Today is the 28th Anniversary of the day I became a mother.
It’s a day filled with feelings of joy and pride and love for the wonderful human being that he is. It’s full of gratitude that one of the benefits of the pandemic for me has been that he returned to the nest a year ago to avoid being alone in a new city whilst we rode Covid-19 out together.
I always think about the day he was born. It’s the same day of the week this year, and it’s also Women’s World Day of Prayer. I remember it so clearly. I had gone into hospital around 3 am and he was born at 10:24 am. My husband called my parents to let them know, and my Mum was out at a service. Dad left Mum a post-it note on the bottom of the stairs just saying “Welcome home, Grandma” and didn’t tell her anything else!
I saw her later that afternoon when I was recovering from an operation, under GA, and mid blood transfusion. She drew a picture of her memory of this. I was in a large empty room, just me in the bed and the baby in a plastic cot. It was quite haunting. She of course hadn’t been able to get any information over the phone so had gone to the hospital on spec. She had worked there previously so knew her way around. Luckily for me, because my husband had left to go back to work, they allowed her to visit me.
This year’s Women’s World Day of Prayer theme is “Building Strong Foundations”.
This feels very apt because it is my belief that how we become mothers influences so many parts of our lives from that moment on.
For me, my journey into motherhood was one of excitement and anticipation. I thought I had planned and prepared and done everything I needed to do to ensure the arrival of my first baby would be a joyous occasion and would set me on the road to successful motherhood.
However, birth doesn’t always go to plan, and sometimes this leaves us with feelings and thoughts and emotions that hang around for a very long time.
Being a mother is hard work. It is relentless and frequently beset with worry and anxiety. Am I doing it right? Why is he crying? What does he need? Am I able to give him everything he needs? Am I enough for him?
I was in the hospital for 5 days following my son’s birth. They wouldn’t “let me out”. I was having some physiotherapy and they insisted I stay in. By this point, I had run out of clean knickers and nightdresses. It took me 2 hours to stop crying enough to call my Mum to ask her to get me some clean underwear and nightdresses. I think she thought something really bad had happened when I called her because I could barely speak. At the end of the call, she asked me whether I wanted anything else and, out of the blue, I responded that I wanted a Belgian Bun! So she bought me a pack of 2 and of course we laughed because they looked like 2 white boobs with little red nipples!
I regret never having really explored my mother’s own journey into motherhood. Or perhaps I did and she just never really shared much. I recall her telling me she was induced, that she was alone and she had high blood pressure. Both her parents were dead by the time she had me, and my dad wasn’t allowed in the maternity unit (he was in the Grand in Leigh with my uncle), so she really was alone.
My journey wasn’t the one I had hoped for, but it was an interesting one and I believe it has led me to where I am today. It took me many years to reconcile and come to terms with thoughts and feelings and emotions around this birth experience and how it affected the way I talked to and about myself.
I underestimated the impact the birth had had on me. I believe I downplayed my experience believing it to be not that bad. Sure I had heard worse stories in my baby groups. Unfortunately, I think minimising my experience and my feelings and probably just the busyness of life with one, then two then three little ones, then a divorce, a house move and change of career – you just get on with it, because you have to and its whats expected.
But I suffered. I suffered from feelings of low self-esteem, lack of self-worth, feelings of inadequacy and always feeling anxious that I had to be a good mother, a good wife, a good student, a good midwife.
Today, I know I was all of those things, but actually, more importantly, I know that it doesn’t matter if I wasn’t as good at all those things as someone else. None of us is perfect. We all do the best we can with the resources we have available to us at the time.
If I could go back 28 years and tell my 26-year-old self something it would be this,
“Be kind to yourself, you’ve had a really tough time. Take time, talk to someone and get help.”
Instead, my birth story became the butt of jokes amongst our friends and this compounded the effects of the trauma. I see now that this lack of self-respect and self-deprecation was a coping mechanism, but not a healthy one. I wasn’t kind to myself and I didn’t get the help I needed for many years. Yes I managed, and I managed well, but I can’t help wondering how life might have been different if I had loved and valued myself enough to seek help.
Feeling constantly inadequate as a mother causes anxiety and overwhelm and causes us to question the very essence of ourselves because becoming mothers changes us. It gives us a new identity and purpose and reason for being. It’s a lifelong commitment to a stranger we’ve just met.
And what a beautiful stranger he turned out to be.