Six years ago tonight, I sat in the dark of Maggie’s bedroom.
She barely slept in those days – maybe fits and starts of twenty minutes here and forty minutes later. It was hell. I remember sitting in the chair next to her cot, crying as I fed her and tears sploshing in huge pools on her tiny, chubby little legs.
In the grip of PND
I was really poorly at that point. I know now that I was in the grips of PND, birth related PTSD, severe anxiety and everything felt horribly dark. I was filled with rage. I wanted to climb out of my head and run, far, far away. Everything felt so consuming; the lack of sleep torturous, the demand on my body to feed and sustain her claustrophobic. I had posted on Mumsnet, asking whether the feelings of rage that I was experiencing not only towards myself, but her, were normal. I was crucified. How could I feel those thing, say those things, write those things? I was lucky, I was so lucky to be blessed with her. Get a grip woman. Look at what you have and be grateful.
I was grateful but I wasn’t grateful because I felt so consumed by how tough, hard, difficult motherhood was. I needed help desperately – but I was caught in that too familiar vortex of mental illness that tells you that you don’t deserve help, and if you were to seek it then they would probably take the babies away, because quite frankly you are mad and they deserve better.
I needed a place to honestly talk about motherhood
I needed somewhere to balance what was in my head, to release my thoughts and fears without judgment. I needed another mum to say ‘Hey, it’s okay. I feel the same sometimes and it’s totally normal because it IS hard. I needed somewhere to honestly talk about motherhood without being guilt-tripped or shamed for it. And at that point, in 2015, there weren’t many options for that space.
So during that feed in the dark, I opened my phone, found Facebook and created a group.
On that group called The Sandpaper Eyes Club – because we all had gritty, sore eyes from the lack of sleep – I felt safe, at home, and finally had a place to not only share the depths of motherhood that I was struggling with, but also the highs, the funny parts, the chaos and the irreverent bits, like whether we would shag Bear Grylls, or Ray Mears. (For the record, Ray won.)
Alongside just eight of my lovely mum-mates, we laughed, cried and cheered each other on throughout the toughest days. And gently, each of those eight added more of their friends who needed the same love and support, and the group grew by tens, then hundreds, then thousands… and thousands and thousands.
From Sandpaper Eyes to The Motherload®
After a couple of months, The Sandpaper Eyes Club was rebranded as ‘The Motherload®’ (thanks Matt). We had created not just only a community, but a movement against judgment and the constant shaming of mums. We’d created a space for women to come together without the stereotype that follows ‘mum groups’ on social media. We’d created a place where women could come, kick of their shoes, settle in to laugh, cry, support and cheer each other on as friends, peers and sisters through motherhood and not feel guilt for sharing the lows… and the highs of their parenting journey.
Six years ago, I couldn’t have believed for a second that we would have 110,000 women coming together every day to share the load of motherhood. 110,000 women who call themselves MOLOs, proudly. 110,000 women blows my mind! That’s more than five times the capacity of the 02 Arena, more than the population of Dagenham, nearly six and a half times the amount of people who live in Stone, Staffs – the town where I grew up. We’d purchase nearly every single ticket for Download Festival, and we wouldn’t even fit in the world’s third largest football stadium, Barcelona’s Camp Nou!
Of course there have been ups and downs over the years. The last year has been horribly tough for all of us due to Covid-19, with anger rising within the community because of the frustration and worry of living through a pandemic. Personally, it’s been very difficult for many reasons; and recently, it’s been no secret that I had taken a long, hard look at whether I wanted to continue the community due to abuse from angry, hotheaded, frustrated members.
But when I was at breaking point, the MOLOs were there. They told me how The Motherload® had supported them, how it had nurtured them, and how it had helped them to navigate some of the toughest moments in motherhood. They told me how much they loved our community and why they didn’t want to lose it, and I saw everything again that is positive in it, and the negative stuff… diminished.
Solidarity and friendship is the secret of The Motherload®
We have the most extraordinary team of volunteer moderators. Around their children, their jobs and their lives, they give so much time to The Motherload® and to supporting every single MOLO. I couldn’t run it without them and I will be forever grateful to this community for bringing those incredible women into my life. The real secret of The Motherload® is the solidarity that happens behind the scenes as well as on the group, and it’s a magical, incredible friendship that goes beyond running a Facebook group together.
Finally, The Motherload® community has been my friend, my advisor, my support and my social network. It’s been in my pocket when I needed it most, and helped heal me when I poorly, all those years ago. I couldn’t be prouder of the sisterhood we have created, and the difference The Motherload® makes every day to another mum, struggling and feeling alone in the darkness that sometimes comes with motherhood.
To the next six years, and beyond!