Saturday October 1st 2022

Moonlight and Roses? When Being a Mother Isn’t.

For some women, having a child throws them into a seemingly endless tailspin for which they’re sadly unprepared.

A friend spoke to me several months ago about how she battled to come to terms with having a child.

“You too?” I said. She burst into tears.

We were talking about it because she thought that I was wise enough to give her sage advice, since I’d already given birth and was about to have another. She imagined that because I had okay hair, a smile and a contented pre-schooler, everything would work out in the end.

What she wanted was to know when this feeling would go away. This sense of, in turn, doom and gloom. This gut-twisting guilt that she should be bonding, grateful, in love, entertained. Coping.

“It gets better,” I soothed. Then told her my own anecdotes, hoping they’d allay her fears and put that bloody guilt to rest. You know, the tales we all tell new moms : how we imagined they’d never sleep through; the ginormous vomit episode; the exploding nappies; the screaming-toddler-in-shop incident.

We tell these stories because we’re privileged to have experienced and survived them. We know that many would give their eye teeth just to experience a glimpse of them. We’re also grateful that they’re over – or nearing their end – and want other moms to know that This Too Shall Pass.

Problem is, now is what counts when you have a baby. Not tomorrow or even 4pm today. Now – this minute. The middle of the night when nobody else cares that you haven’t had a single solid hour’s sleep while you can hear your husband snoring. Or during supper, when you’ve told everyone to ‘go ahead’ while you try to jiggle your jittery newborn into slumber and your stomach’s screaming for the stew.

It does get better and I knew this. My friend didn’t, but because I did, I told her so. She smiled and thanked me. And then, I had my second child. And that’s when I knew that my words were as hollow as politics, even though she was grateful that I cared.

I knew, then, that she walked away from our conversation feeling a tad better – for a few hours maybe. But what she was walking towards was the same feeling  from which she had come and which hardly anyone talks about.

I’m no expert on post-natal depression and this isn’t about that, anyway. I have no idea if people like my friend and I are clinically depressed or just not handling stuff for whatever reason. What I do know is that we’re not alone. We can’t be. If we were, we’d be pathetic. Well, labelled as such, I imagine. I know that many probably already think that we are.

But, when you hardly have time to brush your teeth, outside opinion holds precious little water. Especially early in the morning, in the dark, when you’re going to pieces because all you wanted was just Ten Minutes of sleep. And you’re bargaining with a baby to get it – you’re assuming, perhaps, that he’s a genius; that he might just understand and close his little eyes. But he doesn’t.

And so, you get up, change a nappy, smile and make funny faces, pretend it’s okay, put him under the play gym so that you can go to the loo, willing him to be happy for the designated three minutes you have.

I was not prepared for this when I had my second child. Everybody said it would be a breeze this time around. It’s not. It’s hell. I have been falling apart for months and still, the world turns and still, I know that I should be grateful for health and support and a wonderful baby and I KNOW all this.

What I didn’t know, and which I’d tell my friend now, is that it really is okay to feel this way. To feel trapped, guilty, terrified, resentful and angry with yourself.

That you don’t have to wear the halo or feel the glow or cope swimmingly with car seats, nappy bags and visits to friends. That it’s okay to be the odd one out in any circle; to be the one whose baby doesn’t sleep in the pram; to feel abject terror at the thought of having to face yet another day without knowing what it’s going to bring; to be less diplomatic and tactful; to be a social outcast; to wish for two glasses of wine when you’re breastfeeding; to wonder if what you did/thought/said/felt/ate/drank during pregnancy is the reason your baby doesn’t lie contentedly staring at people the way others do.

It’s also okay to appear to be the only person in the world who isn’t basking in this, the ‘most natural process in the world’ – motherhood.

What’s not okay is to hate yourself because of it. To feel that you’ve failed your friends for morphing into a hermit, to worry your relationship into failure because you haven’t said two adult-friendly words to your partner for…well, ever, or to put on a brave face just to make the world normal again.

People like my friend and I might lose a hell of a lot over the next few months, because the most we can do right now is get up, eat sometimes, shower when we can and maybe answer an email or two.

We WANT to be more, do more, appear to be coping more. We want to be part of the crowd, fit in, lose the baby weight, breeze about in our cars, find a routine for our babies (and ourselves). But if we can’t, we can’t. For now.

