Motherhood (and parenthood for that matter) truly is a path to self-discovery. In fact, it is a theme-park to self-discovery; the rollercoasters, the scare-houses, the risk-taking and the waiting in line until it’s our turn because someone else always comes first; to reaching the end of the day exhausted but also appreciative that you and your child/ren survived and made beautiful memories along the way.
The Pressures of Society
We have the pressure of society to have children; we are on the planet to reproduce right? Well what about all those women and men whose biological constitution don’t allow them? The future they had in their mind through their ‘prime’ time can quickly be a goal that is unrealistic. We then have to consider those people who simply don’t want to have children. We frown upon them because of their decisions. Who are we to judge? What about the people who have had children and really shouldn’t have had children? And then there is us; the people who wanted children and a family so much that we would do anything to make it happen but when we get there it’s far from rainbows and butterflies (and unicorns for the sole purpose that they are bloody everywhere at the moment).
Promoted to ‘Mum’
I’ve been given a new title, a new job, a new role; I’ve been promoted to ‘Mum’. So what happens to all my other roles and how does this affect my overall identity? Who am I? Where am I? Will this newborn stage ever end? Will I get my life back? And what about my sex life? Will we be husband and wife again? Will I get to see my friends again? What about date night? Wait, will we be able to have a romantic getaway or even a family holiday? Will I ever get back to climbing the ladder in my career or does this mean I slip down the rungs? Wake me up from this dream/nightmare/whatever this is. Newsflash, you’re life changes as soon as you give birth. It initially becomes hard work. I don’t care how many women may say this transition was ‘perfect’ for them or how easy it was. I just don’t see how such a massive life shift could be so flawless.
The only way I can explain this is to entwine my journey into the storytelling. Happily married to my husband at 25 years old, first baby at 27; our son at one stage didn’t sleep for three days. We soon found out he was suffering from ‘reflux’ (only a word spoken of if you happen to admit those days were hell). At this vulnerable period, the amount of times people would give me those mental-health checklists was insane. Every appointment I would fill one out. It was insane, but it was also necessary and in hindsight, I can now appreciate every single number I circled on that page. Because those circles and those numbers are very different from mother to mother and after having experienced this bumpy start to motherhood, I totally understand how PND could effect so many! Had I not had support at the time, it could have been a very different outcome.
Returning to work – a lesson on juggling and balance.
Most Millennial mums return to work at some stage. For me, the plan was to return once my baby was one year old and it was the new year. Life doesn’t always go to plan and I returned earlier. This is when I really came to understand what it means to juggle all aspects of life and that life ‘balance’ should really be replaced with ‘blend’. The first few daycare drop-offs were horrendous but that soon passed. I walked back into my workplace and felt instant value. You see, in our ‘jobs’ of paid employment, we have a role description, there are clear guidelines, there are clear measures of our successes (and failures) and when those aren’t met, there are clear consequences. There is no muddy water or unfamiliar terrain. We turn up to ‘work’ and perform. In that moment, we have the title of ‘Employee.’ But what happens to the title of ‘Mum’?
Mask of Motherhood
What happens to us? What happens to ‘me’? We put on this mask of motherhood that is so bright and colourful to strangers walking past. We post ‘perfect’ images in a 3×3 grid. We use make-up to conceal the lack of sleep because “yes, of course my child is sleeping through”. We tag our partner in a family photo for a #TBT to ‘happy’ times because this week we are fighting non-stop over household chores, we roll over and pretend we can’t hear the baby crying in hope the other will get up or we are tallying how many hours each of us got to have ‘me’ time. We are afraid to admit that things aren’t so perfect YET when you get to breaking point or you break down that bravado of ‘perfect’ and open up to other mothers you begin to realise you are not alone. Nevertheless, the cycle continues. We may open up in that moment of vulnerability but the following week it’s back to coffee catch-ups, playgroup meetings or going to work like our life is once again rainbows and butterflies. Again, we wear the mask of a perfect mother and continue showing ourselves as a perfect family. This stigma needs to be broken!
