This is something I write about every now and then – so much of my work is with new mums and I am also a mum who rides the ever changing challenges of motherhood.
I remember the early days and weeks with my first baby – the terror I felt at the pressure to get this right, to keep her alive and how overwhelmed I was by the feeling of being ill-equipped to look after my baby. I loved her but I don’t remember feeling comfortable and confident looking after her for about 3 months – I just felt lost.
In the early weeks, it was the most isolating experience of my life – everyone else seemed to have answers, everyone else seemed to have babies who slept, everyone else seemed less afraid than me. At times, I felt useless and incapable. And because I was finding it so hard, I felt guilty, like I wasn’t a good enough mum because surely no-one else was struggling?
But slowly my confidence did build and I started to enjoy our time together – her smiles, her laughter, watching her learn and play. She made my heart burst with love, pride and happiness and I started to trust my abilities as a parent. But this took months – long, long months – which I hadn’t expected because no-one talked about it.
For me, as I’m sure it is for many, many mums, being a mum is about love, caring, patience, safety, fun, activities, learning and nursing but it is also about juggling, exhaustion, guilt, constantly wondering if I am getting it right and could I have done things differently, worry, trying to make the right decisions and being driven slightly insane by tantrums, demands, questions and negotiations. It is also about just being there when they need me – something I have found to be crucial as they have grown.
Ultimately I want my children to be safe and happy – challenges have come with my desire to protect them but also to allow them to be independent, to explore their independence and to allow them to make decisions and to ask for support when they need it. Letting go has been one of the toughest things and, as a parent, I can only ever go with my gut instinct and also to have a word with myself about whether I am over-reacting.
That doesn’t stop me having sleepless nights when a teenager goes to a party or sobbing out of sight when my child feels heartbroken at being dumped by friends. Being a mum is often about these silent, isolating moments – of quietly weighing up risks, of having to step back and let our child make their own decisions or work something out for themselves, of being upset because we feel their pain and we desperately wish we could take it all away.
As mothers, we are not perfect and we never have all the right answers – we are constant winging it and that’s ok, mums need to know that is normal. But all of this is why we do get tired, why we need a break and why we can feel overwhelmed because we rarely switch off from our children and their every changing needs.
Janine – mum of three and a specialist in pregnancy, birth, parent support