Motherhood is f**king hard and you’re not meant to be doing this on your own

Those of you who follow my blog know by now that most of my posts are inspired by something that happens to me in my work as a doula.

Today is one of those days.

I’ve just had a conversation with a new mother of two, who has a baby and a preschooler, and who wonders why she’s so exhausted, and why everybody else seems to be coping fine.

She also feels guilty at the idea of asking for support.

I’m so seriously pissed off at our society right now!

I’ve written several times before about what new mothers really need, and I’d love to see a shift in our culture about how we support new mothers, with a mother centered, and mother supportive approach, rather than one that only gives gifts to the baby and encourages the new mother to “go back to normal” (as if there was such a thing!) as soon as possible after the birth of her baby-as if nothing of significance has happened.

This post is about the lack of community support, how we’re not meant doing this on our own, and how much harm is caused to new mothers by a culture which encourages women to put up a brave face, and keep their challenging moments secret.

This secret part means that women feel inadequate thinking they are alone in their struggle.

I remember being a new mother and struggling massively with finding my new identity (another topic that isn’t discussed), but also being really tired, bored and lonely (all my social network was at work from 9 to 5) at home with my new baby, and feeling really GUILTY about it.

I had this stupid romantic notion in my head that somehow, motherhood alone ought to make me feel fulfilled.

Ah bloody ah!

So I didn’t reach out and talked to anybody about it.

Luckily I read a lot of books, and I remember feeling so vindicated when reading, in the book “The continuum concept” that it’s not normal for our species to be alone with a baby.

We’re meant to be with other adults once we have babies, and babies are meant to be around many of people too.

We’re meant to have experienced mothers around us, other women in our close community, who can help guide us and make us feel more normal and confidence as we navigate the treacherous waters of new motherhood.

I love this article called ” In the Absence of the Village, Mothers Struggle Most

I was also amazed to read an article about the fact that women who live in traditional tribal societies have the same issues with breastfeeding as Western women but the difference is that they have the support of experienced women around them.

We’re meant to have other people who can hold the baby for a while whilst we sleep, who can take care of chores and provide us with nutritious food whilst we rest and recover from growing and birthing a baby, and get to know our new baby too.

So in our nuclear family culture, for the lack of a village around most of us, we shouldn’t feel guilty about asking for support, we should demand and expect support, because that’s what’s normal for our species.

What’ not normal in the unusual situation Western culture puts us in.

We also live in a strange, “fake” culture, one that is all about glossy Instagram pictures. Motherhood isn’t glossy. Motherhood is raw and messy. There are many moments in the day of a mother, that can be wonderful (the smiles and gurgles of a baby), and also many moments full of tedious drudgery, and many moments which are downright terrible. I love this article about it.

Coming back to my early days of being a mother, my feelings of inadequacy were exacerbated by the fact that I didn’t talk to anybody about it. One of my biggest regrets to this day is not to have hired my birth doula, Maddie Mc Mahon, as a postnatal doula to help me through make sense of things through these first few weeks and months. Knowing the magic of doula support, I know it would have made a world of difference, to have someone witnessing my mothering and reflecting it back to me in a positive light ,and reframing it like I am trying to do with this blog.

But hey I believed that I couldn’t justify spending money on myself, what with my reduced maternity leave pay and all that. It felt selfish and indulgent to spend money on myself.  Yet I bought so much useless crap for my baby. Somehow, I don’t think I even realised at the time that I was a victim of the low value our culture places on mothers and motherhood.

Eventually I started going to baby classes, and met other mothers who became friends, and the informal discussions we had whilst feeding and playing with our babies were peppered with priceless nuggets of information-and made me realise that I was normal and not alone.

As a doula I have had more occasions that I can remember when I’ve witness new mums going through the same feelings of inadequacy.

“I’m not doing anything” they say. I usually reflect back to them that they are solely managing to keep a very helpless and very demanding tiny human alive-and that’s no mean feat!

The problem is that our culture place such a low value on motherhood, and considers it to the a “non activity”, so people assume that mothers just get to relax all day. But nothing could be further from the truth.

