The highs and lows of being a mum

Since I was a late teen, the one thing I knew with absolute certainty was that I wanted to be a mum. I adored children and had always had a special connection with them. I was in a constant state of broodiness. The years passed by and finally at the age of 36, I became a mum!

It was a long and traumatic birth and my little baby girl was rushed to intensive care as she wasn’t responding as a new born should. I barely got to see her, yet alone hold her as she was taken away. I was told I had to stay put as I had a raging fever, hadn’t eaten in over 24 hours and felt generally unwell.

It was the worst night of my life. Finally 13 hours after the birth, I got to see my precious baby. She was covered in tubes and hospital bandages and I managed to stroke her face and hold her hand through the gaps in the incubator.

I had first properly seen her thanks to some photos my partner had taken and she looked so long and big, but here she looked much smaller and so very vulnerable. It was a very surreal moment for me as here was the baby I had waited so long to have, yet I couldn’t hold her close to me.

All I could think was this baby is mine, she has come out of me but I don’t know who she is. A few hours later, I was finally able to hold her and that’s when the doubt began to creep in. I had no idea what the hell I was doing or how to hold her whilst maintaining that none of her tubes became loose.

My partner seemed so at ease with it all, deftly picking her up, changing her nappy, feeding her. I instantly felt inadequate and second guessing everything I was doing. That’s the shit thing about mental health, always feeling scrutinised and judged and caring more about what other people think rather than just being in and enjoying the moment.

That’s the first time I felt like a failure as a mother. This was my baby who I had carried to term and given birth to, so naturally I thought instinct would kick in and I would just know how to hold her and do basic tasks. I also felt a little jealous that my partner had got to spend the night by her side and had therefore bonded with her before I had.

The one thing that kept me going throughout the horrendous birth was the five glorious hours of skin on skin contact that the three of us would share broken by nobody. I felt so robbed and often wondered whether missing out on that, played a part in my plummeting mental health over the next twelve months. 

Prior to the birth, a close of friend of mine and the midwife doing the birthing preparation classes told me not to expect a sudden rush of love towards the baby as it very rarely happens. I felt so grateful for that. When I held her for the first time and drew her into me and breathed in her scent, I didn’t really feel anything apart from relief that she was okay. Mentally that saved me.

A week later, we were allowed to take Amèlia home and I remember feeling so grateful and happy and so, so immensely proud of her. We easily fell into a routine and were very fortunate that she was an easy baby up until around the six month mark.

I loved being around her, caring for her, interacting with her, bathing her, taking her out and introducing her to family and friends but all the while, I kept waiting for this sudden rush of love to hit me, to feel paralyzed by my love and fear of loving her and protecting her.

I felt like a failure for the second time, whilst also thinking what a terrible mother I must be. I remember searching for information online and coming across an article written by a first-time mum which struck a chord with me. She like me was convinced she was struggling with aspects of post-natal depression (PND) although it had never been formally diagnosed and also kept waiting to love her child like she should, she said this came to her at a pivotal moment just before the child’s first birthday. Looking back now, I can see I loved Amèlia very much but it didn’t hit me in the way other mum’s explained their experiences.

I struggled so much that first year; constantly doubting myself, crying, feeling incredibly overwhelmed and that I was failing as a mum. And I felt so much guilt, guilt that I couldn’t breastfeed, when everyone else around me had no problems in feeding their babies.

I felt terribly alone as I was in a new country whilst all my close friends were back in my home country. I knew some mums but didn’t yet have the language fluidity to express my feelings and worries. My emotions were all over the place, the relationship with my partner had become strained and I just felt like I was in a depth of despair – no one tells you just how difficult and mentally exhausting the first year is. All of this coupled with my very fragile state of mind and depression made for a long and incredibly tough year.

Eighteen months after that first year and I feel like I am losing my mind all over again. I feel like such a horrible and terrible person, guilty, distraught and so very ashamed at the thoughts that run through my mind on a daily basis. Why did I become a mother? What fresh hell awaits me today? How long until I explode at the relentless whining, shouting and crying? Why am I here? Why can’t you be patient for just one minute?

I mean what kind of a horrid person thinks these things, let alone says them out loud? How can these dark and ugly views cross my mind? Me who has always loved children, has always been patient and never once raised my voice at a child, me who wanted so desperately to become a mum?

I pretty much hate myself every single day. Yes, Amèlia can be very hard work and challenging and absolutely refuses to sleep through the night, but she’s also a toddler, surely the terrible two’s is a term made up for some reason, I know this but in the middle of an episode, I lose all logic and just see red.

