Motherlife Interview #6 Part 3.
Motherlife Interview 6 with Wren, part 3: Expectations of early motherhood compared to the reality of early motherhood.
All mothers in this Motherlife interview series are anonymous and have been given nature names as their super heroine pseudonym. The nature names have been chosen from the list of nature words that have recently been deleted from a well known children’s dictionary.
Sophie: What were your expectations of early motherhood and then what was the reality like?
Wren: Well I did that postpartum prep workshop with you and Kate (www.littleyarrow.com) and I remember that being one of the questions – how do you envisage the first few days? And I honestly didn’t really have an idea. I hadn’t always grown up wanting children or having a particular version of motherhood that I thought was important. I think I probably had some negative connotations. My career’s always been very important to me and I definitely had a bit of what you were talking about before – when you kind of disappear and like I can’t believe that those mothering things would become so important to me! So just a general sense of a shift and a change in priorities away from work being the big focus. But actually you just don’t care about those things that you used to care about before anymore.
Sophie: Yes it can be really surprising, can’t it. And so normal at the same time as well!
Wren: Yeah it shouldn’t be surprising. But I find when I’m trying to explain it to people sometimes, the idea that you won’t care about the same things any more is a really scary thought. And it’s also annoying because does that devalue those things that you care about at the time? And of course no it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean that you’re a different person and it doesn’t mean that those things aren’t important. It’s just this fundamental shift in perspective and priority.
Sophie: I remember in one of the postpartum workshops I taught when we asked what are your hopes and fears for early motherhood. One mum said she really loved going to wine bars and catching up with her friends and she doesn’t want that to stop after her baby has arrived. I’ve not seen her since the workshop but I’ve always wondered if that changed for her or not? Because she really didn’t want that to shift at that point and so I often wonder how she went and if that was something that she held onto. Obviously things have changed entirely now during lockdown though!
Wren: It’s difficult isn’t it because for somebody to tell you that you won’t want to go to a wine bar anymore would be so annoying. But also actually you might do, it’s not that you won’t do. It’s a very complicated thing. Because I think we position it as something that we’ve lost rather than something that we’ve gained because what we’ve gained is quite hard to define or it sounds so cheesy and trite.
Sophie: Yes, why is that? It is hard to describe and I feel like I don’t have the language for it sometimes and it does sound cheesy and annoying. Why?
Wren: Well all the stereotypes are just true aren’t they. Everyone says you’re really tired but it’s really good. But when you’re in that moment, tiredness is a bad thing and the strain on your relationship is a bad thing, and having sick on you is a bad thing. I think we need to be able to describe it better. Because it’s so profound and deep and it’s also so annoying for someone to tell you that you don’t know what love is or that there’s this new kind of love. That’s quite rude to say to someone because you are kind of saying they don’t get it.
Sophie: Do you think it’s partly because in our culture babies and motherhood are so separate from the rest of our lives so we don’t see motherhood up close until we’re mothers? Whereas in some other cultures, or if we had more close knit families or were more connected to our extended families we’d be able to see other mums have children and spend time watching that process. Whereas I feel like we’re so cut off from birth and early motherhood. So we see the pregnant woman, then we see her later in the park with the pram. But that actual messy transition, we don’t see it at all.
Wren: I totally agree with you. I think it’s really interesting.
Sophie: And we don’t even talk about it. It’s not that we just don’t see it. A Lot of people don’t have discussions about early motherhood with their friends.
Wren: Well I think it’s difficult partly because it’s so personal if you’re a woman in your thirties speaking to friends about your experiences. That person has got all their own thoughts and feelings and it’s very difficult to talk about without pressing the wrong buttons for someone. I do have some friends who are so involved and interested and have asked for a picture everyday since birth and have been friends with our children. They’ve just been so involved and interested and incredible and they probably see the joy and the changes and they listen to the hard things and they probably get the full picture. And then I’ve got other really close friends who haven’t really engaged in that way. They’ve engaged in the way maybe that I would have done before you know, just checking in with what new tricks the baby can do. And not engaged so regularly or so deeply and they’re not going to see those changes because it’s so slow and gentle. How do you communicate those things in less regular communication? So I think that’s such a good point because if you saw it all around you, you’d see the blooming and the blossoming and especially if you’re just viewing through the lens of the working world being where our value is, you just don’t see all of that in motherhood.
