Motherhood. It’s at once a huge mystery to those without kids as well as being the one thing we all – regardless of age or gender – think we can define. After all, we have all had a mother, or know mothers, or see mothers in the street, don’t we?
Since becoming a mum myself I’ve read reams and reams of articles, Facebook statuses, tweets and blog posts about motherhood. About the good bits, the bad bits, the identity of the mother in society, stay-at-home mums versus working mums, yadda yadda yadda, blah blah blah. But what is this thing called motherhood? What is it actually like being a mum?
What a ridiculous question, I can imagine you’re saying. Who cares? Why does it even matter? What’s with the self-indulgent mother stuff? Just get on with it. Everyone is different anyway! And, to a certain extent, I’d say you’re right.
Asking what motherhood is like is equivalent to asking what the ocean is like: it’s blue and green, warm and cold, teeming with life and void of creatures, calm and stormy. In short, the only thing we can really say with true certainty about the ocean is that it’s… well… wet.
The experience of motherhood is just as difficult to pin down as the ocean – despite what those pithy captioned pictures that do the rounds on social media would have us believe. All mothers are different, because all people are different. It’s unlikely you’ll find any two experiences that are exactly the same. Oh you can try to generalise, of course. You can write a big long article and assume that every other mother in the country knows EXACTLY what you’re saying because they are the same as you. But that would be a tad arrogant, no?
In the interests of putting something down for my daughter to read when she is older, this is what motherhood is like for me. It may not be what it is like for you but, you never know, you may relate to some of it. Maybe.
So. This is what motherhood is like, for me.
Motherhood is fierce. From the moment your baby fights her way from the womb, you are left with a feeling so strong it winds you. You’re crushed by this protective urge. A new sensitivity that leaves you cold. If anyone so much as looks at your baby oddly, or suggests you may be doing something wrong, you have to gulp back shouts. This is YOUR baby. She came from YOU. You know from the moment you see her and hear her shouts that she is yours and you are hers and that, quite simply, is that.
The exhaustion hits you next. You want to sleep but you can’t. Your baby needs you, wants to be fed, held, snuggled. But you want to sleep and recover and breathe. The claustrophobia that motherhood can bring is all-encompassing. You can’t even go to the toilet without rushing. You often have to make the decision between eating and washing, because there simply isn’t enough time to do both when you have a baby demanding your attention. But she is yours and you are hers and that, quite simply, is that.
Then there’s the elation. You created this person. Look at her tiny fingernails! Oh and was that a smile? IT WAS NOT JUST WIND! And her head, how soft and beautiful it smells. Her body curls up perfectly against yours. You have never known peace or contentment like it. Behind the exhaustion is this bliss and calm. A feeling of pure joy (when you have a moment to recognise it) that you never knew existed before.
But you’re so tired. So, so tired. And nervous. That panicky feeling that the baby’s cry isn’t normal, or that she’s not getting enough milk, or that you’re going to fail her in some way. That doesn’t leave until a good few days later.
And then she grows and the tiredness gives way to a new routine. You start to forget what life was like before your daily rhythms were dictated by this little being. It’s a bit lonely. You realise that you are no longer “you” in the eyes of some of your former pre-baby friends. Instead you’re a “a mum”, whatever that means. People talk to you about babies, but you want to discuss the news. But you can’t remember the last time you watched the news because your baby still demands much of your attention and all your free time is spent Googling, “How long before a baby sleeps through the night?”.
And she grows some more. And you start to find little bits of yourself again. You watch the news. You start to enjoy the odd glass of wine. But your child is still, without doubt, the centre of your world. You become angry at sweeping generalisations of motherhood.
You emerge from the fog of those newborn days with a new understanding that, now you are a mother, you will never be able to do right. You swallow down comments about breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, scared you may inadvertantly offend someone. You avoid discussions about whether mothers should go to work or stay at home. You shy away from the controlled crying versus co-sleeping debate. Never before have your own personal choices seemed so political. Never before have total strangers taken so much interest in these choices, or thought they had a right to comment.
But away from all that, you are utterly, extremely owned. You are beyond in love. In the midst of the exhaustion, the pangs of loneliness, the boredom and the worry, you are happy. Never before have you taken such joy in another being.
Because she is yours and you are hers and that, quite simply, is that.
Or, at least, that is what motherhood is like for me.