I remember listening to the other mothers as they shared their experiences of the first few weeks of being a mother. It was a round-the-circle sharing session following a presentation from a post-natal depression counsellor to our ante-natal coffee group.
More than one new mum stated how wonderful it all was, how amazing and joyous their little person was, or something to that effect. I listened with a growing sense of anxiety and inadequacy, my own babe grizzling in my arms, and when the presenter came to me I started, "My name is Sonya…and…and…." and both my baby and I burst into tears.
At the time I was mortified. Embarrassed and ashamed of not only my weakness, but at the "fact" that I was the least coping mummy of our ante-natal group.
It is only now, much, much later, that I realise my response could have come from any one of the other mums, had they been asked the same question at a different moment in time. We have all been there.
I don't know if I was post-natally depressed. I think I was just tired. Extremely exhausted, emotionally drained and overwhelmed by being a mother to this tiny and completely dependent little person…. - mother of three.
What I perceived at the time as pity or patronising sympathy from others around me, was more likely a giant group sigh of relief. Relief, that they had not been asked that question in public at such a fragile time as I had. And relief, that they were not the only one to have felt like that.
For there is nothing as physically, emotionally and intellectually overwhelming as first-time motherhood. For ordinary people of the world, becoming a mother is an extreme metamorphosis that takes some time to adjust to and leaves us forever changed.
Although we wait nervously in the wings during the final weeks of pregnancy thinking we are ready, there is nothing we can do to prepare ourselves for this.
It was the single most difficult thing I have ever done. The best, without a doubt! But also the most challenging - mother of one.
The euphoria of birth lifts us higher than ever before, but then we are unceremoniously dropped from those heights into a big hole. An indefinite period of sleep deprivation and constant around the clock "ground-hog day" baby care engulf us.
For some of us, first time motherhood hits us with such an uncompromising offensive that we are left reeling from a sense of utter incompetency and inadequacy. For something so profoundly important as raising our first born child we are "all thumbs".
Our baby cries and it is our fault that we cannot soothe him. She will not sleep and it is because we are such a bad mother.
We do "the wrong thing" according to at least one of the large pile of babyhood books we have read in desperation over the last few weeks. We fear our child will grow up forever scarred by our lack of motherhood skills.
You don't simply hear a baby cry. As if that isn't heart and gut wrenching enough - the surprise to me was that you feel your own baby cry in every single cell of your body… from 100 Ways to Calm the Crying.
For me, it was a terrible concoction of post-natal hormone fluctuations, extreme physical tiredness, and a sense of incompetency.
I felt desperate because I could not draw on those things that I had always relied on before children to centre and recharge myself. And this huge gap emerged between my husband and I who, bless him, could not possibly understand the enormity of how I was feeling, much less know what to do to relieve me.
… You cannot press pause. Not today, not tomorrow, not for the whole of next year and not for four or five or six years after that…when you realise the enormity of what you have undertaken, having a minor breakdown seems like a natural reaction to me - from The Yummy Mummy Survival Guide, Liz Fraser.
Gratefully, I survived. As we all do, one way or another. We stumble about until we find our footing, and then one day we are distant enough from those early months to appreciate what we've just been through. It is not forever.
What I've learned, and wish for other first time mothers to know, is that it is OK to struggle a bit and perfectly normal to find early motherhood difficult.
While not every mother will experience the same challenges or struggle as much as I did, there will be some that will find the experience even more difficult. It is not because we are incompetents. It is because it is darn hard.
Over the coming months we will be looking more closely into the theme of the newborn and baby phases of motherhood. I will be discussing subjects with other Motherhood Project mums, community support organisations, and post-natal and childcare professionals.
- If you would like to be part of this conversation, and discussions around other ideas in support of a happy thriving motherhood, please email me at email@example.com
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