Yesterday morning I spent an hour driving and listening to Woman's Hour, the main subject of which was Motherhood and the difficulties many women have in adapting to becoming mothers. My subject! The main preoccupation seemed to be the fact that we are all unprepared for Motherhood, that no-one tells us what to expect, and that it is such a shock to the system. I can't speak for everyone of course, but I know that people did try to tell me how my life would change when I had a baby. (Not least my own Mother, who warned me against having a baby for so many years, that I delayed it until it was almost too late!) I just didn't want to know. And I certainly have repeated this warning to just about every woman I know who has had a baby since. The problem is that no-one wants to hear about the possible difficulties when they are pregnant! They are normally in this golden bubble of expectant parenthood and can only see a rosy future as a "Happy Family" (And I'm sure the hormones play a huge part in this, otherwise we wouldn't have a future as a race.)
Speaking personally, which is all most of us can do, I can clearly remember the shock and terror of being faced with my first baby, my Son, when he was born a month prematurely. I simply hadn't realized the enormous responsibility that would land on my shoulders (and every other part of my body) when he arrived. My Husband (now my Ex) was quite clearly terrified too, so I automatically took over emotionally, just like that. I didn't fully understand why, but I was fiercly protecting my child. It was pure instinct.
On Woman's Hour they were talking, and still are this morning, about Post Natal Depression, which I also experienced. And because this is always unexpected too, it is like a bolt from the blue - there is this lovely, and if you're lucky, perfect baby and you can't get to grips with it; you can't somehow access the golden glow you were expecting, it's somewhere out of reach and you are in a black tunnel. With the baby. Looking back, I was very lucky indeed because I didn't suffer this for very long. I went first to my local GP, who was very unsympathetic and prescribed anti-depressants. These didn't help at all. The long black tunnel was still there, but I felt slightly detached from it. Getting desperate, I went to my lovely London Doctor who immediately dealt with it - he gave me a high-dose vitamin injection in my bum, prescribed more high dose Vitamin C to take regularly, and just one week later I was feeling more like myself again. (Again, this is something I have passed on to new Mothers ever since.)
I was also breastfeeding, another potential difficulty. I learned a lot after being given really bad advice; I wanted to breastfeed, so I persevered and luckily I managed it. But this is another situation where new mothers are made to feel both stupid and inadequate. There's a huge helping of guilt attached to not being able to breastfeed - and it's largely a question of being given the right information and encouragement in a relaxed atmosphere. If only.
The next hurdle was the fact that my lovely Son just didn't want to sleep. I would put him down during the day, throw the washing in the machine, tidy up the general chaos and then put on the kettle for a cup of tea. Which is when he would wake up. Twenty minutes was his absolute maximum in the daytime, and at night it was about two hours. Of course I was an inexperienced and anxious mother (ditto his father), so we paced the floor with him over our shoulders, and counted our sleep in half hours! After a year of this, we were both zombies - exhausted and alienated from each other. I took the view (when I wasn't too tired to think) that this was a blip in our relationship and that we would get through it. Maybe there would be a couple of years of difficulty, but it would be worth it in the end. Unfortunately my Husband didn't take the same view; he resented the "loss" of our previous "lifestyle"
and life became even more difficult. He absented himself emotionally, though he was very supportive and helpful physically - he would take over Son when he came home in the evenings and I was shattered. He changed the baby, cooked, cleaned and generally looked the part on the surface, but he just wasn't there in spirit. It was the beginning of the end.
After a year, Son was sleeping, I was tired but fairly happy, and we were on the last year of our marriage. Of course I didn't know that then, and Daughter still had to make her appearance (she was born two years after Son). What would I say about Motherhood and our expectations of Family Life? In the end, Motherhood has been the best (and sometimes worst) of my life's experiences. It's where I learned to put someone else first, where I experienced completely unconditional love for the first time, where I hurt the most and where I felt the happiest. But above all, it has been the experience that has put everything else into perspective. In the end, men come and go, but children are forever.