I’m working again, which cranks up the pressure to insane levels, but the fact that I can sit here and finish this blog means that I’m alive. I’m kicking. And if I am, you will.

Millions of women do this job and don’t air their dirty mothering laundry in public. Kudos to them. I wish I was one of you – but I’m not.

So this is for the rest of you. The silent voices who need to know that although they have never felt as alone as they do now – they’re not.

Somebody needed to write about it.

15 Comments for “Moonlight and Roses? When Being a Mother Isn’t.”

  • Lauren says:

    Thank you a million times over for writing this. My son is 10 weeks old and he still won’t breast-feed, just screams and screams. Just everything, UGH, and I’m working again too. Just, thank you. It makes me feel a lot better to read this.

    • deborah says:

      If new baby is screaming and wont breast feed could also be a sign of reflux my baby did the same only when we changed to formula and gaviscon sachets in her bottles did the screaming stop!

    • Beth says:

      Hugs to you Lauren. I fully understand how you are feeling – and I mean that sincerely. The working bit adds a bit of insanity to the mix. As Deborah says, one could look into the physiological causes of the screaming, but there are experts who also say that this is purely neurological : they are ‘awakening’ and need to ‘vent’ because of the sheer terror of simply being alive. Please do send me your email address and I’ll send you an e-copy of my breastfeeding book, should you want to read it (no pressure : there is already WAY too much pressure 🙂 ).

  • Judilie Liebenberg says:

    thank you Beth for writing this… it takes a lot of guts! And yes it helps me to know Im not alone!! Just to have a wee is awesome!! when Daryl falls asleep at night and I know he is going to be snoring soon and here I am winding, feeding changing nappies, not knowing when or if I will sleep tonight it realy gets hard to stay happy or positve… its like… CAN I PLEASE GET SOME SLEEP TOOO!!! why can you sleep and I must sit here alone? grrr…

    • Beth says:

      Thanks Judilie – yes, it’s those night-time moments with the snoring that are the most lonely! xxx

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  • Marilyn says:

    Great piece, Beth. When my second son was eight weeks old I thought I had turned into a giant breast. Just that. No more. I truly believed my life had ended and I was just a squelching, non-ending pink giant fleshy nothing. But it does end – so for all of you suffering out there, hang in. Soon you will be attending his graduation and wonder why you nearly lost your mind.

  • Shona Marais says:

    Hey Beth, great piece! I know those feelings so well and Ryan is almost 3 and i still have these problems but like you say, you just gotta go from day to day and be the best you you can be and keep on keeping on! It will change and it will get better, i know this and hang on to this. We are also very lessed to have such great 1st borns, (Sam and Cadi are so alike), and they help us realise its not us, its just who our little men are! Love and Hugs xxx

  • Traci says:

    It was a relief to read this. Sometimes I feel broken-hearted, or plain broken, because I love my dog more than my beautiful new baby boy. And though I feel so blessed and grateful that he came into my life nine weeks ago, I’m wondering when I will love him as much. And I can’t tell anyone this terrible secret.

  • Beth says:

    Hi Traci. It’s so okay to feel how you feel, especially when others appear to have ‘easier’ babies and you’re also dealing with the guilt of feeling the way you do.
    It DOES get easier. That doesn’t help at the time – trust me, I know this – but it really does. For some, it’s when their babies become a little more mobile; for others, it’s when they become more comfortable in their own skins (often between six and 12 months, sometimes later, sometimes earlier). Or it might be that one day, he/she just seems…happier. More content. And able to be by him or herself for even just a few minutes while you brush your teeth. You will love that day. And it will come.

  • Zandi says:

    Sho! Wow. I’m 25 and I had to come back and complete my honours degree a month after baby was born…so I didn’t even get the 3-months most women get as maternity leave. I resent the baby’s father and myself even more for allowing the pregnancy to happen when I was still in school and jobless. I look into his eyes and I don’t know how long I lived without him, but at times (like now) I’m so tired and can’t help wondering whether my life could have been better without him. Like he added a layer of complication to my previously, deliberately uncomplicated life. Nothing is or feels the same, it’s like I was got hit by a bus, got thrown into amnesia and have to rediscover again who I am.

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