Have you ever wondered why there can’t be a middle-ground more often in life?
Some days, I am incredibly productive and energetic. I move from room to room, picking up things as I go. I clean every surface. I tick off admin jobs with enthusiasm. That energy level might even last for a week.
But then the following week (or day) I have a massive slump. I’ll be walking through the house with the stance of Kevin from Harry Enfield. I’ll look at all the tat as I pass and humph before dropping onto the sofa to achieve new heights of feeling sorry for myself.
I would much rather live in the middle of these two extremes. I expect consistent sleep is a necessary component. Ah well, never mind then.
Last week I was completely exhausted. I felt miserable about everything and if I’m honest, I just wanted to walk out of the front door and not come back. I think my husband and children probably wouldn’t have complained much if I had. I was pretty unpleasant to be around.
It started with a Sunday afternoon at home. In a house that needed tidying and cleaning, with children who were being demanding and a roast that needed cooking. I sat on the sofa, wishing I could forget it all with a cup of tea and a book. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do. And that was get some R&R before a new week began. But I couldn’t. A horrible feeling came over me; a feeling that I’ve not had many times since becoming a parent…
I felt completely and utterly trapped in a situation I wished I could get out of.
There. I said it. It’s a terrible feeling, more akin to fear rather than frustration. The voice in my head was almost incredulous, “I literally can’t get out of this… What was I thinking?!?!”
A couple of weeks prior I came across an article in The Guardian about mother’s who deeply and seriously regret having children. The sub-header read:
“Around the world, women are seeking an honest, open debate about what happens when you admit that motherhood isn’t everything you were told to expect.”
The article describes an Israeli sociologist’s study of a number of Israeli women who regretted becoming mothers. Honestly, I can’t relate fully to what these women feel. I don’t feel I could ever regret having my children. Ever. I am deeply grateful for them every day and do count it an honour and a privilege to have ended up with the job title of ‘mother’. Yet perhaps, for fear of seeming ungrateful, insensitive, or selfish, it can be hard to be brutally honest about the ups and downs we can feel as we dedicate our lives to raising children. And I don’t just mean having a bit of a moan-up about lack of sleep or bad behaviour. It’s something deeper than that.
I am probably going to seem like a fool for admitting this. But here’s what I didn’t fully understand about motherhood. And perhaps couldn’t have understood entirely until I experienced it.
I didn’t realise that it was mainly about sacrificing myself. And ALL of myself. Because actually, love is inherently linked to sacrifice. You cannot experience one without the other.
Think of the most loving thing anyone ever did for you. What was the cost to that person? Was it financial? Did it cost them in time? Energy?
Motherhood is not mainly about my personal fulfilment, or enjoyment. It is about sacrificing myself: mind and body, in ways I never fully comprehended.
This was fully realised at the end of a week when I felt at the end of myself, and decided to go bra shopping. For the love of God, why? I hear you cry! I think many women, whether they have had children or not, dread the traumatic experience that is a bra fitting.
I am a mum who has breastfed her children for… a while. I am coming to the end of nursing with my youngest and my bras were starting to feel pitifully half-empty. I went to M&S and just picked the size bra I thought I was, in the style I usually went for (but a non-nursing bra – hooray!). I went to the changing rooms and tried it on. To my horror, it appeared as if the flesh that used to reside on my chest had relocated to under my arms and this style of bra I’d always worn didn’t seem right anymore.
Maybe I needed some help… Cue inviting a person in to comment on my body. And she took on this role with gusto, I can tell you.
The bra-fitter happened to be free and I showed her the bra on and explained what I didn’t like – “um, this overhang from breastfeeding.”
Her response: “that’s not from breastfeeding.”
“Well, it wasn’t there before.” I answer, before moving swiftly on. “Is there another style that could work better?”
She measures me and it turns out I’m a completely different size to what I thought. I’m a size that I have NEVER BEEN BEFORE. I haven’t just gotten bigger whilst feeding then shrunk back to what I was. No, I’ve completely changed. I won’t go back. Not without a boob job anyway…
Disconcertingly, this correct size doesn’t hugely impact on the excess skin under my arms. I try on about 26 different bras. Gradually getting more demoralised as some look ok, but several look bad because not every style works for every woman. And I know women who have ample cleavage have difficulty also because of this fact. It didn’t help that after trying on one style, my assistant says:
“No, that’s no good is it, there’s just nothing there.” As she prods at the empty half of the cup. Hmm. I’m tempted to point out that she may be in the wrong line of work.
Anyway, I found some nice bras and made a quick exit. As I walked home I felt like crying. In my mind, I think I don’t care. I don’t care that my body has changed. I don’t believe that what is presented to us in the media is really the ideal. There isn’t one. Because everyone is different and that should be and is, okay. I know that my boobs have simply done their job. An incredible job of sustaining and nurturing. My body isn’t for the enjoyment of everyone else anyway, just one person who seems to appreciate it no matter what state it’s in. Happy days, I tell myself.
Yet, as is often the case, the knowledge I had in my head didn’t quite correlate with what I felt. I was essentially feeling the loss of what once was. I felt overwhelmed in that moment by what my body had been subjected to over the past four years. I still have a pain in my hip when I wake up some mornings. That pain first came on during pregnancy. I have given so much. Mothers give so much.
It is worth it, yes. But that knowledge doesn’t make the pain in my hip disappear. And that’s how we must live. That’s what our expectation should be of a loving relationship. That alongside the love, there is pain. There is sacrifice. The two come hand-in-hand.
You see, I knew that my life would change. I thought about losing sleep, about finishing work, about having a different daily routine, about having to wipe bottoms and clean up sick. I knew our holidays would be different and we couldn’t just go out as we pleased.
But what I didn’t know, was that feeling of being completely and utterly wrung dry by these small people. I didn’t know that some days I would feel crushed by the rejection and volatile emotions flung at me throughout the day.
I didn’t know that my body would feel beaten and abused, and not just from giving birth. I didn’t know that sometimes, I would feel the loss and the change in a raw and painful way.
But without the pain, I wouldn’t experience wonderful things. Wonderful little people.
Miraculously, it ends up being a truly satisfying way to live. The more you give of yourself, the more you gain. The deepest, richest experience of love is what you come to know. The true satisfaction of giving without getting half as much back. An experience that isn’t exclusive to parenting.
The feeling of discontent doesn’t have to define you. It is just a feeling that comes and goes. I could feel angry, but am not necessarily defined as an ‘angry’ person. I could feel worried, but don’t have to define myself as an ‘anxious’ person.
In her report, the sociologist argues, “that while motherhood “may be a font of personal fulfillment, pleasure, love, pride, contentment and joy”, it “may simultaneously be a realm of distress, helplessness, frustration, hostility and disappointment.””
Do you recognise all of those feelings? I do. They all come and go, floating through our days. The good should be enjoyed, and the bad should be acknowledged and shared with someone you trust.
At the BritMums Live conference I went to at the weekend we had to add a thought to the Kindness Tree on the Clangers stand. This is mine:
So, allow us to feel discontent with motherhood. Listen without judgment. Because it’s a fleeting feeling and doesn’t mean we are discontented mothers. We are likely to be better mother’s if you allow us to express it so we can let it go and move on with our day.