Little did I know, when I first held my daughter in my arms, everything I ever thought I knew about myself would change. It’s only now - 3 years into my motherhood journey and as I approach 30 - that I’m beginning to realise just who I really am. That actually, there’s a whole lot more me underneath all the exterior stuff. Just like that onion reference in Shrek, I’ve got plenty of layers!
The ‘me’ before Phoebe was a completely different person to the ‘me’ after. The very moment that soft, squishy little bundle was placed into my arms was when a tidal wave cascaded over me, engulfing me, saturating and penetrating every inch of my being. I distinctly remember the feeling - a huge weight of responsibility, love (I was utterly smitten!) and being suddenly and completely ... overwhelmed. I knew instantly that I’d changed forever. There would be no going back. The change wasn’t in a big, dramatic kind of way but it came subtly and silently; I became … mother.
Those early motherhood days can feel like we’re swimming in deep water. At times we’re continuously treading and treading just to stay afloat. And treading water can be tiring. Other times we slip under the water, then scrabble furiously to reach the surface, gasping for air when we do. That kind of experience can be very unnerving. There are also days when we feel like we are drowning - literally - in nappies, muslin cloths or baby-grows, while covered in sudocrem, infacol and baby spew! This ‘drowning’ often takes the form of fear ... fear that takes hold, grips tighter, ever tighter ... fear that begins to choke and strangle us. It can be fear of so many things - both real and imagined - but a fear that is cruel and crippling. Pair this with fourth trimester hormones and it’s definitely not a good mix for any new mum. How easy is it to get completely overwhelmed and suffocated by it all?
My own experience of battling with birth trauma, emergency caesarean recovery and navigating unchartered breastfeeding territory is a real blur to me now. But I often think back and can clearly see how each and every little moment was gradually changing me and moulding me into my truest self.
Looking back on those early days, I see a woman mentally and physically wounded and scarred because of a horrible pregnancy and labour. I see how she slowly lifts her head up and begins to push through, ever so cautiously, small steps every day. I see her confidence gaining as her daughter begins to thrive, pride rising as she nourishes her baby, providing her needs and her skills developing as she slowly finds her rhythm. I also see how her patience is tested and her temper flares, those tightly gritted teeth and deep breaths behind closed doors. I see a heart tugged and torn in two as she goes back to work, back to her ‘new normal’.
For me, going back to work full-time was initially okay. It doesn’t take long to get back into routine and for the hamster wheel to get spinning, does it? Yet, I was a totally different person when I went back. I carried new characteristics of ‘mama’ into my sphere of influence. Now I saw the kids sitting in front of me from very different eyes. My role as teacher suddenly became much more motherly; I felt a real tenderness and compassion for those in my care. Yes, I felt those same feelings in my job before having Phoebe, but now, they were heightened. My duty of care took on whole new meaning. Initially this was good but as time ticked by, trying to be everything to everyone was leaving me running on empty and wholly exhausted.
Trying to be ‘mum’ to everyone and keep all the plates spinning was never going to be sustainable for me. Every single day, someone or something was losing out – and boy, oh boy did I feel that. Guilt and shame were ever present and became part of my new normal, very quickly. It’s scary just how fast we get used to living under the weight of emotions like these. It took something that was completely out of my control to shock me out of the well-worn path I was travelling and jolt me into a new reality. You see, I’ve always been a people pleaser, always trying to be everyone’s friend - just let me make everyone happy!! This way of living came at the expense of my own happiness, even my own health by the end. I needed to stop focusing on the outward and look inward. It is okay to do that sometimes. I give you permission to do so! I needed to give myself permission too, and when I stopped and took one hard look at myself, I was shocked at what I found.
Becoming a mother unearthed in me some aspects of my very being that had been lying dormant. So much of me was being neglected in order to ‘do all the stuff’ - stuff that was being given too much importance, becoming too high a priority.
I am enough for my child.
I am enough for my husband.
I am enough for my family, my job, my boss, my pupils, my friends …
YOU are enough.
In all my striving, people pleasing and vain attempts to be the best version of myself for everyone – I lost ‘me’. When I became a mum I let this name become another weight to pile onto my shoulders … more responsibility, more people pleasing, more feelings of guilt and shame (I’m never going to be super-mum!) and more reason to keep the hamster wheel relentlessly spinning.
Currently I’m learning not to ignore the layers within. I’m aiming to nurture those aspects of me that make me a better mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend. Those worthwhile and important traits like my love of writing and creativity, the desire for meaningful relationships and a heart that longs to be empathetic towards those around me. So many of these qualities have been embedded in my mothering! Phoebe needs to see her mum modelling the life she wants for her daughter, not just talking about “doing it some day" while she runs herself ragged. Phoebe deserves a mum who curates a life for her family that prioritises the right things. And this will look very different for individual families! Don’t ever let being a mum put you in a box and don’t let anyone tell you how you should mother your children. Trust yourself and your mother’s instinct, and if you are someone who has a faith, believe for your promises and push into your calling – whatever that looks like – mum or not!
The hidden treasure that lies beneath your motherhood is too important to ignore.