What I remember most about my third trimester was feeling like my whole body was buzzing; a persistent, deep seated restlessness. A combination of nesting, Restless Leg Syndrome and anticipation. A smidge of anxiety. I couldn’t keep still, like my skin was crawling. Every cell alive with wanting. An incessant need to be doing something.
It is a Thursday, it’s Perinatal Mental Health Week 2021, and I have been a mother for over 300 days.
THE FIRST LESSON I LEARNED FROM MOTHERHOOD
After I had Oliver, I would look in the mirror and the person looking back was a stranger.
Dark violet grooves under red eyes. Dehydrated, depleted.
I looked forward to maternity leave like one would a holiday. I don’t even have the energy to pick up my boulder of a son, let alone the abandoned Speedo swim bag gathering dust in the deepest corner of our wardrobe.
A twinge of envy when I see my partner at work.
It’s not for want of trying that I don’t seem to get much time of myself anymore. The demands exhaust me, the mental load overwhelms me and all I want to do is sit down to unpack the weight of it all. The universe tells me to rest, but I don’t want to. I am perpetually both exhausted and wired.
My 10 month old ducks and weaves through the day and I chase behind. I contemplate the Teletubbies. Teething bites. So we endlessly loop our block with the pram. I drain back my third coffee of the day.
The Child Health Nurse’s lips press into a firm line after I pass back my first postpartum Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. She takes a pause and asks if I’m doing okay. I reply that I’m fine (I’m not). My world has become microscopic and my eye is always fixed firmly on Oliver.
If I didn’t love every moment of motherhood, then what kind of a person am I?
I try to confide in my mother once that being a mum is hard. Like, really hard. She just smiles dismissively, the way she often does when things get Tough, and offers this:
“But it’s nice having a baby around, isn’t it?”
I have to believe that other mothers find the stress and the daily monotony inescapable, or else face that I am The Worst Mother. Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I wish something terrible would happen to me so that I might finally get some rest. Or have an out.
Through motherhood I discovered that, as a parentified child, I had been parenting myself my entire life. I started out my motherhood journey already exhausted with the decision making, care taking and enormous responsibility that outnumbered my years in this world. Knowing there’s not something wrong with me because I didn’t enjoy every aspect of motherhood is deeply liberating.
MOTHERHOOD IS NOT ABOUT SACRIFICE
Unlearning 26 year old habits is no mean feat. Becoming a mum was traumatic because it threw the profoundly difficult childhood I had compartmentalised long ago into stark light. I was underprepared for the enormity of change that parenthood would bring. I entered into it unknowing I would emerge a wholly new person.
My version of motherhood isn’t about sacrifice – it’s about the desire to do and be better. So he doesn’t grow up thinking that his goodness hinges on how productive he is or how well he behaves. I show this to him and myself in equal measure.
I am the parent so that he can be the child. It is not out of selflessness that I drag myself out of bed every day. I brought him into the world, and for that he owes nothing. He is vulnerable, dependent, and deserving of love and respect.
He should feel safe and secure so that mistakes and big emotions aren’t major catastrophes.
So I do the work and read the self help books. I let go of anger or sadness at how I was parented (or lack thereof) and am motivated in the knowledge that my son will have a different childhood.
Messy, warm. Adventurous. Abundant with love and affection. Respectful. It’s his home, too.
He made me a mother. Soft, patient. Joyful. An assertive boundary setter. Learning to give in to the new pace of the day. If we are late, so be it. Why am I so concerned if he isn’t asleep by 7:30?
Instead, I delight in him, marvel at him and show him the world through wondrous eyes. Slay dragons with him, helm pirate ships, collect leaves and sticks. I show up for him, always. I am home to him just as much now, on the outside, as he was on the inside. This is my quiet revolution. Even when it is hard. In making sure he doesn’t feel lonely and unwanted, I heal my own wounds.
BOOKS TO HELP YOU
If you are struggling with your mental health before or after you have a baby, you’re not alone and there is help available. For Australians, PANDA have a wealth of resources. Given that it’s Perinatal Mental Health Week, take a look at the organisation’s website for more.