The whole preface of this blog is about finding balance in life which seems pretty obvious given the title of the blog. Entering motherhood, the entire world flipped on its head in a way like never before. People tell you it’s a whole new world and they’re right – it’s a whole new world where you feel like a baby yourself, knowing nothing at all and rediscovering what instincts actually are. Putting one foot in front of the other and getting through each day is a success even if it feels like a very wobbly one.
How could I even find a balance when my entire world had changed and I didn’t even know which way was up or down? All my usual balance points were blown out of the water not surprisingly- who had time for even a quick meditation let alone the head space for one? Preparing really healthy nourishing meals and chewing them properly? I was gulping them down to get to bed quicker! No luxurious baths, barely a quick shower. Reading a book, why would you when you could sleep for 10 minutes. Sleep what is that, just as you lie down you need to feed again. Time out does not exist for the new mum and if it does I was always asleep!
I’m a pretty honest person, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I’m not afraid to show my emotions, perhaps what helps me in an artistic field like ballet. To begin with I really struggled with the whole gamut of emotions that is birth, post birth and becoming a mother. There was also a natural but awkward sense of grief for an old but not necessarily better life and I was at a loss feeling competent or at least like I knew something about anything.
How come no one spoke of these things? Every other woman seemed to be doing super mummy efforts and feeling amazing and absolutely LOVING IT no questions asked. Stay at home mums and working mums were totally nailing it. No one ever told me that there are actually moments where you might be doing it but not loving it. And that’s okay. Because that’s life and that’s parenting.
Even with thousands of happy smiling photos on your phone of you and your little bub, all the ones of them sleeping peacefully when you know full well they haven’t been doing that very often today; even everyone telling you how adorable your baby is and how good you’re doing and looking; even if you have the best day yet and feel like so much went right; none of this means you aren’t struggling in some way on this motherhood journey no matter how big or small.
Becoming a mum brings out your fighting strengths and your weakest of weaknesses.
It humbles you that you are human after all doing the most human of things in nurturing life itself.
My experience from birth…
Jasper’s arrival into our world was absolutely incredible. Giving birth to a baby no matter which way or form is undoubtedly so HUGE a moment that I’m still searching for the right words to describe it. It defies belief and logic, it restores your faith in life itself, it affirms your place here in this world and no matter what the circumstances, (epidurals, drugs, bath tubs, doctors, midwifes, home births, etc) it felt so distinctly primal.
I could not believe that he was actually ours and I had become a mum in that moment to this precious little boy. It’s too momentous to have words for. The surprise when the doctor held him up is forever etched in my mind as are those little eyes that were looking up at me when he was laid on my chest. He was so alert and searching. It was amazing, so surreal and completely too much to take in all at once.
The early weeks were a haze of euphoria and heavenly cuddles with our tiny little boy but it was as the weeks wore on and by about week 8 when babies go from sleepy angels to cries of ‘where am I, what am I doing here, I don’t know what I want, I’m so scared Mummy please help me, even if you don’t know what to do to make it better just hold me!”
It was then (like so many mothers) that I found myself brought to my knees quite literally, balling my eyes out in the bathroom. What was happening to me? Please not me, please not post-natal depression. I pushed on because that’s what dancers/women/mums do and for a week or so I would be fine and then I would crash again. Hello hormone party!
At one of the maternal child health nurse check ups, she asked me to do the routine Edinburgh scale that checks for early warning signs of PND in mothers. My score was off the chart after a particularly bad night the night before. I did have the ability to see that this was just a moment in time. Even though it was just a phase I shyly resisted seeking help with my GP and beyond because that felt a little bit (or a whole lot) like failing. Even though it’s not the case at all. Why are we so harsh with ourselves and can’t take our own advice?
I never did receive external support in the form of counselling but I have spoken to many wise souls, a lot of them mothers themselves, who reassured me that everyone and they mean everyone had felt like I had. Did it mean it was PND maybe, maybe not. But entering motherhood and the enormous shift that happens within you and around you makes for some pretty heavy emotional work.
