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  • Writer's picturehayleydunn

Not a natural mum

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

I have been thinking a lot about the idea of matrescence, and the transformation into a mother. Matrescence is somewhat akin to adolescence, with the surging hormones, brain development and bodily changes. It is an important term because it captures the biological processes and psychological impacts of becoming a mother. Becoming a mother is a transition, and it can come with a lot of internal turmoil as you adjust to your new life.

These changes are not all dependent on biology, because I see people who have adopted their children going through very similar emotional upheavals. The turmoil has to do with changing identity and taking on a new role, the realisation that your world has transformed forever and you are no longer at the centre of it. This small human is now calling the shots, dictating when you sleep, eat and leave the house. Your heart now lives outside your body.

I have to say, I really struggled with the psychological effect of becoming a mum. I came late to parenting, I had my boy at 35, so I had already got used to being able to do things in my way, at my pace. I had lived my life, I thought I knew who I was. My son challenged all of that. The idea that a helpless baby could completely overhaul your very existence is is not something that you can fully comprehend before it happens to you. For me there was a delay, whilst he was tiny my life carried on much as it did before he child came along. From about 4 months my son became very sensitive to his environment. The things that once bought me joy, caused him to skip naps, refuse feeds and meltdown. Instead of joy there was anxiety, and a sweaty, flustered feeling as I carried my thrashing, screaming child back to the sanctuary of our home. I felt the eyes o

f friends and strangers burning into me, with judgement and pity.

At these times the sense of responsibility seemed so enormous and unassailable that I thought that maybe I’d made a terrible mistake, and that I was not made for this role. I remember being haunted by the old phrases ‘happy mum, happy baby’, what nonsense! There were a thousand activities that had previously made me happy that I could no longer do because they made my child restless, bored, miserable, angry. Surely the phrase should be ‘happy baby, happy mum’(don't even get me started on 'sleeping like a baby').

That’s the thing about parenthood, at some point, the demands and temperament of your child means that you have to rearrange your life. Whilst you are making this adjustment, learning how to balance the needs of your baby with your own needs, you think that everyone is doing it better than you, with more grace and ease. Their photos of beautiful calm family life mock you on social media. You see them in the restaurants or supermarkets with their well-behaved children, laughing and living a normal family life that seems s out of line with your own experience. What you aren’t seeing are the times they’ve fled these places, flustered, crying and feeling like failures, or the times they haven’t even managed to leave the house. You see their mundane triumphs without seeing the struggles and the doubts that have have come before. Everyone is coping but you. Maybe you were never meant to be a parent, you thought you’d be a natural parent, you never realised it was going to be this hard.

As my boy grew, I learnt, and I become an expert in my child. In hindsight, it was over such a short space of time, but it didn’t feel short when I was going through it. It felt eternal, I missed my old life, my old (childless) friends. I dragged myself up to meet the demands of the role, because I had to. I learnt to take pleasure in the simple things, my baby smiling at me, going to the park, watching ‘Hey Duggee’, visiting friends who really get it, preferably who have children that my son can play with. My old life fell away and from the debris I built a new life.

Out of the doubt and regret came new resilience and confidence. Slowly I begin to find joy and peace in things I could never have imagined before. Things that bought us precious moments of mutual contentment. I remember spending an hour in the park lifting my toddler up so he could put sticks in the bin. Alone in the park, picking up sticks. Although, ordinarily this would have bored me to death, he was happy, so I was happy. I had found an activity we could do together outside of the house. I would post pictures of these times on Facebook, inadvertently adding to the mythology of motherhood, but briefly feeling like one of those shiny, smiling mums who wear white and have everything under control.

In the end though, we all have days when poonami strikes and everything ends up covered in shit. Days when we just can't seem to make it out of the house or get anything done. Those are the days when the work we are doing is invisible, the days we are mumming hard. We are doing what needs to be done to meet the needs of this small human, putting aside our own need to get the house clean, talk to another adult or run some errand. These are the days we should feel proudest of ourselves, we have worked hard, we have sacrificed, nobody died!

It hasn't been glamorous or exciting but I am doing it and I am growing. On the good days we laugh so hard and my heart is so filled with love, it carries me through the bad days. I no longer regret and I know I'm the best mum to my baby. Becoming a mother isn't always easy or come naturally, but in my opinion, nothing worth doing is ever easy.

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