Like many other mothers-to-be, I had an image of myself as a parent. I’d rub my ever-swelling belly, fast forwarding to a future where only smiles and patience existed; there were no cross words, and frustration simply wouldn’t exist in my household. I read blogs on creating a wonderful, enriching environment from birth, filled with sensory activities galore. I researched the best, and most nutritious, ways to wean and, even before my baby appeared, I knew exactly how I was going to raise him.
I’d often heard friends, and colleagues, talking about “mum guilt” but never truly thought it existed; surely if you were a good parent then there was nothing to feel guilty about? And, as we all do, I planned on being one of the good ones. Nothing, therefore, could have prepared me for the feelings I’ve experienced since having my son; the self-blame, the anxiety and the nagging sensation that other mothers out there are doing it all so much better than I am.
Having a child had not been an easy feat for my husband and I. Like one in six couples, in the UK, we’d experienced infertility. It took us so long to conceive that, by the time we finally did, I had accumulated four years worth of imaginings, dreams and plans, about the type of mother I was going to become; it was going to be simple, I was going to be perfect.
As wonderful as it was, I also found becoming a mum incredibly unnerving. I’d spent so long being an infertile; living each day to a schedule of drugs, injections, scans, procedures and grief, yet, finally, here I was living a life I’d struggled to believe I’d ever have. I suppose, in some ways, I felt like a bit of an imposter. I was scared. I felt unworthy and I was desperate to become the impeccable mama I’d promised my, unconceived, child I would be.
I, therefore, wasn’t surprised when I started making toys, setting up admirable, but very time consuming, activities, goodness, I even made my own low salt bread, daily, so that it was child-friendly. I was determined to do everything perfectly, and then some. I was piling on the pressure to live up to an ideal, which had been created before I’d even become pregnant, and I was becoming exhausted. My family kept trying to tell me to rest, relax whilst my son napped, and take some time out for me; that, as lovely as they were, my son didn’t need to experience all the “must do” activities I created. I refused to listen: In order to be the mother I felt I had to be, nothing short of perfection would do and attempting moderation was akin to failing.
I’m not sure exactly when the turning point came, but it crept up gradually and I, eventually, started to realise that I was human! Sam hit his toddler years and I discovered that I, definitely, wasn’t perfect but, like everyone else out there, have good days, mediocre days and bad days, and I learned that’s all they are; days.
The old me used to think I’d failed, on the bad days. That loving my son wasn’t enough to make me a good parent. I’d feel insecure, lack confidence in my abilities and cry during nap times because my miracle boy deserved better than me. I experienced shame, like I’d never before known, and all because I wasn’t living up to an image I had, unrealistically, created during four years of infertility.
I’m relieved I no longer, mostly, feel that way. I can breathe again, feel relaxed again, secure in the knowledge that I am a good mother and it really is just one day in a series of many. That like, so many of us out there, I’m actually doing an excellent job. The happy days outnumber the bad and I’m confident that my child is experiencing a jubilant childhood, even if he doesn’t encounter every creative idea I’ve ever come across on the world wide web. I know this and have, more importantly, really started to believe it.
I am discovering that I can be a wonderful mother, without being perfect.
So yes, I do sometimes lack patience, I have failings and question my parenting. But, I also have a lovely time with my son, we experience joy, we laugh lots and, shock horror, I’m confident that I do things right too. My son also knows that I love him. Deeply. Unconditionally. And despite what I went through to get him, I’m not beholden to the deals of desperation.
I might not be the mother I thought I would be, but, who is? And in reality, I’m doing a better job than she ever could; real life is far more rewarding, and challenging, than anything I could ever have imagined.