I could not have prepared for this rollercoaster in any other way except to jump on, hold on tight and ride the ups and downs and trust that the waves would slow down. I searched and searched for answers but there was no answer. I had to find the answers within me and it terrified me that I would get it all wrong.
Looking beyond labour
In the lead up to childbirth there is so much talk about the labour and rightly so, for its a pretty eventful day or days in your life – completely transformative like nothing else. But it’s just a day, there’s always tools/people/drugs to help you through and at the end of it, you hopefully have a healthy baby in your arms and you join this special group that has brought life in to this world.
It’s overwhelming and humbling at the same time. It felt so big and vast and yet so small and personal.
But what follows is what people don’t really think so much of and most likely because you can’t really grasp it – looking after your baby 24/7 for a really really long time. It sounds naive and dramatic but that’s because it actually is. Overwhelmingly so.
When the nurse came in to our room at the hospital because it was timer Jasper’s first feed, I had scarcely had 20 minutes sleep, the epidural had worn off and I was in a lot of pain, really nauseous and still in shock from labour – and I thought to myself, it just doesn’t stop from here on in. There’s no 12 hour sleep to recover, it’s just all systems go now. It’s not about me anymore. There’s a little person and he needs me more than I need sleep.
I felt so overwhelmed by the responsibility of being a mum to our little boy. I felt suffocated at times that he needed me so badly like no one has ever needed me before. I felt trapped in a new life that I couldn’t find my feet in and mainly couldn’t feel on top of. I didn’t feel like this all the time but there were moments where I really felt like the shoe didn’t fit. Would it ever fit all the time I worried?
I struggled to answer peoples questions honestly –
“Isn’t it just the best?” (well it sure is one of the best things I’ve done in my life but I’m not feeling the best actually no)
“Do you just stare at him all day” (well no because when I’m not with him I am trying to eat, shower or sleep or wrap my head around what I’m trying to do)
“Is he sleeping through yet?” (no he’s 4 weeks old and I’m fairly sure that’s okay)
How many sleep cycles does he sleep? (what’s a sleep cycle?!)
I even felt sad for the type of mother I was. It was a shock to discover that I wasn’t the sort of mother I expected myself to be even though I couldn’t articulate exactly what I thought that might have been. In essence, it was probably someone who could hold it all together and never break down. A mother who went to my baby’s need only with good grace and not one millisecond of reluctance.
I think I felt like as a mum you should have the in built natural instincts that just kick in and if you don’t then you must be failing.
Of course Jasper thrived from the word go, and I needn’t have worried I was doing anything wrong at all. He was and still is a very contented baby for the most part and we are very fortunate that he has such a lovely temperament but mainly is so healthy so far. The fact that we are able to have this baby is a gift in itself and I felt so guilty knowing the journey to being a mum for other women is not so blessed. More guilt.
What would I do differently?
I can see now that I wouldn’t do it all differently at all, but I would not load myself up with the added weight of guilt and shame about how I was feeling. I would be a much kinder mother to myself if I had my time again.
I was rocked to my very core, as many mothers if not all have been before. How had I not known this before? How could I have prepared more for this I thought? But the reality is, nothing can prepare you and all mothers know that nothing they say can prepare an expectant mother for the change that is about to hit.
The world’s perspective flips on its head, your world now being centred around this incredibly adorable and utterly vulnerable being. But your internal perspective on so many things also undergoes a rapid reboot – it was like I had walked through some invisible door at the hospital and no matter how hard I searched I would never be able to find the door to go back ever again.
Six months on with my beautiful boy, do I want to go back through that door to my old life?
NO WAY in capital letters.
