Throughout my first pregnancy I spent a lot of time imagining the sort of mother I’d be. I guess we all do. But there I was with my bulging belly, tracing those first faint stretch marks with a mixture of despair and excitement, and dreaming.
I thought I’d be the laid-back, barefoot mama who didn’t bat an eyelid when the murky paint water got knocked over. I thought I’d spend afternoons lazing on the grass with babe in arms. I thought once my son was in bed at night, my husband and I would throw impromptu dinners for our closest friends. Hearty bowls of thick tomato risotto, with glasses of Rioja dangling from exhausted fingertips.
And yet, somehow it never worked out that way.
Those friends I had imagined celebrating life with faded into mere memories within months. Their enthusiasm over my newborn didn’t match mine and they traded in my friendship for new folk with all the free-time in the world; people who didn’t smell of baby vomit and talcum powder. I am a barefoot mama, but barefoot or not, I’m loathe to admit that 3 boys and paint, actual paint, is more than my stress levels can take.
The food I cook is getting simpler. My spice rack is dusty and neglected, causing a spike in my blood pressure whenever I think about just how old some of those spices are. Fennel seeds, Turmeric, Nigella seeds…did I once have a life where those little glass jars were important to me?
And it’s lonely sometimes. Why does no one tell you that? Why does no one tell you that some of your oldest friends will turn a blind eye to your post-baby blues and instead just shrug them off with an old cliché?
There are times when I get bitter. A friend starts her family and I support her. I love and cherish her, and make sure she knows I’ll be there when the days get a little long. I find myself thinking, why do I do this? No one did this for me. Even my health visitors failed to give me all the support I needed to breastfeed. I was given leaflet after sodding leaflet, but not one person said, here, let me show you. But I know why I do it. I do it because they’re real friends and I don’t want them to feel the way I did. I don’t want them to cry themselves to sleep because motherhood is just sometimes so overwhelming.
And sometimes I wonder how I made it this far, with the lack of support and the loss of friends and the dawning realisation that, when you are responsible for small beings that you love more than you could ever imagine, this world is a really scary place.
I look in the mirror and I no longer recognise myself. I glance down at my belly, soft and dimpled, the milky white love-handles. And I sigh, the longest, deepest sigh. And it’s okay. Because I am a mother. It’s okay that I’m not the person I used to be, because I’m better than that now. I am more than that.
I learned how to be selfless, to give myself to another so wholly and completely. I learned what love is; that true, unconditional force that consumes you to the very core. I mastered a trust in my body, to nurture and birth new life. I surrendered to gut instinct, following what felt natural to me, even when others told me that co-sleeping was wrong, or home education was ‘borderline abuse’.
I am so much more than I ever was.
I am a mother.