I remember when I went back to work when my son was a baby. I went back part time-working 4 days a week. On my day off , I hung out with my new mum friends, some of which had decided not to go back to work. One of them said “I don’t know how you do it”- referring to the fact that she thought that balancing work and being a mother was really difficult. I replied “no, I don’t know how YOU do it”, then proceeded to explain to her that the hard days weren’t the ones at work, but the ones at home.  I told her that on my work days I got uninterrupted coffee and lunch breaks-complete with adult conversation, and that I even got to go to the toilet on my own (anybody with a small child knows that as soon as you sit on the loo they need your attention for something).

There is no breaks in the day of a new mum, no pauses, no quiet, uninterrupted time, no appraisals, no pats on the back, and no bonuses.

The days can be 14-16 hour long or more.

You cannot see the results of your mothering at the end of each day, the results of all the effort, all the patience, all the time and all the love you have poured into your child.

I love this dad’s response to a friend asking what his stay at home wife does all day.

The “I’m a crap mum” worry is another common one. We focus on where we’re failing, on the moment when we’re exhausted and loose our shit with our kids, not on all the love with pour into them all day. I did that a lot in the early days, I saw other mums do stuff I wasn’t doing with my kid, and I felt like I was lacking. I never did focus on the stuff I was doing well.

I have said many times before that there should be some kind of “bad mothers club” (a bit like AA but for mums), where mothers could safely talk about the less pleasant sides of motherhood without being judged.

I was inspired today by reading this story of a mum who hunted around her toddler’s bedroom for the source of the bad smell, only to find her toddler had done a poo behind the curtain, on the windowsill at that. (warning-graphic picture of a poo if you open the link).

This mum was judged and shamed on social media for posting this.

And yet this can be the reality of motherhood for many of us.

I once had my baby in a sling and he had an explosive poo which leaked all the way down his legs and onto the sling. And yes I was out in a park when this happened.

I for one, wish more mothers had the guts to post stories and pictures like the mum who wrote the toddler poo story.

We need a “real motherhood” Instagram account!

Let’s leave the glossy culture behind, the one that keeps on portraying motherhood as filled only with joy, let’s stop only sharing the perfect pictures, and let’s stop pretending that everything in our life is perfect.

Because if more mothers shared the less glamorous stories as well as the joyful moments, more of us would realise that we’re not alone and that motherhood comes with enormous highs, but also with terrible lows. And all within the same day, sometimes within minutes even.

More of us would feel connected, normal, and would have a good laugh in the process too!

Only in sharing the joys and the lows can we truly connect with each other.

If you resonate with this, please comment, and also please share stories of raw moments of motherhood.

 

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29 Comments

  1. Katy lockey on November 13, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    Love this Sophie !!

    • Tricia on December 23, 2017 at 5:36 pm

      I wish I could share a picture in your comments. I took a selfie one morning of my daughter and I that I titled “motherhood is messy”. She is nearly 3 and screaming most of the morning. I hadn’t showered and there are fingerprints on the walls and mirror and a basket off laundry beside us. In the moment I snapped the picture I literally had went to me knees to nurse her on the floor. It was chaotic, messy, raw and still so beautiful

  2. Zoe on November 13, 2017 at 11:49 pm

    Totally spot on!! I’m fairly honest and have spoken about sometimes it’s utterly mundane and frustrating and tough and I don’t need the line well you decided to have these children thrown back at me :/

    We need more honesty it’s ok to say it’s a bit shit sometimes we don’t have to feel grateful 24/7

  3. Linda Robinson on November 14, 2017 at 6:19 am

    What wise sensible words Sophie . I come across this everyday working with my Homestart mums who just see everyone ( in her eyes ) coping well . Every mother needs a female confedont who she can freely say how she is feeling without being judged .
    Unfortunately a lot of mothers l see don’t have family close by as they did years ago , no one to share their inner feeling with , no wonder so many new mums are trying to cope on their own with a brave face saying ” isn’t motherhood wonderful ” What she would really like to shout out to the world ” I am tired , please someone make me a nice meal , hold baby while I go for a sleep. and please please remember l also need to be nurtured “

  4. Jude on November 14, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Great article Sophie. I needed to read this after receiving a ‘gift’ of s comment last week when I was having a moment if stressed-out-ness. ‘I don’t know what your problem is, you’ve got a year off’!

