Being a mother has come easily to me. A few hours after my daughter was born, something switched inside of me and somehow I knew what to do. I spent most of my pregnancy not feeling maternal, panicking that I would not know how to take care of my daughter and thinking that I would fail from day one as a mother. Thankfully, this was not the case.
Interpreting her cries, powering through despite the exhaustion, knowing when she is hungry, happy, tired, or sad — all of these things immediately became a part of my instinct, and I found myself taking to motherhood like a duck takes to water. The problem was that I forgot how to be myself and how to manage every other part of my life in the meantime.
Managing others’ expectations of me, as well as the other kinds of relationships in my day-to-day life has been the biggest hurdle that I have faced, and one that I still feel I am far from conquering. While I continue to exist with my daughter in relative peace and harmony, every other aspect of my existence has suffered.
The first obstacle I faced was that of family. My daughter suddenly became the epicenter of many people’s worlds and granting them access to her meant often pushing my own comfort and happiness to one side. Entertaining guests in the hospital while I had a catheter in and wanted to cry from the pain, handing her over to relatives I barely knew, and even keeping calm when people brought strangers to the hospital against my wishes — I had to bite my tongue because this new life was not just mine, she was everyone else’s as well.
I then had to deal with judgment as a mother: how I fed her, how I dressed her, where I took her and when, how I put her to bed, my choice to exclusively baby-wear, and the boundaries I tried to enforce for her well being, all came under scrutiny. I found that as I asserted my new role as a mother and a protector of my child, I was criticized and alienated as a result. Additionally, I was no longer the newest member of the family and a successful journalist and activist; I was just a mother, the life-giver to a member of a larger clan.
The next issue I encountered were the societal expectations placed upon me. Strangers stopped me on the street to try and touch my child and reacted badly when I asked them not to. People I didn’t know questioned me for formula feeding and judged my responses. Some even tried to interfere with her sling and criticized me for what they believed was an unsafe way to carry her. I have been judged on my decisions to do baby led weaning, to dress her in gender neutral clothing, and to hold her because “she will get separation anxiety and you will spoil her.” All of this resulted in me becoming extremely defensive and feeling threatened every time I walked out of the door.
When it comes to my friendships, I have been very lucky, but my social life is in no way like it was before. My friends help me with babysitting, emotional support, and the occasional care package to make sure I am looking after myself, but the problem is that I am so wrapped up and consumed with parenting that I find it incredibly hard to know when to take time for myself. I feel guilty for getting a babysitter, I forget to reply to messages and emails, and my phone is permanently on silent because “Shh, the baby is sleeping.”
Being a mother has made me retreat inside my own bubble. While I do still see friends from time to time, I find that the weeks pass in the blink of an eye … and in a reality where I struggle to find time to shower, girls’ night or a coffee is at the bottom of my priorities.
I work from home in a stressful, confrontational, and sometimes dangerous job. My work defines me in many ways; it is my passion and it also pays for our comfortable and flexible lifestyle. But continuing on this path where my brain needs to be engaged full throttle, where a single mistake could cost me my reputation, is a lot of pressure to take when you are surviving on five hours of interrupted sleep.
My natural instinct is to be with my daughter and to brush off anything that interferes with our precious time together, but unfortunately, life does not work that way. Bills still need to be paid, food still needs to be on the table, and as we know, babies are expensive little creatures. Finding the balance between working professionally and effectively, being there for my daughter, and not being consumed by mom guilt when I leave her with the nanny (despite being at work in my office in the next room) is incredibly difficult. One cannot exist happily without the other, but finding a way that facilitates the harmony of both has been an uphill struggle from the day I went back to work, four days after giving birth.
Last but by no means least, one of the toughest relationships to manage as a new mother is that with your partner. In the space of nine months, I changed from a carefree, lighthearted, slightly wild being into a sleep-deprived, overworked, and stressed out mother. I was on pelvic rest for six months of my pregnancy as well as six weeks afterwards and my body transformed completely, leaving me a stranger in my own skin.
I felt, and still feel, disconnected from my sexuality and instead see myself as a mother, a giver of life, and someone that must survive to take care of my child. This, combined with the colossal social, economic, and general day-to-day changes that having children brings, leaves little time for nurturing your relationship with each other.
Gone is the wanton sex goddess and in her place is a tired, slightly hairy woman who is tired of being touched with little grabby hands all day and would rather sleep than have any kind of physical contact with her partner.
Eight months later, I am still fighting these battles every day. By far the biggest thing I have come to realize about my mothering journey is that babies are easy. The hardest part of motherhood is trying to exist outside of your parenting bubble and remember who you were before this tiny human took over your world.