A few years ago, I lost myself. No, not down the back of the sofa or anything – I just seemed to forget what it was to be me. Having children is a special time in any woman’s life and I look back on my experience fondly with positive memories. But I was watching some home movies the other day which reminded me there were bleaker aspects of those days which I had, up until now, blanked from my memory.
I’ve always liked to think of myself as a little quirky and quick-witted. If there was a quip or a gag to be made, I would make damned sure that I would get to the joke first; being one of six kids, I guess I had to shout to be heard and that has pretty much made me the way I am. But during my thirties, whilst having kids (I call them the wilderness years, mainly because I let myself go physically and seemingly personality-wise too), something of the former me seemed to disappear.
Let me start out by saying that I adore my kids, they are the best thing that ever happened to me. And now that they are fifteen and nine years of age, they are more fun than ever. But I think I just wasn’t particularly adept at being a new mum. I remember living in a permanent state of angst being left in charge of something so small and helpless. Could I be trusted with that sort of responsibility? I lived with a near-constant sickness in the pit of my stomach; what if something went wrong? So I bumbled my way through it and did the best I could, constantly exhausted as not a single night went by without broken sleep (both of my kids were poor sleepers). And I wasn’t happy. I recall that I rarely laughed or made jokes anymore. I just worried about things. I was becoming isolated (less-so the second time around because I forced myself to go to toddler groups and keep busy. But I still felt alone). I wouldn’t say I had post-natal depression because the symptoms were not so severe that I was clinically depressed, but I’d had two truly horrendous birth experiences (both labours over 30 hours) and I think I was traumatised by that for a long time. Somehow that carried over into being a new mum with both my children. The home video footage just backs this recollection up; I never smiled, I just fretted. The carefree essence of the person I was before had gone.
I distinctly remember feeling completely invisible as I trundled along pushing the pram before of me. Nobody saw me, just a lady with a baby and few shopping bags looped over the handles. Just a lady who had gained a little too much weight with drab hair and drab clothes. I was hidden behind that pram. I didn’t need to stand out because I had nothing to give. I felt bereft of…something. I knew the old me was missing and I think I mourned her loss. I didn’t think she was ever coming back. I was just somebody’s mother now and that flamboyant individual of the past had disappeared.
I guess I may be coming across as pretty self-obsessed. Being a mother is all about being self-effacing, the act of self-sacrifice and putting yourself last (which I always did). It wasn’t about me – it was about the new generation now. But I put myself so far at the back of the queue that I forgot to care about me anymore. It took a good few years (until the children didn’t rely on me so greatly) before I began to re-emerge as a person.
So when I walk down the street now; shoulders back, eyes forward, emitting confidence, and I pass a tired-looking mother pushing a pram before her with another toddler skipping at her side, I try to remember she’s a person too. I look behind the pram and attempt to see the woman she was and who she will be again. Early motherhood doesn’t have to be a lonely experience, but if it is and you as a person don’t thrive there, remember this is just a brief phase of your life. Some mother’s completely revel in the baby-phase. But I didn’t. And I don’t beat myself up about it. I did my best when the kids were small but I’m a far better mother now that I can fully engage with my girls. Of course I’m in charge, and some people wouldn’t agree with this, but my girls really are my friends now. And they have a wickedly dry sense of humour just like their mother. Oh dear God, what have I inflicted on the world..?