By 

The Selfish Mother


This could be a post about going on a first long distance plane travel with a tantrumy 3 year-old but why would I want to give you acid reflux and nightmares? I’m not gonna do that to you. You’ve all been there and if you haven’t, DON’T. Sit back, relax and “enjoy” your flight knowing it won’t last longer than three hours. Keep doing it, keep covering the countries around you and don’t venture out any further. I didn’t take my own advice and recently got on that plane with an 8:00 hour journey in front of me. Before that joyous experience even started,  I tried to get my son to sit down, way ahead of departure because the flight attendant insisted he needed to be strapped in to “listen” to the flight safety information. Insert big lols here, both for the sitting down part and the safety info. Is this the bit where you’re gonna tell us to fit our own masks first before helping others? Yes yes, we get it, it’s about not actually dying before being able to put the damned mask on the kid, but still. What mother would instinctively do this? Aren’t we hard wired to put them first at all times?

Yes and no. And this is a post about that.

You know how it goes. From the minute you get home from the hospital, an emotional hotpot of stitches, blood clots, stinging eyes, melting brain, thumping headaches and inflated breasts, that little human’s every move, need, piercing cry and kitten whisper is your sole guiding light. Your nipples crack, the tears roll down, the coffee gets cold, the pillow never ever feels your head long enough to get warm, you survive on burnt toast with congealed butter and shower with one foot out of the bathtub, but whereas before tiny human you would have given this entire scenario a massive middle finger, right now it doesn’t even register. You are his life support, all limbs like cables, fitted with supersonic hearing and fluid containers that dispense at the feeblest of alarms. And then this stage passes and months have rolled on and you can now have a shower and eat a piece of toast if he doesn’t steal it off your hand after not eating a single morsel of the dinner you prepared, but little has really changed. You allow yourself the acknowledgement that exhaustion is an evil bitch but you push on. His needs again. You’re a mother. There is food to be prepared, toys he never plays with to be picked up, stories to be read, new toys he never plays with to be picked up again, prepared food he never eats to be wiped off the floor, tantrums to be appeased with snacks because all the tricks in the book don’t work on your little guy, strangers to be ignored as he screams down a supermarket aisle, swings to be pushed under the pouring rain, way too many hours of screen time to be watched, starting at 5:00 am after an entire night of sleep in installments, missed milestones to not get paranoid about, tickets to his favourite kids show to be binned as you arrive at the venue because he suddenly hates it, no sleep, no sleep, no sleep EVER, and insurmountable guilt to be felt at every step of the way. But it doesn’t even register, does it? You can cover the cracks with under eye concealer and have the odd cry when no one is looking. It’s ok.

Until it isn’t. Until in your mission to mother like no one has ever mothered before, you carry on like a winding, hollow action figure with fictitious superpowers. Until one day, after months of feeling rubbish but tending to every cry and kitten whisper, your child just wants to go to daddy and you hide in the bedroom enveloped in thoughts of failure, absolutely positive that he doesn’t love you because you screamed at him three times that week and the week before and the week before that too. And he’s only 1 and a half but what does that matter? He has you all figured out. He knows how inadequate you are. You know how inadequate you are. You have mirrors in your bathroom and in every corner of your brain.

Then the thoughts grow big, ugly and scary, like the lions in his bedtime stories; and they prey on you, sneaking up on you as your hands rub a deflated postnatal stomach and a body you no longer recognise in the shower, gnawing at your parental ability when you hear that by now he should have started to sleep through the night and that your routine is surely to blame, clawing at your capacity to cope when the suggestion to ‘just go do your nails or have a nap and it will feel better’ sounds irrelevant and superficial in the face of your gigantic demons, roaring mockingly as you make mistakes at work and get back home to serve your kid white pasta and tinned corn because you simply cannot train him to want to swallow anything else anymore, despite months of laborious weaning with everything organic under the sun, nudging you in contempt at your failure to potty train a 3 and a half year-old “who will soon be going to school, you know”, hiding behind the laundry basket and the house mess that you never seem to get under control, and eating you alive when you feel like all you want to do is run away and that you probably never should have become a parent, with all the lovely, cutting guilt that weighty thought carries with it.

Through this journey you have been on survival mode because that’s what you do as a parent in order to be there for your kids at all times. You never check out, you are present, you are there. But the funny thing is that’s why you’re not. You cannot be there for them if you’re not there to begin with. Barren grounds don’t grow seeds and kids pick up on that really fast. When my son, who has a speech delay, comes to me out of nowhere and says “happy mummy? happy?” in a willing, hopeful, anxious way, that hits home faster than anything else.

Exhausted, depleted, eroded and unassisted mothers cannot nourish and sustain their children physically or mentally; and they cannot be made to feel that this is a magical journey where things fall into place despite small bumps in the road and a bit of “baby blues”, a term I love to hate because its condescending softness manages to completely take away the power and the rawness from what real mental health struggles can do to a new or expectant mother. They cannot be fed the generalised notion that this affects mums mostly in the first year and everything’s sort of peachy afterwards. Unless you plan to stop parenting once your child turns one and your challenges magically melt away, it doesn’t. Parenting is a never ending succession of stages and you’d be hard pressed to not lose your shit past year one. One testing thing ends another begins, sandwiched between the breathtaking moments that make parenting a lifeline too. So whatever it takes to pull mothers from this vicious cycle, please let’s have it. Let’s be selfish mothers. Let’s ask for help, let’s acknowledge the lions not in fear but in recognition of them so we can tame them. Let’s have nail days, massage days, but crucially, let’s have proper mental health support, awareness and information given out to every mother even before their babies are born. I sought help after a long long time. I’ll be honest, I haven’t fully followed up on the advice given but am on the way to doing it. I can tell you I was afraid to even tell my GP what was going on for fear of judgement. How many mothers feel that way and go undiagnosed and untreated? No one should be soldiering through these moments, whether the lions are cubs or full blown beasts. It’s about time we started fitting our own masks first so we can stop being cardboard cutout versions of ourselves and truly be there for us and our families.