I of all people know the damage being shouted at can cause, I grew up in a tense environment. I swore the same wouldn’t happen to any future children. Yet here I am losing my patience at the smallest things, wondering why everything has to be so damn hard. I feel so bad at my outbursts and yet I can’t seem to stop myself.

I constantly feel that I am failing her as a parent and because she doesn’t always listen, I have been too soft in putting boundaries in place. I wonder if it’s too late to re-establish those boundaries. I look at other parents and marvel at how quickly they can control their children, deep down I know I can too but in that midst of exasperation, hearing the impatience in my voice and the manic desperation that she needs to do what I am asking has the opposite effect.

Knowing and recognising where I am going wrong is the first step to changing my habits. I’m making a concerted effort to count to five and taking some deep breaths before reacting to what I perceive is a show of defiance. I’m trying very hard to explain my reasoning in a quiet and controlled manner.

This morning after a very testing episode at home, I told her I was sorry for becoming angry, why I became angry, the changes I will make and what I need from her. I don’t really think she understood much but we had a long cuddle after and I asked her if we could start again.

I know I have to change, I know I can’t blame my mental health on my outbursts and I certainly can’t let my need to maintain and have control of all situations affect the person she will become. She’s a beautiful, fun, loving, energetic and very independent little girl.

I must remember how she makes me feel so special and she melts my heart when she snuggles into me and tells me she loves me in two different languages and plants my face and head with the sweetest and most tender kisses. She’s a great girl and I’m working at becoming the best mum.

12 thoughts on “The highs and lows of being a mum

  1. In your next dark moment, remember that everyone sees you as a fantastic mum! It’s so hard and it doesn’t get much easier. You’re doing a great job x

  2. Sarah, that’s a bit brutal on yourself! I’ve been failing for 30 years – and succeeding, doing okay, messing up, picking up, panicking, plodding on. We are imperfect, that’s the human condition. The way out of my black desponding moments has usually been via the everyday, small things in the moment. And nature, getting outside, stones, moss, trees and the sea, if I can. And contact with really old friends, with whom I was a child, and can revert to that childish simplicity in some way. We are all a bit restricted as to that right now but there are ways, and I look forward to seeing your lovely wise face when next we Zoom. Take care, big hug and thank you for being in my world.

    1. Jane, thank you for your words of encouragement and also for being so open and honest with your own parenting. It’s great to be able to share our feelings together and be able to support one another, especially when we are feeling low. For what its worth, I think you are doing a superb job and your children are very lucky to be able to count on you as their mum.

  3. Such a well written post, Sarah. I’m sure this will be so helpful to any mum experiencing similar feelings. I didn’t know you were going through such a rough time again now, but just remember that how you are feeling doesn’t reflect reality. I often marvel at how you manage to stay so patient with Amèlia; lovely and sweet as she is, she is also a very strong-willed and defiant little toddler! You are so loving and Amèlia is very lucky to have you as a mum xxx

  4. Oh Sarah I had no idea how hard your first year was as a mum and I sympathise with, and relate so much to all that is contained within this post. Mum guilt. Before I became a mum I had no clue of just how much of that I would feel. It fills up all day, drip drip drip and then berates me at night in the quiet times! I feel the time with my children slipping away and I’m so aware of it that I don’t know why this awareness doesn’t stop me doing the things I hate about myself as a mum. The things I know I will regret. The nagging them. The lack of being fun with them. My huge lack of patience. My dislike of noise. Why? I ask myself all the time. Why can’t I be the mum I see others being, including you! The patient mum. The really loving mum. The tactile mum. The totally fun mum. I’m bits of her I know, and no one is perfect I know that too. I just want to be better. And perhaps that’s what really makes us good mums? The desire to do better for them. It’s exhausting!
    I’m going to stop hogging this space now but I can’t help myself! Your writing connects with me and I have to share my own immediate thoughts with you!
    I’ve seen you with A. I’ve moaned to you in those times about how rubbish I feel as a mum because YOU are one of those mums, a mum I looked at and thought ‘why can’t I be like her?’

    1. Becky thank you so much for your lovely message, you bought tears to my eyes with your words. You’re such a special person to me. I think you’re being too harsh on yourself, you too are a great mum and are giving your children so much. They are experiencing living in different countries with different languages and cultures (thanks to you putting yourself out there and going through lots of change). You’re always out and about exploring, finding different activities for them, helping them with their things and from what I’ve seen, you’ve always done it with a smile on your face. You’re right though, we’re constantly trying to improve and I think that’s half the battle there, always measuring ourselves against others. Let’s enjoy being with our children and not berate ourselves for not being good enough xxx

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