When I reflect on the birth of my first baby, and those early months, I know - if I'm being honest with myself - that I had one foot out the door.
I don't mean literally, or that I ever considered leaving. It might be more true to say that I still had a foot in my old life. It wasn't until the birth of my second baby that I jumped in with both feet and embraced this new identity: mother.
I think the younger version of me was a bit misogynistic to be honest. Not because I was an essentially bad or hateful person, but because I was living in a misogynistic society, and I couldn't escape being shaped by that to some extent. I was living in a world that despised women, even as it held the door for them. It despised mothers even more, after it had done gushing over their bump and their brand new infant, and even as it recited periodically how "amazing" mothers are, how undervalued, how heroic... It's all lip service. I see and experience, in real time, all the time, how hollow these assertions often are.
I didn't want to be "one of those women". I didn't want to be one of those women who acted as if they were the first person to pop out a baby. Or, who seemed to think everyone else is as crazy about their baby as they are. Or who had no life apart from their baby, whose baby was their whole world.
I wanted to get up, dust myself off, and carry on much as I had before. The strain of doing that was really quite something, but I was determined.
I was twenty-two. None of my friends were even thinking about having children. I was on a completely different life stage to them. It was isolating and I hated that. Becoming a mother can be lonely at the best of times.
Something people don't tell you (or at least, they didn't tell me): you don't always love your newborn baby straight away. Everybody is different, and sometimes it can take a while for those feelings to develop. I was one of those people. I'm sure that was part of it. Maybe if I'd been one of the lucky ones, if I'd been swept away by a tidal wave of love the first time that baby was placed in my arms... well, then maybe I'd have embraced this new chapter enthusiastically. Who knows?
I suspect not, though. I support new mothers as part of my job, and many of them are stepping into motherhood for the first time. I have realised that I was far from being alone, after all. Lots of women have similar feelings.
Another thing I've realised: when you become a mother for the first time, you experience the death of your old Self. The difficulty I experienced in grappling with this new version of me, that was a kind of Grief. I think it might have helped to have known that at the time. That even as the love for my baby blossomed, it was normal for me to have some regret and sadness for the life I was leaving behind. A life of spontaneity and a flat(ter) abdomen, where it didn't feel like I was moving house when I was leaving the house. So much cash and so much time that I took for granted! Friends I could relate to, and who could relate to me. It's normal to miss those things, but of course I felt guilty about it, as if it was an indicator of how much I loved (or didn't love) my baby.
I've written before about the significant changes that pregnancy and birth each bring:
And underneath it all, we are pickled in hormones and our brains undergo radical restructuring.
It's all change, and that belly is just the jiggly tip of a huge iceberg. That iceberg represents a gauntlet of human emotion and experience. It also represents transformation - all the way down to the cellular level, and all the way up to the neurological.
Here is a memory I find slightly unbelieveable: I left my first baby when he was eleven days old, just for a day, so that I could to go to a football match.
I didn't even like football. I'd never been to a match before, and I've never been since. I was asserting to myself that I could still do these things, that a baby didn't signal the end of all kinds of opportunities.
A few short years later, when I finally did jump in to motherhood with both feet, I'd look back on that day-trip and not recognise myself. I wouldn't leave my second child for a day for many months, and even then it was very difficult. I know, now, that I had much healthier attachment with her. By this time, I knew then that the death of self wasn't wholly permanent; that the parts that mattered would resurface in good time. That I didn't need to be afraid of it. It wasn't going to literally kill me. It was okay to see my babies as my whole world, because they were. At least, for a little while. This isn't bad or wrong - it can be beautiful.
I had also grown up a bit. I'd become less selfish and more resilient. I'd developed a healthy respect women, for mothers. I didn't need to shrink from this identity, because I'd learned to truly respect and celebrate it.
The first time a little person emerged from me, I broke apart, in all senses of the word, and it took a long time to pull myself together. I think it took Time, and another little person eventually giving me the opportunity to be one of those women... and be proud of it. Her birth was also my own re-birth; coming full circle to the place I was always supposed to be, and re-tread those steps with joy and enthusiasm, less dogged by guilt and regret.
Friendships, libido, and last minute plans all came back around in the end. In the moment, the endless march of wiping and soothing and feeding and waking and washing.... feels all-consuming and neverending, but it isn't. You are still in there. I promise.
Thank you for reading!
Let me know if you can relate.
I teach pregnancy classes and offer birth support.