Ellen's story: Expectations of motherhood
Our expectations of being a mother can be very different to what we actually experience. Read Ellen’s story of her expectations of motherhood and how she reached out for help when she needed it.
“I’ll clean the house, have coffee dates with friends, take a long walk every day, have dinner ready for when my husband comes home and enjoy making lots of memories with my squishy baby.” This was my idealistic view of my maternity leave.
I am not afraid to admit that I had no idea what was ahead of me. My ideas and ideals of becoming a mother were a combination of a Hollywood movie, memories of my own childhood and snippets of being a babysitter and an aunty. It took me 15 months to realise that I was a shadow of my former self.
I’ll never forget standing there saying to my mother “I just don’t know if I can ever have another one, I want one, but I don’t know if I can do all this again.” She said, “I felt the same way when I had your brother.” My mother, just one of the yardsticks who I had been comparing myself to, felt exactly like I did at one point in time? How had I not known this?
I’ll also never forget, shortly after this revelation, while tiding up the bedroom and my husband was getting dressed, I finally found the courage to say,
“I’m not well, I constantly feel overwhelmed and like I can’t deal with things.”
I didn’t look him in the eye, I didn’t build up the conversation, it was like I had been a pressure cooker on the verge and just finally let the steam out. He encouraged me to get help and offered me many options. I was slow to take any further steps.
When I was with my doctor for yet another illness that my son had, with my hand on the door-handle, ready to bolt, I paused and asked if she had the number of a counsellor. She asked, “Why?” I mumbled that there was a lot going on in my life, I’d like to maybe sit with someone. The tears welled in my lower lids and I couldn’t meet her eye. Thankfully, she gave me a number on a post-it note. I carried it around with me for 3 weeks before I made the call. Next time I met my doctor, in a one-to-one appointment, she asked me many more questions. I was grateful she judged the situation that day I asked and just gave me the number. I wasn’t ready to let it all out.
I met with a counsellor. I cried. For about 45 minutes, I cried. I talked through sobs and sorted out my thoughts a little bit. She gave me some exercises to help me express myself and help deal with my thoughts. Just 3 sessions later, I felt and continue to feel like a different person.
Once it hit me that this little baby relied on me for everything, I never let that weight lift. My head whirled with thoughts of “What if?” Catastrophic scenes Baz Lurhmann would be proud of played in my mind like a movie, detailing everything that could possibly go wrong. My thoughts were a chaotic mess of cries, disaster and constant rhetoric that I was a failure.
I needed someone to give me a report on what I was doing. Someone give me some feedback on what I was doing right, what I was doing wrong and then let’s put an action plan in place to fix it! Can you tell I am a project manager?
My new project didn’t have measurable deliverables and key performance indicators. It took nearly a year and a half for me to truly settle into being a mother. That is much longer than I had expected. It was only when I lifted expectations that I started to come into my own. I realised that I was answerable to nobody. The welfare of my child was down to me and my partner.
All other input was a viewpoint created by others. Opinions. Commentary. Advice.
Ultimately, responsibility was mine. I could choose what to listen to. This child represents life I created and for which it is my duty to raise. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realise this. Perhaps it is something you simply learn with time. Perhaps it is something that some inherently know, and some don’t.
What I would have done differently
“If” I could go back and do it all again, I’m not sure that my outcomes would be any different. I would be a lot kinder to myself, I hope.
“If” I could change something for expectant and new mothers, it would be to give them support. Mums need to talk. Mums need other mums around them, and help at 3am and someone to take the crying baby while they cry themselves.
Adjusting to life as a mother
I think becoming a mother was by far the biggest adjustment I’ve ever had in my life. A true endurance test. I often hear about social media causing more pressure on mothers than ever before. This might be true but the biggest expectations were the ones I had of myself. I’m not sure where they even came from but I always had the sense that it was my purpose to become a mother and therefore it would come easily to me. I had no real input over growing the baby inside of me, it just happened, that perhaps being a mother with a baby in my arms might be the same way. I felt like, more than anything else, I let myself down. I got in the way of myself.
Honestly, I missed most of the first year of my son’s life. I have the pictures, an abundance of them, so I know it happened, but I don’t really remember most of it. I spent most of my energy worrying.
I would love to see every mother get formal support, such as counselling, to help process the massive adjustment of growing and nurturing life. To be helped and supported through the tough moments so they can truly enjoy the good ones.
Thinking about Ellen’s story:
- What expectations did you have before being a mother?
- Did motherhood turn out the way you thought it would?
© Trinity College Dublin