What Happens When Motherhood Doesn't Feel Like It 'Should'?
I was fairly good at school and university. I always had a job and was encouraged to ‘climb the ladder’ in my career, but nothing I worked at ever really floated my boat. When people would ask me if there was anything I really wanted to do in my life, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to experience being a mother.
When that day came and my first child came along, I presumed I would be carried along on a wave of love, joy and elation that would cancel out the tiredness and challenges of early motherhood.
Unfortunately, for me, that didn’t happen. I loved my daughter and I would have done anything to protect her but I was overwhelmed by the transition to motherhood. I hadn’t expected it to affect me the way it did. I didn’t have postnatal depression, I didn’t experience major physical trauma during or after the birth, but I was physically and mentally exhausted. It took my head a long time to adjust to this new life.
After two weeks of struggling to breastfeed and a lot of tears, I reached out online to other new mums in my area. I didn’t know where else to go. A group of 10 mothers ended up meeting every week, swapping stories and advice, listening to worries and having a laugh. I’m not sure if I would have managed in those early months without those women.
I know that many people don’t have that kind of support. I also had regular phone calls from a very close friend who assured me that what I was feeling was normal and that I wasn’t losing my mind. I thought it would be helpful if other new mums could be given similar support in a book. Thus Becoming Mum was born.
She doesn't always feel free to talk about how positive her experience was. She said people seemed to resent it
The 40 women I interviewed were wonderfully honest about their experiences. At times during the interviews we would be in knots of laughter and five minutes later we could be quite teary. It always amazes me how women who differ hugely in background, age, outlook on life and personality can connect when they talk about motherhood. Somehow a bad day doesn’t feel so bad when someone else is having one too. I suppose that’s what support groups are all about.
Some of the women really enjoyed the experience of childbirth and those early months. They still had some challenges along the way and the lessons they learned from them are included in the book. Interestingly, one of the women told me afterwards that she doesn’t always feel free to talk about how positive her experience was. She said people seem to resent it. Her story and her experience is valid too. Most women I interviewed - and most of the women who have spoken to me after reading the book - have found it a challenging time. My friend seems to be in the minority. I envy her a little.
The transition to motherhood has taught me many things. Before I had my babies, I definitely judged mothers and fathers. I kept it in, I generally didn’t say anything; but I judged them. I will admit to having had strong opinions on how childbirth should be, how parents should communicate/feed/discipline their babies/children. I don’t judge them now or, if I do, I catch myself doing it and pull back.
I approached childbirth my way. I’m very glad I did. My husband and I parent our children in a way that suits our family, our personalities and our children’s personalities. If parents love their children, keep them warm and well fed, who am I to comment? I met other mothers along the way who gave me unasked-for advice, trying to persuade me that their style of childbirth/feeding/parenting was the right way. I don’t believe that one size fits all. Everyone’s experience is valid.
The advice we give to new mums can be so helpful, as long as we remember that we don’t know it all, and if a new mum decides to act against our advice or differently – that’s ok.
In Becoming Mum, one interviewee sums up my own feelings on the ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ of motherhood that we are bombarded with when our first baby comes along: ‘Every situation and every baby is different . . . If I’m asked for advice, my advice has been just do what suits you because everyone will give you different advice based on their experiences, their lives, their homes and their babies. If you read what you’re supposed to be doing and you don’t achieve that, it can be disappointing.’
Becoming a mum is the most important thing that has ever happened to me. The transition to motherhood may have hit me like a truck but I wouldn’t change it. My last question to all of the interviewees for my book was: ‘Was it worth all the pain, tiredness and challenges?’ Every single woman answered ‘Yes’.
About the Author: Kate Carbery is a proud mother of two small children. An honours graduate of University College Cork, she worked in human resources and communications before setting up a medical company in Dublin with her husband. Kate has travelled extensively and studied and worked overseas. A natural storyteller, she has an innate ability to connect with people and help them to tell their stories. Becoming Mum is her first book. Follow her on Twitter @KateCarbery
Becoming Mum: How To Survive Childbirth And The Early Months of Motherhood is €14.99 and is available from Liberties Press.
This article has been sponsored by the JOHNSON’S® brand.