A Growing Tribe
Once the guilt wore off when I returned to work, I felt proud; proud that when challenges had risen, I was able to step in and support my family, proud that our mortgage would continue to be paid, proud that I could ‘juggle’ many hats. There was momentum…until once again, those ‘hats’ and my identity would shift. I fell pregnant which was a planned pregnancy. What wasn’t planned was TWINS, yes the 2-for-1 deal that is becoming more and more common due to IVF. Our hands would be full, our home would be full and our hearts would never feel a love quite like it. We knew our family was complete. This didn’t mean though that the path would be easy. Pregnant with twins, still waking up of a night to a toddler and working. Whoever said ‘motherhood’ was always amazing clearly wasn’t yet a mother!
The twins had arrived, I was a mother of three under three. My identity shifted and I was once again just ‘Mum’. Life was busy; the combo of toddler and twins was busy! It was beautiful but it was busy! I had to put my children first, they were the priority. In those early days, it felt like Groundhog Day. I adore all three of my children but some days, I would hope so much that they would all fall asleep at the same time just to have a moment to myself. And sometimes that moment was just to sit down or even eat. This day to day wasn’t that different to what I imagined life would be. But what threw a curveball was once again my husband having pressures at work.
At this moment in my life, I held the title of mum, wife, sister, daughter, friend, niece, granddaughter. What was missing is the title of ‘me’. I was giving everyone my absolute all (in the capacity I could, given how busy my days were) but I neglected myself. I stayed up until early hours of the morning to try and support my husband with his work. I was waking up to twins and a toddler through the night. I was trying to be available as a sister, friend, daughter which I started to really miss. I was worn out and what did I get in return? Very little. This is something I have not really spoken about but I was lonely, I felt alone. I had three beautiful children that gave me so much love and enjoyment yet I still felt so lost. I had very little time to myself, I had little support and felt more alone than ever. However, I didn’t speak about it. I said nothing to anyone. I suffered in silence. Why? Because if we talk about our imperfections, our challenges, our cracks; we are often viewed as ‘not coping’ or it falls on deaf ears. I had friends with marital issues, I had friends with breastfeeding issues and I had issues all at the same time. But we would talk about it for a small moment in time and then not bring it up. Why? Because as mothers we are meant to be living and loving the path of our sole purpose – raising children.
Motherhood – A Path to self-discovery
I could say I have made mistakes in my life and also during my moments of motherhood so far but instead I’ll say it was lessons-learned, hard lessons. These lessons and overcoming challenging times has given me such a clearer sense of what I want in life; what I want for myself, what I want for my children and what I want for my family. I don’t feel so much like an imposter wearing all these masks and mastering none. I see a clearer sense of direction of where I want to and will head. Having children and becoming a mother has given me a strength I didn’t know I had. It has brought out a fierce level of protection for my family. It has shifted and heightened my values and morals in life. I have learnt what truly makes me happy and that was often through the absence of those moments in my life. Motherhood has started an amazingly positive (yet scary) path to self-discovery. Although I don’t know what the future holds, I know what makes me happy and I am actively paving and walking the path to get there. I also know how important it is to talk. Imagine if there were group settings/meetings where as a couple you could walk in and compare life stories about the shift into parenthood? How amazing would it be if we could post photos of our imperfect moments and get a ‘like’ instead of it being overshadowed DESPITE how many could relate? How good would it be if we all started being more honest? Showing our vulnerability? Admitting that the journey to motherhood is actually a path to self-discovery as we figure out who we are and what we want out of life all over again?
It’s okay to cancel a commitment.
It’s okay to not answer a call.
It’s okay to change your mind.
It’s okay to want to be alone.
It’s okay to take a day off.
It’s okay to do nothing.
It’s okay to speak up.
It’s okay to let your guard down.
Love yourself first and foremost. Love yourself with such abundance that you can’t lose yourself. If you lose yourself, everyone loses. Your family needs you. Most importantly, you need you!