Sophie: I think what I’m getting at is that people engage with the kids, but not the motherhood experience. It’s still invisible. I remember a friend asking me before they had kids what I did all day. This was when I had a toddler and a baby and I was so busy and I just didn’t know what to say to them, I didn’t know how to describe it. Because like you were saying, it’s stereotypical. I change nappies. I pick up toys. We go to the park. It does seem impossible that we could spend a whole entire day doing that stuff.
Wren: Yes and the antidote feels like you could describe the profound things that you feel. So you could say that you spent five minutes just watching their hair blowing in the wind because it looked so beautiful and of course that might have happened but then they were sick on you or you got poo on your hand! I think it’s very easy to have a very binary approach in the way we talk about it. I’ve spoken to other mums about this that you either fall into everything terrible and sloppy mum, or absolute perfection and everything glorious and everything lovely and it’s quite difficult to get somewhere in the middle. SO, what do we do all day?!
Sophie: So the first question was what were your expectations of motherhood and the second question is what actually was the reality?
Wren: I think the reality is so difficult to describe. Because it’s just not comparable to anything else. The reality was the shock of being completely responsible for a totally useless little worm like creature forever! I think the reality is kind of slow sometimes. Your pace of life is just so gentle, despite sometimes it’s not gentle at all. Like if you have a screaming baby for hours and hours. But generally life is gentle. And this is later in motherhood, but going to bed without anything to think about is such a joy. And just being surrounded by your inner world of general loveliness. Of course with mums there can be negative social things and passive aggressiveness I think that does exist. But generally you’ve just got people who are really passionate about their children and want to talk about that. So that doesn’t encapsulate the reality at all because it’s a million things that change every month.
Sophie: I just want to highlight what you said about the pace, the slow pace. I remember when I was working with you when your mum came over. I’m sure I would have talked to you about rest and resting and what that means. I feel like it’s quite hard to describe to someone what it is that I mean by rest when you’re used to your life before becoming pregnant and even during pregnancy, and then how different that is in your life with a baby. So you’ve said it’s quite slow and it sounds like there’s definitely a rhythm shift postnatally?
I remember when I was caring for you, asking you if you’d been overdoing it. And you said very definitely not. That no, you hadn’t been overdoing it. And then when we talked further it turned out that you’d taken your mum into the city, is that right?
Wren: Yes. Dumplings. We went for Dumplings! It’s ridiculous because I felt like I’d been so slow. I’d listened so much to everything you’d said and absolutely thought that I was still being so slow. But I think that at the maybe four or five week mark I started to feel a bit more normal and more capable and physically was much better and the idea of going twenty minutes into the city was so achievable in my mind. I think we went in on public transport and walked back. In my mind it was within what my limitations were and it wasn’t me trying to do anything that was overextending myself.
But it was more the stimulation of being in the city. The physical, and mental, all my senses being stimulated so much. And when I look back I think ‘you idiot, why did you bother?’ And obviously my mum was visiting from overseas and I wanted to take her out. But you’re just this squishy little runny egg at that time aren’t you and that’s why what I said about being with other mums and all that softness and loveliness matters. And then compare that to going into the city for lunch and the baby’s crying and you’re trying to eat with one hand and breastfeed in a restaurant or whatever, it’s just not worth it!
Sophie: But I find that happens with a lot of mums. There’s a period of having to recalibrate what you think of as being slow. And whatever you think of as being slow and restful, you’ve got to take it even more slow and restful.
Wren: It’s SO difficult to imagine that! Because me popping into the city for dumplings was just such a non thing. But I think it was the sensory part of it that struck me a lot more than I thought it would. All the people and the noise and people pushing and the general dirtiness of the city centre. It just felt SO different to my safe little bubble at home. Breastfeeding in a dumpling place is something I don’t recommend!
Sophie: Postpartum is often thought to be six weeks. So you said you were really physical and fit before pregnancy. And this is a two part question. I’m wondering how long after giving birth until you felt comfortable in your new role as a mum and also in your body, in your physicality?
Wren: Well I saw a women’s health physio at eight weeks and I’m SO glad that I did that because the obstetrician check up was 20 mins talking about contraception that I was never going to take. So I saw a women’s health physio and then she prescribed postnatal mums and bubs pilates so I started doing that about 20 weeks post birth. And that felt just the right level of challenge and then I did some strength training at about 5 months and I did some online things and I did some of the pilates stuff with you. So physically I think I felt capable of doing things at 10 weeks, but I also did them in spaces that I felt safe enough to build up gently. So now I feel quite confident doing anything. I started running at the start of lockdown and that didn’t feel good so I went back to the physio again and I had to massage my vagina for 15 minutes a day!
