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Motherhood: Expectation vs Reality

Why I think we owe it to one another to be honest about the crazy journey that is motherhood…

Before crossing the threshold of motherhood, I was on a bit of a pregnancy high. I had recently honeymooned in a cute bikini showing off my bump, I drank kale smoothies, and I genuinely enjoyed looking in the mirror. I was going to be a mum. It was going to be wonderful.

I was far less concerned with having real conversations about what life might be like with a child. Then came a 36 hour labour, which led to an unplanned caesarean, which led to a whole host of things that weren’t on my list of things to prepare for: considerable pain & discomfort, unable to drive for several weeks, delayed milk production which meant bottle feeding (which is fine… I had just really set my heart on breastfeeding & it hadn’t occurred to me that I might not be able to).

All of a sudden, my very clear view of what motherhood was going to be like, became somewhat skewed. Turns out that the other side of birth was a totally different experience than I’d ever imagined it to be.

As for my emotional and mental health… that was certainly something I hadn’t prepared for. Of course, I was aware of postnatal depression – but I had everything under control – or so I thought. Plus, ‘depression’… it feels like such a strong word and the associations are not things which I could recognise in myself. But anxiety, that was different – nobody mentioned anxiety – and it certainly had a firm grip of me.

Why hadn’t somebody warned me?

“But anxiety, that was different – nobody mentioned anxiety – and it certainly had a firm grip of me. ”

Although it finally seems like mums are getting real with one another about the experience of motherhood, we definitely need to be more honest; from postpartum body changes to identity crises to realistic expectations.

Mothers-to-be need to hear it. I definitely wish I had.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first (almost 5 years ago), my partner and I could barely contain our excitement. We were right in the middle of wedding planning having just bought a house together and, although the timing wasn’t ideal, a little baby was the perfect way to complete this stage of our life. Friends and family were delighted, and I was very happy to be congratulated (repeatedly) on our news.

As the baby grew inside me I began to connect with her – tracking her development on an app and tuning into every hiccup, wiggle and kick. I even nicknamed her peanut. Things were fine.

But nobody warned me that becoming a mother would be such a mind-blowing, identity-shattering, life changing adjustment. It’s probably fair to say that not only did I overprepare for the birth, I underprepared, naively, for motherhood.

I was in my early 30’s and I had friends with small children – and whilst I accept that perhaps I didn’t ask the right questions – my friends, and other mothers I spoke with, weren’t exactly volunteering the not so glamorous info either. Whilst it was reassuring to be told what a magical experience it is, looking back, I would definitely have appreciated a small dose of reality too.

Don’t get me wrong; I am sure that these reassuring words were truthful, it just painted an unbalanced picture of what life would be like.

My birth wasn’t traumatic, but it wasn’t quite how Id imagined. I thought breastfeeding would come naturally, but it certainly didn’t. And whilst I expected to be tired, I didn’t expect to be so anxious.

There were moments of despair, fear and exhaustion and sometimes these feelings overwhelmed me. Whilst I felt love and adoration for my new baby, I also felt compelled to run for the hills.

All of a sudden, I was not the woman I once was – physically, mentally or emotionally. Fortunately, I had a friend whose sister was a therapist & a quite coincidental conversation with her at a BBQ one afternoon made me realise that I really was struggling. More importantly, it made me realise that feeling the way I did was perfectly normal. But not all women are that lucky & although things are improving there is still a long way to go.

For some reason, mothers often choose to keep quiet about the challenges of motherhood. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it is denial, shame, self-preservation? Whatever the case, this mindset of ‘ignoring’ some of the more difficult emotions that mothers experience, while conveying the illusion of total joy, can be damaging to new mums who often feel isolated, inadequate or completely overwhelmed as a result of the unbalanced picture of motherhood which leads to a significant distortion between expectation and reality.

I felt exhausted, shocked, anxious, trapped, sad and angry about this new phase of my life. It took a good year to get a better understanding of my emotions, to accept that I was struggling with my mental & emotional health and that I needed support.

It is easy to forget that labour comes to an end (although it might not feel like it at the time). But motherhood, if we are as blessed as we all hope to be, can be for an entire lifetime and although nothing and nobody can totally prepare you for the journey that lies ahead, I think that as mothers we owe it to each other to at least talk about it.

I was recently involved in a workshop for a digital health startup called Juno, a healthtech platform building technology to provide access to healthcare professionals via secure message or video consultation on your smartphone or tablet. Their mission is simple: to use technology to transform women’s mental & emotional health, globally and one which resonates with me strongly, so when they asked me to share my story, it was a no brainer.

It took me a long time to feel like I was starting to get my mental health under control – but that is OK. And it is also OK that talking to somebody about how I felt was the difference between struggling and starting to feel better.

So, to all the expecting and new mums out there, remember, it will not all be straightforward, there will be challenges and it is not a weakness to ask for help.

Do I wish there was a service like Juno around when I became a mother? Absolutely.

Good luck!

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