Two and a bit years ago I became a mom, a title I had been dreaming of for years. I have always loved babies and children, and this love was only cemented by having been an aunt to two nieces and four nephews. Having always been told – “you’re a natural”, “kids love you”, “you will be a fantastic mom one day”, I foolishly bought into my own press. But I was 100% sure, this was the one job I would ace. A job I was perfect for – I mean everyone said so, they couldn’t all be wrong, could they?
Reality Check #1: Nothing ever goes according to plan, nothing.
Alas, they were. The first reality I faced was the fact that nothing ever goes according to plan when it comes to parenthood. From day one each of my carefully laid plans was foiled one after another, each disappointment stood as a monument to this fact. The realization that this whole being-a-mom-thing was not the fantasy I had dreamed it to be, was a painful pill to swallow.
My baby’s first 9 days on this earth were spent in the Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit of Sandton Mediclinic, and while this was traumatic in itself, I had yet to realise the mammoth task my husband and I had embarked upon. We had small chunks of time spent with her and always within hand-holding distance of a reassuring nurse with a wealth of experience, a nurse appropriately named – Patience. In this environment, the fantasy although dented and shaky held firm.
Everything truly fell apart once we got home and the weight of being responsible for this barely 2kg wrinkly alien being who relied on us completely hit home.
The saying “there is two sides to every story” could not be truer when it comes to parenting. While I am sure everyone has varying experiences, it is safe to say that bringing a child into this world and raising it to be a decent human being is not always unicorns and pixie dust. Some days are horrific, especially in the beginning, and on those days any parent who says they do not think at least once: “I wish I could run away.”, “This suxs!”, “Why on earth did I do this to myself.” – or my personal favourite – “FML!”, is lying to you and to themselves.
Reality Check #2: No matter how much you try, you cannot prepare yourself.
The second was revealed in quick succession to number one. You cannot prepare yourself for what will come. It is the hardest thing you will ever do because there is no training for it, there’s no manual delivered with the baby, no oracle to rely on, no Wikihow, no right or wrong answer. Why not? Because there is no definitive answer for anything. Every single one of our journeys and experiences is unique, every baby or child is different, so what worked for one won’t necessarily work for another. And to make it even harder what worked for you on Monday, might not work again on Tuesday.
New parents are tormented by a constant state of trial and error, that is draining at best. Who in their right mind thrives when they are being tested every minute of every day without the opportunity to study the course material and be confident they know at least 50% of the answers?
Reality Check #3: Everyone has an opinion, no one has the answers.
The third reality check that is both nerve-racking and strangely comforting, is that it’s not just you who has no clue what you are doing – no one does. If this were an exam most of us would fail dismally. Everyone (even the mom in your Moms & Babes group, who looks like she has all her S*%@ together) is doing this parenting-thing through trial and error, experimentation, gut instinct and a whole lot of contradictory advice from multiple sources.
This last point is a tricky thing to manage – advice. Everyone has a masters in parenting, even those who have yet to have a child themselves. These well-meaning individuals are often the worst (and if I am honest I fell into this category of advisors prior to having my own child), they carelessly share tips and tricks they may as well have learnt from a Chappies wrapper, almost always with no attempt to fact check before dispensing their pearl of wisdom.
Amongst all the advice I received, one piece has been key to maintaining my sanity, and so I will pay it forward. Find one person that you trust, one person that fits with your parenting philosophy, someone who you feel gets it – whether that person is a nurse, a doula, a friend, a doctor, a family member, a book or even just your hairdresser is immaterial – and only listen to that person. Throw everything else away, smile and nod politely whilst letting it flow in one ear and out the other. Most of all don’t EVER feel guilty for sticking to your guns.
Reality Check #4: Unconditional love, at first sight, is not guaranteed.
The fourth reality is the hardest one of all to face, never mind share. Women are biologically programmed and equipped to bring children into this world (that’s the theory anyway). And as such most of us grow up believing our destiny is to create life and then to nurture and love this new life till the end of ours. A mom is meant to unconditionally love their child from the first sight. The ugliest of truths is that not all mothers are pre-programmed to love their child from day one. For some of us, it takes time, a lot of time.
In those weeks I quickly realised that you should not believe every hashtag that you read. People do not portray the whole truth on social media. #blessed, #lightofmylife, #lovebubble, #noregrets, #wishthistimewouldlastforever and #heartontheoutsideofmychest – these set me up for massive disappointment. Why was my experience not lining up with everyone else’s? Why did I not feel what every other mom seemed to feel? Why was I not getting it right? Shouldn’t it come naturally?
I felt incredibly disconnected from everyone, especially my child. I wondered if I would ever feel that overwhelming bond promised by Hollywood and Facebook. For a long time, I tried searching her face and my heart hoping for a glimmer of that feeling. But it continued to elude me.
The first 16 weeks of being a mom were devastating and then slowly, so slowly I barely even noticed it was happening, things began to change. The feeling of dread at the thought of being left alone with her receded inch by inch, the length of time I could tolerate in her presence grew minute by minute and the mental and emotional isolation booth was pulled down brick by brick. After five months, I realized one day that I was coping, I was doing this mom-thing by myself and I wasn’t hating it completely. When I heard her scream I didn’t want to curl up and disappear, I knew what to do, or at least I knew what to try. Her attachment to me was no longer nauseating, it had quietly transformed into something that was – on most days – kind of sweet and endearing.
I guess the moral of my story is that no matter how many Hollywood movies show you differently and no matter how many hashtags tell you differently, everyone is allowed to hate being a mom sometimes, entitled to question what on earth you have gotten yourself into, to long for a time before children, to want to run away. These feelings are yours to feel because they are just feelings, you are not acting on them.
Reality Check #5: Moms are resilient and tenacious, you always find your way.
The most important thing I discovered is that all moms feel this way to a lesser or greater degree, no mom has all the answers and all moms have bad days, weeks, or even months. I came to the see that feeling this way is normal and nothing to be ashamed of. I realized that there are more moms struggling in silence than we will ever know.
Acknowledging these ugly truths does not make you a bad mom or unfit. In fact, anyone who experiences any or all of the above and keeps trying despite the exhaustion, despite the self-doubt, despite the foreign terrain, despite the dark thoughts and feelings is, in my eyes, a #warrior.
So, warrior moms, keep trying because that’s what makes you great, you keep trying to ace the tests that each day of motherhood will throw at you, even though you are in no way prepared for the questions, never mind knowing many of the answers.