For more information and advice, please check these organisations:

www.pandasfoundation.org.uk

www.mind.org

www.ocduk.org

#maternalmhmatters

If you love what you read here on Mind The Mummy, please nominate me for the Brilliance in Blogging awards in any of these categories 🙂

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Lucy At Home

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About me

Full-time working mother to one Speedy Gonzales of a little boy trying to keep her sanity, pay check and clean hair. On most days.

15 Comments

MtM
May 22, 2017

Thank you so much, Lucy! I am honoured to have been featured but mostly I am so happy this post is finding so many parents in a similar situation and giving them the encouragement to reach out and get help. Soldiering on is not a badge of honour. xx

Lucy At Home
May 22, 2017

This is an incredible piece of writing. You capture the fears and the resilience and the determination and the relentlessness of it all so well.

Being a parent is hard - once that little one has been created, you are never not-a-parent again. I'm so glad that you've been able to ask for help, and I'm sure this post will be a great encouragement to other parents feeling overwhelmed by this too. Congratulations on being featured on #blogcrush

MtM
May 21, 2017

I so hear you, Segilola. There's no shame in asking for help. Everyone gains from it, mum, dad and baby alike xx

Segilola Salami
May 19, 2017

Wonderful post and I know that a lot of moms can relate. I think my exhaustion has lasted so long I don't think guilt has had time to creep into my thoughts yet. One thing I would say is we moms need to learn to ask for help more often (I think I should give that advice to myself every morning) even if it is to have a 1 hour shower where we wash our hair undisturbed

Cheers

Segilola Salami
#blogcrush

Wendy
May 17, 2017

This post is everything. I have felt all the emotions you describe, that guilt is just unbearable at times and I definitely put off speaking to health professionals about my mental health for too long as I was scared of being judged. I love this post, you're amazing xx #BlogCrush

MtM
May 14, 2017

Thank you! And you have added a crucial point to the discussion and that is that despite women mothering for thousands of years life has changed and so have our challenges. That is central to our own perception and assessment of what's ok and what is just too much. X

Rhyming with Wine
May 14, 2017

This is such an incredibly powerful piece! Why do we feel that we need to keep on battling the demons for fear of judgement or being considered a failure? You have absolutely hit the nail on the head with this. We need better mental health support and I think that the point you make about more information to prepare us before baby arrives is critical! All that I was told was "you might feel a bit tearful 3 days after the birth but it's just baby blues and you'll be fine." Nothing can prepare us for the enormity of parenthood, but more can be done to give us the tools to cope with it better. I know that people have been doing it for all eternity, but our lifestyles are not what they were, and we no longer have the family unit on the doorstep in most cases to support and guide us. I have so much love and respect for this post. Thanks for sharing it with #DreamTeam x

MtM
May 12, 2017

Thank you Prabs! You make me blush :) I hear you on the baby blues but I meant it more when I hear it referred to as a blanket term to describe all maternal mental health struggles irrespective of the scope and seriousness. I was initially and very quickly (10 minutes at the GP) diagnosed as having PND and given anti-depressants but didn't take them because the diagnosis didn't sit well with me. I didn't feel like I was losing the plot but felt very challenged and in need of a different kind of support which of course I never sought because I was too busy focusing on my son. I was never followed up on by the GP, by the way, and the issues have never really gone away, they just faded into the background and rear their ugly heads periodically which is why I am now seeking to address them afresh. xx

absolutely prabulous
May 12, 2017

My God. What an INCREDIBLE 'stand out' well written post. There are entire sentences I wanted to eat they were so good, every word perfection. Gosh we don't stop parenting when they're one do we and as the mother of 3 the eldest of whom is about to turn 13, I have lost my shit as you say many many times. I must say baby blues is a thing though. But it's wholly unconnected to PND. I had baby blues with my first (about 10 days I think it was) but PND (unofficially diagnosed by moi) on and off throughout the first year with my second. Bizarrely nothing with my third child but I think I kind of knew what to look out for if that doesn't sound patronising. Loved this so much am featuring it the next edition of Blog Stars #dreamteam

Pen
May 11, 2017

Yes! We do need better mental health support. We can be kind to ourselves but it is really hard not to feel guilty when we are. Pen x #brillblogposts

MtM
May 11, 2017

Thank you Kate, I am so happy it resonated. If only more mothers could be given proper head warning there would be a lot less pressure! xxx

kate
May 11, 2017

great piece, could identify with a lot of what you said and completely agree with your take on the 'baby blues'. so much pressure to be a good parent coming at us from every angle makes it difficult to admit when things are tough. thanks for writing this

justsayingmum
May 9, 2017

What a powerfully written emotive post. Well done for being so so brave. To be strong enough to ask for help is such a huge thing and if the post can just help another mother ask for help then this is just fantastic - we need to talk more and we need to be more honest - more selfish, as you say x #DreamTeam

MtM
May 8, 2017

Thank you so much Vicki. It's truly frightening and very urgent that the approach to mental health changes. xxx

Honest Mum
May 6, 2017

A beautifully written, powerful piece that will help many. Your words resonated with me when it came my first born, it's so utterly frightening to reach out for help and support but the more mental health is naturalised, the easier it will be to do so, to say when we're not OK. Thank you for this xx

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