It’s a phrase that conjures many images, and has so many connotations. Bleary-eyed. sleep deprivation. Contentment. Happiness. Cuteness (baby, not mum!). And for some women, their experience is absolutely that. One of contentment and happiness, but a little bit sleep-deprived. And theirs is a valid experience.
But what if it isn’t like that? It doesn’t need to be the opposite extreme. Just not all sunshine and roses. The first two weeks after my first son was born were pretty good. That lovely newborn haze. Bar a quick phone call to work at 8 days to ask when I could go back, we were blissfully happy with our little bundle of joy. And then my husband went back to work.
As a not especially maternal career girl, who needed/liked a lot of sleep, I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing, but thought I’d be fine. I mean, I’d been to NCT classes and read some books – how hard could it be? Actually, as it turned out, pretty bloody hard. The loneliness was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and I struggled with the lack of structure to my day.
People telling me how lucky I was that he was a contented baby did not help. People telling me how lucky I was that he slept did not help. The very people who were trying to help me, only succeeded in making me feel more guilty that I felt I wasn’t coping when I had an ‘easy’ baby.
With hindsight, a second baby and almost four years passed, I can see that I did indeed have an easy baby compared to others. But that doesn’t mean it was easy for me. No, he didn’t have colic for hours every night. Yes, he switched between boob and bottle with surprising ease. Yes, I had wonderful support from my husband and our family. But it didn’t stop me from feeling like I wasn’t coping. It didn’t stop me from feeling like I was failing.
Everyday, I plastered a smile on my face, and presented a version of me to the outside world that I thought they wanted to see. Pretended everything was fine, and that I was happy and coping. But inside I felt I was failing. All around me, I saw mothers who were doing a better job than me. Who were not only coping, but thriving.
Until one day, a friend came to visit us, and asked how I was doing. Not a particularly close friend, an old work colleague. I replied, giving a standard answer. ‘We’re doing fine. Getting sleep when we can’. Gave her a smile. As a mother of two, she looked me directly in the eye and said, ‘It’s shit, isn’t it?’ Immediately, I felt relief. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t odd or weird for feeling like crap. I was NORMAL!
We talked, and although it didn’t solve everything, it did help me to know that other women felt like I did. And I came to understand, that those women I thought were thriving, were in many ways, just playing the part as I was.
New motherhood is wonderful in so very many ways. But it is also shit. And it is important to acknowledge that. Society presents an image of a perfect new mother, that few of us can achieve (and if you can – go you!). We need to be honest with women. So the next time you speak to a new mum, ask her how it’s really going. And tell her it’s OK to feel like it’s not perfect all the time. And assure her it gets better. Show her where to get help if she needs it.
A single phrase got me through many long and lonely nights when it felt like I was the only person in the world still awake.
‘It will be OK in the end. If it’s not OK, it’s not the end.’
It’s an idea that can be applied to so many situations in life. So share it. Share it with the person you know who’s going through a hard time. Share it with the new mum who’s sinking under the weight of the responsibilities she has. Share it with the experienced mum who’s longing for the newborn days because her children are leaving home. Validate people’s feelings.
And Tania, if you’re reading this – Thank you. You may have saved my sanity.
Outnumbered. Wife to one man. Mother of two boys. Owner (slave) of one cat. Sales Account Executive. Football nut. Follower of cricket and occasionally golf. Lover of American TV dramas. Once avid reader, now occasional peruser of books I’d love to read.
Twitter – @MadnessOfMummy