Motherhood doesn’t come naturally to me. We used to have show rabbits (geeky, and what) and I was a steward. I had one job. Get the rabbits from their cages and hold them on a table while the judges did their thing. I. Was. Terrible. Most times you’d see me chasing some rogue bunny who had escaped my grips and had subsequently taken a nose dive off the table in a bid for sweet freedom. After one particularly painful show, I hung up my embroidered white stewards coat and we got a cat. The struggle he put up. You’d think I was torturing him, pulling out his nails one by one and forcing him to watch back to back episodes of Bret Michaels Rock of Love. I’d spend hours making my blankets look like a fort to lure him in for a snuggle. Needless to say, it was never a dream of mine to get married and have kids.
My boyfriend and I have been together since we were teenagers. After 13 years, we had just purchased our first home when I peed on the stick and discovered I was pregnant, a mere 2 weeks after moving in. I’ve always been pro-choice, however, when I saw the heart beat at the scan, I knew termination wasn’t something I’d survive. To say this nearly killed our relationship is an understatement. My boyfriend (understandably) couldn’t get how someone who didn’t want kids could suddenly want one. For me, it wasn’t that I had changed my mind about babies, it was that the alternative was no longer an option. It wasn’t until a few weeks later when a Dr called me to tell me it probably wouldn’t be a viable pregnancy that I really understood that I wanted the baby and I was prepared to do it solo if I had to. Everything happens as and when it should, and my boyfriend now has a Robin to his Batman. The bond they share is magic and I love watching him grow as a dad and a partner.
Luke was prem and due to complications after an awful birth, we were rushed to NICU where we stayed for nearly 2 weeks. NICU was amazing. It gently eased me into motherhood. I had a lactation consultant who helped me with breastfeeding (which we never got in the end but that’s another story). I got to sleep in a quiet room and a nurse would wake me throughout the night to hook up to the pumps and try feeds. My washing was done and people constantly came in with chocolate and other yummy food. It was great. For 3 months afterwards, Luke just slept. It was awesome! He slept all day and he slept all night. He never cried and he drunk expressed milk like it was going out of fashion before going back to sleep for a few more hours. I was on top of the world. I was nailing this!!
Then, one wintery day, it all changed. Suddenly my sleepy, snuggly and snuffly baby was awake. And he would. Not. Sleep. He didn’t sleep at night. He didn’t sleep during the day. We’d drive for hours over earthquake damaged streets just to get him to close his little eyes. One night I had to pull the car over and stand on the side of the road, heaving sobs wracking my body while my baby lay awake in his capsule, wondering what the hell was going on. I was exhausted. Not just tired. Physically, emotionally, exhausted. Broken. My relationship was suffering. I was withdrawing and I didn’t even realise it.
I had been prescribed antidepressants for anxiety and depression prior to getting knocked up but had taken myself off them when Luke was a couple of weeks old. I can’t remember exactly why. Maybe I didn’t think I needed them anymore. Maybe I didn’t WANT to need them anymore. Probably because I was too exhausted to go back to the Dr to get my repeat. Mum knew. She point blank asked me if I was still taking my antidepressants after noticing my unusual flat and quiet demeanor. For a while, I was so scared that I was doing things wrong and essentially ruining this tiny human that I stopped doing anything. I was quite literally frozen with fear. She packed us up, took me to the Dr and got me back on the medication I should never have come off.
There’s one question though that would send me into a cold sweat. Anyone we’d bump into while out, be it a friend, a colleague, an acquaintance or complete stranger would ask the same question. I’d sense them gearing up. No please, don’t. Please don’t ask. I’d start to panic and plan my escape. Here it comes…”Don’t you just LOVE being a parent?!”
No! I don’t! But can I admit it without being judged from hell to high water. No. Am I a terrible person because of this? No. Am I alone? No. Do I love my child? More than you know.
I love my son with all my heart and more. I love him more than cat videos and chocolate ice cream. I would literally die for my son. The thought of anything hurting him in life tears me up. I want to live until the end so I can continue to watch over him. But I don’t enjoy being a mother. I cherish the time we spend together. I adore the snuggles we have, curled up on the love seat in his room, reading a book. My heart soars when I sit back and watch him gently coax the cat over, sitting quietly while it curls its tail around his face and neck. I want to cry with happiness when we’re chatting away and he tells me he loves me. I love everything about him. But motherhood just doesn’t come naturally to me. I hate what motherhood has done to me. I hate that I get frustrated as easily as I do. I hate that there are times where I’m not paying attention or don’t have the energy to play. I despise that he watches as much TV as he does while I make dinner or get ready for work. I hate that I constantly feel like I’m wearing a costume. I look like a mother, I act like a mother but I don’t feel like a mother.
We need to stop asking people if they love being parents. Instead, ask them if they’re ok. Ask them how they’re coping. Make sure they not just know, but really understand that whatever they’re feeling whether its anxiety, depression, not connecting with their baby, ANYTHING, that it’s normal. That they’re not alone. Follow it up with your story. We have to stop glossing over the bad stuff, pretending that they don’t exist, and start making it ok to not be ok. Grab these cards and hand them out to parents who are dealing with melting down kids in malls or supermarkets. Let them know you stand with them and they’re actually doing a great job. Such a small gesture can make such an astronomical difference in someone’s life. And if someone tells you they’re struggling, please, dear god, don’t tell them they’re doing fine and brush it off. Take the time to really listen, reassure and talk.
We’ve got the hardest job in the world and we have to stick together. Amazing parents aren’t always born, they’re made.