Sophie: Because there was some tightness there?
Wren: Yes. So I think I probably did the running prematurely. I don’t even like running!
Sophie: So you had an episiotomy and forceps during the birth and I’m wondering if you went to see the women’s health physio because you had concerns or did you just think it was a good idea because someone had suggested it to you?
Wren: I had mental concerns. Everything felt ok but I just wasn’t sure. Because also, I couldn’t remember what things were supposed to feel like. And also I had an idea that it was the right thing to do. So no, I didn’t have a specific concern that I wanted to go and get fixed. I just had a general sense of needing to do it. And I tell everybody that it was the best thing. I went to the place you recommended to me.
Sophie: So when you went running, what was it about that that made you go back to the women’s health physio?
Wren: Well I got a general heaviness, so I thought I was having a prolapse. In my mind that was 100% what was happening. So I was googling pictures of prolapse which there aren’t any really on the internet, they’re all pictures of diagrams and I know that’s not the way to diagnose a prolapse anyway. But I had that heaviness that I’d had in the early weeks post birth whilst everything was putting itself back into place. But it turned out to be a kind of tightness. Which I wasn’t expecting.
Sophie: Good! I’m glad that’s all resolved! So then what about in your new role as a mum? And you might not feel like it’s normal yet either!
Wren: It does now feel so normal. Not weird. But when he was born I didn’t feel like I knew him. I didn’t feel like everything was slotted into place and this is what I was born to do at all! I thought yes I love this baby in the way of responsibility and I will keep him alive even when I feel sad or it’s too much for me. But I do feel like I’ve grown into some of the more profound things. I do feel that that baby is part of my bones. Our DNA is the same and I feel his heart with my heart. But that took some time to get to that point. Because they are just little worms when they’re born.
Sophie: My little boy is now 8. And I feel like that feeling that he is a part of me becomes stronger as he gets older. Because he becomes more his own person. And sometimes it’s like looking at me when I was eight. And he says things and thinks about things in a way that I remember.
Wren: Oh that’s so beautiful! But all of that felt just a bit alien to me when he was first born. Because it’s just not what you’re even thinking about because you don’t have time do you. You’re just sleeping and feeding. So I think maybe it’s when you’ve got time to realise it that you’re able to connect in that way.
Sophie: Is there anything that you would like to say to yourself as a brand new mum? Your baby is 11 months old now so you’re really still a new mum! But is there anything you’d like to say to yourself back in those early days or weeks?
Wren: I actually wrote a list for a friend who’s just had a baby. It’s so hard to do it without being really cheesy! Because I can’t bear it when people tell you how quickly it goes. Because it doesn’t feel quick at all sometimes.
Sophie: Yes there’s that saying, the days are long but the years are short.
Wren: Yes but whatever, I’m still fed up today!
I think that saying that everything is a phase has really helped me. All the good things and all the bad things are just a phase and what comes out the other side is usually much better. But even now when my baby has a funny week, we’re like, oh no! He’s a bad baby now. But then he comes out the other side and he’s learnt loads of new stuff. My friend said to me that everybody lies. Not always intentionally. But everybody lies about what their baby is doing. I think sometimes on the day of mothers group you’ll have a good day and tell everyone that everythings great. But then the next day is a nightmare and I’ll think, oh I’ve given completely the wrong impression. So I think knowing the fact that everybody lies is really important. Don’t look at the internet, it’s not true. Everything is just a moment and then it’s over again. And I think just to be so kind to yourself. And all that cheesy stuff about motherhood, actually read it and know that they come from somewhere because they’re often true. Some of those cheesy things when I was four weeks postpartum had me in tears because they were so true. But if someone had told me beforehand or shown them to me I would have just rolled my eyes at them. But there is such a place for that stuff. I think make room to celebrate and know what you’ve been through. And to know that it’s a long journey that’s always, always shifting and changing as far as I can tell. And also that everything will be, not normal again, that’s not the right word. But we talk about motherhood often as in what has been lost from our lives before. But actually if you want to go to a wine bar every Friday night you will do that again. And you will potentially go back to work full time again. And all the things that are important to you, you will do them again. And whatever you think is normal will happen again, But you’ve got this whole extra world of deep wonderful joy to go inside that.
Sophie: Well, thank you so much! I really appreciate having a chat with you and hearing your thoughts.
Wren: No, thank you! It’s quite therapeutic isn’t it! It’s been lovely to chat. Thank You SO much.