Someone once asked me what things surprised me about motherhood. I guess it all comes down to expectations. What we are fed by those around us; the things other people imply about our mothering skills and our own mental checklist of expectations. It all begins before conception. Those of us wishing to having children expect that we will fall pregnant naturally. For some, like me, it’s just as simple as that. For others, it’s injections, loss, surgery, procedures, papers and differing genes. Once we are pregnant or have an adoption pending, we expect to love them the minute their little heartbeat bubbles in an ultrasound or the moment we see their picture. We expect an instant bond when their skin touches ours. We expect that we would give up our life for their needs. That we’ll sacrifice the treat rather than save it for ourselves once they’re in bed. We expect, as we are told, that we won’t gag at the sight of their vomit. Or that we’ll eat their soggy leftovers. We expect to treasure every second that we can sit on the floor and play or every story we’ll snuggle up and read. Because everyone feels that, right? Isn’t that what is plastered over social media?
It’s not like we’re oblivious to the never-ending cycles of the washing machine. Or the nights spent rocking and pacing a bedroom floor. Or the milk stains, the tears and the sheer exhaustion. We all know about that. But we welcome it with open arms because of the babes we get to hold.
But somewhere along the line, there are things that do catch us off guard. And sometimes, it’s the things we least expect!
I was convinced I’d make one of the best mothers out there. (No, I’m not joking!)
I babysat children without another adult present from the age of 10. I would hold them, bath them, feed them and change them. (I showed an expectant mother how to bath a baby before I was a teen!) I came home to do my homework with my hands smelling of bum cream and baby soap. I was told I’d make a brilliant mother.
I taught Sunday school, led youth groups and then studied Early Childhood Development and became a preschool teacher. I had all the experience one could literally hope for before becoming a mom.
But, with a baby in my arms and milk flowing into my bed, I was rudely awakened to things I didn’t see coming.
I have always been a confident and outgoing person. To my shame, I scorned people who went onto anti-depressants unless they were clinically depressed because I thought they were prescribed too easily. Suddenly I understood what people meant when they talked about “the pit.” I couldn’t understand suicides. Suddenly I had visions of kitchen knives in my thighs and accelerating my car into a tree. I walked around numb. I shouted at God. I shut my children behind closed doors. I put them down when they screamed because I was afraid I’d hurt them in desperation. I shut the world out and for the first time in my life, kept secret how I really was.
Fear of Illness
I am terrified of my children being ill. Not because I feel sorry for them. (Shock and horror!) Because I can’t handle the thought of staying away from others while they are contagious. Because I am scared that they won’t keep their germs to themselves because they put every wretched toy in their mouth and want to kiss me on the lips at bedtime. AND, I always hated vomiting. But now I fear it. There is no other word to describe it. I am petrified of my children throwing up. I’m really not exaggerating when I say that it terrifies the life out of me. It’s a completely irrational fear but I am really, really terrified. I cried when my husband left me alone with my sick child. In those moments, I don’t think of how sorry I feel for her. I actually want to walk away and not come back until she’s better. My mom is the one who holds my daughter when she’s sick, not me. And that really makes me feel awful. Like there’s something wrong with me.
I’ve always had OCD “symptoms” from childhood. But by the time I hit adulthood, I had it under control. I could tell myself how ridiculous I was being. I would regularly give myself pep talks. And teaching preschoolers really helped me to relax. I had no choice! But when my first daughter was born, it came back with a vengeance! I didn’t put her on the floor until she was probably able to sit – she would always lie on a doughnut and woe betide the person who used the wrong side! If her clothes or blankets dropped on the floor or carpet, I would wash them. I could only use certain parts of the towel to dry certain body parts. I never lay her on the bathroom mat even before a bath. I washed her toys if they touched the floor. In the beginning, I didn’t let her crawl on dirty floors. If any of these things happened, I would panic, trying to figure out how I could clean things and clean her! It was exhausting. It was awful! When I had my second, I was relieved to see how I had relaxed. I also started to realise how ridiculous I must have seemed to others.
I thought I’d be self-sacrificial. I thought I’d want to give my children everything. I thought I wouldn’t be selfish with my time. I thought I’d want to share my chocolate with them. I thought I would hold them and kiss them when they were sick. I thought I would happily give my right arm for them. But, I’m still the same, old sinful human being I was before. Having children has just made me more acutely aware of my selfishness. I hide my chocolate. I want time alone ALL.THE.TIME! I don’t kiss them on their face when they’re sick. I don’t feel as sorry for them as I should when they’re ill – I’m more worried about getting sick myself. Sometimes a clean house is more important to me than happy children. I am quite horrified with how I push my agenda to their detriment.
Did I know I had anger issues? Not before children. Looking back, I see the signs. The odd outburst at school when I was teaching. I just thought I was strict. And I was determined to be the same with my children. But I never, ever expected to see red the way I do now. I never expected to fly into an uncontrollable rage. I never expected to lose my cool the way I do. And postnatal anger…it’s a thing! I have thrown things. I have screamed. I have scratched the bed. It’s been scary at times. Anger was one of the main ways my postnatal depression manifested. The medication gave me a chance to breathe. To think. To calm down before I hit breaking point.
I have never struggled with self-doubt. I have always been confident. Obnoxious. Arrogant, even, in what I believed. Motherhood has made me a confused mess inside. I never expected to doubt everything and I mean everything I say and do. I am sometimes paralysed when it comes to the crunch and I have to discipline my children, come up with a consequence, choose between hanging up the washing or picking them up or whether to say yes or no. I hear the voices of a hundred moms in my head all giving conflicting advice. And I punish myself with whatever advice I eventually end up following because it still feels wrong. I am so unsure of myself so often that I think my children are getting really mixed messages.
Motherhood has been a lot harder than I anticipated. And sometimes, I wonder how different it would have looked if I had been on antidepressants sooner. Or if my babies didn’t have colic. Or if I had given birth naturally.
Motherhood is a refining fire. Maybe I needed to be stripped of arrogance in order to be built up into a new, stronger and better mother. Here’s hoping!Tags: advice, anger, child, children, depression, discipline, doubt, illness, kids, mom, mommy, mommyhood, mother, motherhood, mummy, OCD, parenthood, parenting, post natal depression, raising children, selfishness