But in those early weeks when I felt like a shambles, it was something I grieved for. Jasper truly is the light of my life now, I wish I could have said that every moment he’s been with us and been 100% truthful but the reality was just a little bit different. I can see now that mothers shouldn’t be scared of thinking/saying that or feel guilty or ashamed.
I felt overwhelming love for him and a need to protect and care for him, but that’s not to say I didn’t want a bit more sleep, or some time off or to be able to run away for a few moments here and there. I felt guilty at the time but now I look back and see how completely normal that was and give myself more kudos for how well I was really doing at the time. Life is tonal – black and white, night and day, light and dark.
My baby was thriving from the very beginning and it was plain to see he was a very well looked after baby. People always commented how calm I was with him, how natural, how easy, how well-slept I looked. Of course I found it hard to believe them! I would say thank you and take the compliments much more readily nowadays!
I think being a ballet dancer has meant that I have adapted to motherhood in terms of discipline and organisation in a really good way. I never knew how much I thrived on routine and the fact that every day is different and no amount of thorough preparation will produce the same result with a baby was a bit hard to get my head around.
And no one was telling me what to do or everyone was! I was reluctant to forge my own path of mothering, to find my own style. I just wanted someone to tell me what to do except EVERYONE including our friend Google is telling us what to do and contradicting each other meanwhile.
I couldn’t wade through the information and find my way. My baby was like none of the babies in the baby books and I felt like I had done something wrong when he wouldn’t sleep at those set times or be in at bed at 7pm on the dot, even though he was mostly pretty happy or chilled out the whole day. He fed like a champion from the very beginning and he built up my milk supply in a way that I know other mothers would kill for. I was incredibly fortunate even though I didn’t know why he couldn’t just feed every 3 hours like all the babies on a routine.
Finding my feet again
In the end, with a lot of support from people especially my mum (I don’t know what I would do without her!) I slowly put one step in front of the other to create my own style of mothering. There’s always doubt but what mother doesn’t want to do best by her child and is always looking to improve how she cares for her child?
Even admitting to close friends how I was truly feeling felt like a leap of faith, it often was at odds with how they expected me to feel or expect to feel themselves when they have a baby. I felt like I was letting them down by telling them my reality of mixed emotions. They were so proud of me for telling them the truth and couldn’t believe it from the outside.
I can see how people say that the first 12 weeks is such a haze and when your baby gets to 13 weeks he and you both leave that haze and enter an altered version of reality again. Yet at the time it felt like I was living in a hyperreality, life had never felt more real or raw before. But now I look back on those first few months but particularly from about 6-12 weeks and I think wow sleep deprivation really does crazy things to people!
Being stubborn and determined to thrive, I refused to excuse my feelings and behaviour on hormones, sleep deprivation or recovering from childbirth. But for anyone reading this, let me be clear…
They are a firecracker of reasons to feel like you are floundering for a while when you first have a baby. They all definitely count. They are all very real.
Go with it, don’t fight it and do know that most mothers if not every one of them has been where you are – crumbling in the bathroom, screaming into your pillow, wanting to run away for a few minutes, having a mental breakdown in a public place.
And they all got through it.
And it does get better.
And your baby grows too quickly.
And you will miss all those snuggles, afternoon cluster feedings, night feeds and times when the baby refused to be put down and had to be held.
And it will be the best thing you have ever done and you will never feel prouder of yourself and of the little person you have created and the wonder you are fostering in them.
Your baby loves you beyond belief no matter how much sleep you have had, how long you have been crying, how long they have been crying, how much of a mess you are – you are their entire world and they wouldn’t want anyone else to be there for them.
It’s a huge responsibility but a huge privilege that you can well and truly wear with pride.
But if you don’t feel that straight after the birth, the next day, the next week, for 12 weeks or 12 months after – it will happen. You will have a moment where you are just doing it and doing it so well that you stop to notice that you feel different, that it crept up on you how good you are feeling and how you wouldn’t change anything for the world about your life now.
You will be doing it and loving it all at the same time.