can work on HER career or look after HER mental health. I also don’t think childcare should be just for work, I think it should be encouraged to use for having “you” time without there being shame attached it.
J: I think there’s a lot of stigmas around being a young mum which adds pressure for us. It feels frowned upon to get a babysitter and go out when you’re a young parent, but I think if somebody older did it, the night becomes a “well deserved break” but for us it’s seen as irresponsible and selfish.
L: I feel like mothers have a lot of expectation from society. Expectation to be everything to their children but also to uphold a career, manage a household, and take on the mental load of all this all whilst not having access to affordable childcare. So no, I don’t.
V: It depends on what you need. If you need time to yourself, then hopefully you can find that somehow with support from others. It depends on everyone’s own situation.
What support do you wish existed or that you could have gotten?
H: Affordable childcare!
J: I don’t think mums are given much support or advice when being discharged from the hospital. I wasn’t told anything and was just expected to know everything, you’re handed your baby, discharged, and expected to know exactly what you’re doing because it’s “in our nature” as mums.
L: Affordable childcare definitely! And I feel like all mothers deserve access to therapy too. I wish I would’ve had more support through having Post-Partum Depression.
V: Free childcare options, longer and better paid maternity and paternity leave, more annual leave for both parents to at least cover school holidays. It would be nice to have family living closer to each other.
What do you wish people knew or respected about motherhood?
H: Parenting is different now to how it was 20 years ago, mums are particularly more isolated than before, there is less support with both childcare and just generally for mums to have the comfort of a chat and cup of tea with a family member.
J: Unsolicited advice! We do not want it, nor do we need it. It feels so judgemental when people you don’t spend time with and who don’t know you well are giving you advice on how to parent your child.
L: How much it will change your life. I always tell friends who want children to just do everything they possibly want to do before having them as you have no idea when you will get time to be completely selfish again. I wish more people knew about Post-Partum Depression and how bad that can get.
V: I recently quit my day job to spend more time on mothering and I don’t feel that’s a well-respected use of a person’s time. But it should be. If you have the honour (and desire) to be able to spend more time with your kids, it should be viewed as a good thing.
None of the things that go with motherhood are respected, all the housework, the organising, the care, I don’t see any of it being respected. It is respected if a man does it. It is respected if a woman can have a full-time job, raise their kids, have a tidy house, keep fit and not complain about it.
If you could give your pre-mum self one bit of advice, what would it be?
H: Stay close to family, you don’t suddenly become an old age pensioner when you turn 30 so stop mourning losing your 20’s to kids. Be assertive in your relationship and say what you want rather than following your partners goals, probably don’t get so many cats. Oh also, make a brew before sitting down to feed the baby, you’ll thank yourself.
I wasted a lot of my teenage years fixating on my body image, I wish pre-mum me focused more on what she enjoyed and spent more time out with friends and family making good memories.
Travel! Be free. Enjoy every second of life and never miss a therapy session.
Find a way to stay calm in those moments.
*Some names and pictures are changed for privacy reasons*
If you found this brought up feelings that you still need to work through, please contact us to find out more about our therapeutic options for individuals and families. If you are showing signs of Postnatal depression or feel that you are struggling, please get into contact with your GP.