Well it feels pretty huge to be sitting by myself with a cup of tea to think about what becoming a mum has meant to me. Even to have 5 minutes to reflect without being accompanied by a baby that alternates between being an adorable bundle of joy and my tormentor is novel! And it usually only is about 5 minutes! My husband and I have just become parents to our first child, Freddie, who is nearly 4 months old. We’ve been married for 5 years and are both GPs in training in the North East. I tell you what, medical school has nothing on becoming a mum for the first time. Hands down the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
Hopes and dreams about children
My husband and I have always wanted to have children. We actually wanted a little herd of them …something we’re not talking about now that the reality has hit home! Before I became a mum I knew theoretically that it would be hard work, but I guess I didn’t really think it through in depth, diving in with optimistic hopes of a lovely cooing smiling baby and perfectly behaved children that play together in the garden in Enid Blyton-inspired bliss.
We were absolutely overjoyed to find out that we were pregnant in 2020, the weekend of my birthday and just before the British lockdown was announced. A weekend of bliss, where we had no idea what was to come.
Pregnancy …what people don’t tell you
I actually found even pregnancy, let alone having a baby, hard. Not necessarily because I had the worst pregnancy symptoms ever – I’ve known people with far worse. But because I found the takeover of my body really hard. I found it psychologically a real sacrifice to feel ill a lot of the time having normally been blessed with good health. I had to give up my fitness – something that was an important part of my life before pregnancy. I had to stop running, stop cycling, stop so many things. But I’m grateful now, looking back, that the sacrifices started gradually, to ease me into the huge personal sacrifices of day-to-day motherhood!
What happened when baby arrived
The sacrifices I guess came to a head a few weeks into having Freddie in our lives – after a challenging labour I was fairly unwell, very anaemic, and having significant problems with breastfeeding. To top it off we had the additional layers of sleep deprivation, mega hormones, and we were moving house. An absolute perfect storm, and I was a bit of a mess. I sobbed like a baby multiple times a day for weeks.
I look back into that fog and feel so sad that our first few weeks and months of Freddie’s life were so challenging, when for some they seem relatively straightforward. Who knows why some people seem to have an easier ride than others, but challenges in motherhood do seem to be pretty universal, just hitting home at different times. I got through those early months with huge support around me – most importantly my personal faith in God. I felt like every minute of every day I was praying just for me and Freddie to make it to the next day …get through the next feed …the next night. And God answered those prayers, and gave me the strength and comfort that I needed.
“We’ve snapped at each other and others around us, and then regretted it, feeling ashamed and angry at ourselves.”
My husband and my marriage
My husband was utterly incredible. Having a baby has tested us like we’ve never been tested before. Our tempers, normally long and very conflict-avoidant, have been short and sharp. We’ve snapped at each other and others around us, and then regretted it, feeling ashamed and angry at ourselves. But he has stood by me through every tear and bad day, despite being under a lot of pressure in a busy A&E job through the depths of a COVID winter. He listened to every dark feeling that I had and didn’t judge me through any of it. He saw it for what it was – not me talking: but exhaustion, hormones, desperation.
What no one tells you, and what helped me
And now I’m coming out of the fog, nearly 4 months in. I’m smiling and laughing with my bubbling smiling chubby baby. I’m running again, I have some time to myself again. In the depths of my lows I wish I could have known what this would feel like now. That people are right when they say that it will pass. Things will get better.
“Since I’ve been open with others about my struggles I’m realising more and more that I’m not alone. That so many mums struggle. But not many talk about it.”
My friends, family and church family were also my rock. We’ve had gourmet meals dropped on our doorstep for weeks, giving us one less hurdle to clear in the day. I have had friends tackling covid restrictions head on and walking with me and Freddie in all weathers, asking about what was going on in my heart, giving me permission for my words not to be pretty, listening to me without judgement. Since I’ve been open with others about my struggles I’m realising more and more that I’m not alone. That so many mums struggle. But not many talk about it. I am so grateful that I had friends that became mums before me and were open and honest with me about the challenges, so that when mine came, I knew I wasn’t alone, or abnormal, or a terrible mother. That the dark thoughts that laid a siege on my mind were only thoughts, they weren’t true, they would fade away.
Perspectives as a I look to the future
I’m so grateful for so many of my experiences now. I’ll be able to support other mums so much better as a friend and as a GP because of what I’ve been through. I’m enjoying motherhood and my own life SO much more now, and I’m grateful to God every day for our beautiful son and my wonderful family.
So that’s my little story, which may or may not resonate with you. But whoever you are reading this, you have a mum who gave up massive amounts for you. Whatever her failings, or the challenges in your relationship, she gave you life and brought you into adulthood – no mean feat now that every day my big achievement is keeping the baby alive!!
So thank your mother today.
Charli’s top tips for supporting a new mum
If you want to support your partner who is a new mum beside you, or new mums around you, these would be my top tips:
· Feed them! Making a proper meal is literally the last thing that they’ll want to be thinking about or have time to do. A meal has honestly been the greatest gift to us.
· Ask them. Ask them how they’re managing. Give them permission to tell you ugly things, and don’t be surprised or judge them. If they say everything’s fine and I’m so happy, smile, and ask them again in a different way! They may well be fine and having a good day, but they might not have the words straightaway to tell you what’s just beneath the surface.
· Listen to them. Don’t try to fix it, you can’t. They have to get through it, and they will, but having you there alongside them will be such a gift. Don’t say: ‘but look, he/she is so gorgeous’ if they’ve just told you that they are really struggling. This mama knows that her child is gorgeous, but that doesn’t cancel out the pain of the moment.
“In the depths of my lows I wish I could have known what this would feel like now. That people are right when they say that it will pass. Things will get better.”
For anyone who’s struggling
I’m so grateful that I’ve left those dark early days behind me now. But for mums, this year lockdown has made what is already a hard time even more isolating and lonely. If your dark days are not passing, or you know someone who’s struggling, please encourage them to speak to their GP or Health Visitor. There is a listening ear and help out there for you, and no shame in needing it. Here are also some links to some websites for further information and support.
PANDAS Foundation — support for parents
Toucan Together is a free app for couples. The Communication Module will help you talk more openly about your feelings with your partner, the good, the bad and the ugly! There are also great bonus videos for new parents to give you support and encouragement. GET STARTED | LOG IN