    It didn’t go down well and I didn’t take it lying down either which only added to stress.

    Offers of help and support seem to dry up from relatives and close friends a couple of weeks in. I know maybe we perpetuate that a bit with the emotions you mention (feeling inadequate or like a failure for asking for help etc), but there does need to be more of a drive from others around us to encourage us that it’s ok to ask and receive help. Maybe they don’t offer because they haven’t time, don’t want to appear interfering or as you say the nuclear culture means we should all be responsible for our own. I get the haven’t got time people but even they could offer an ear now and then. The other reasons are irrational. They only add to pressure.

    There needs to be more random acts of kindness for mothers of children of all ages.

  5. Susi on November 14, 2017 at 10:23 am

    Thank you, Sophie for this.
    It’s this kind of thing that needs to be out there.
    For mums who don’t have support around them, it can be rather challenging.

    When I had my oldest kids, there was no Facebook or even wifi around. So, getting to know things was back then in a way more challenging.
    I had felt rather isolated when first got to know of being pregnant and that feeling didn’t change after the birth, if anything it got worse as even from the health visitor, who I’d approached due to feeding problems told me ‘other mums with more kids to look after are managing, so why can’t you’….not quite what was needed to be heard, when she didn’t give any practical help in any way. Having a mother in law a couple of miles away back then, who didn’t approve of me due to my nationality didn’t help either. Her answer was ‘if you can’t come and see us when we got time, then don’t bother’. The helping hand wasn’t there , even though of having needed a cesarian birth due to health problems…there was no time for recovery, no one saying ‘ you need to rest to heal’ or ‘ I come around and help with chores’. Instead it was , why is your house not tidier / cleaner etc…
    It’s taken many, many years and partly due to the internet being around now to realise on how much I would have benefited in those early days from basic help, being allowed to rest and not being made feel inadequate.
    In many ways it’s sad, how little things have moved on as mothers are still suffering , however looking back onto my situation 20-30 years ago it was defiantly more challenging then, as now there are online groups ( even though it takes sometimes a knowing on which groups are really the supportive ones) where mum’s are able to chat with mum’s in similar situations without needing to leave the house while being too tired to do so or simply feeling too overwhelmed.
    Having noticed sadly with my daughter in law, who had refused help after a couple of days, as she’d said ‘ I need to get used to being on my own with her’ while dismissing her own healing time, which shows on how little things have moved on.

    Only by allowing ourselves to talk about our fears and anxietys that surround us by our challenges situations can we create a more peaceful future.

    • sophie on November 14, 2017 at 2:26 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story, Susi. It’s so sad that we haven’t moved on.

  6. Ali Millican on November 14, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Sophie….thank you for this post.
    The only way to make a difference is for women to connect,share experiences, information and support each other.
    With my children now all in their 20s I am focusing my energies on developing a safe place for this to happen in my part of Scotland….we are called Nurture Parents.
    I wonder if you might be able to help us in some way?
    I’d love to have a longer talk with you too!
    We are hoping for some funding to help us build our website.
    I hope to share your post on our FB page🙂

    • sophie on November 14, 2017 at 9:37 pm

      Dear Ali-thank you for sharing this. Happy to chat to see if I could help, you can email me 🙂

  7. Leanne on November 14, 2017 at 2:29 pm

    read this while sat in my messy house, with a small who just had his first jabs so won’t be put down. I’ve got clean washing in piles all around me, last nights dishes in the sink, nappies that need hanging on the line. I’ve got patches on my top where I’ve leaked milk. And tears streaming down my face for hours because I can’t keep up. All the while those hours skip by and I know I’ve got to collect the other 3 kids soon. And the toddler will demand milk all evening, and the eldest will stamp her feet and yell all evening. And I will sit silently begging for someone, anyone to come and make me feel just a little bit less of a failure. But they won’t come. And I will keep on drowning. It does take a village. It really does. And It takes away so much of the good bits when we don’t have one.

    • sophie on November 14, 2017 at 2:48 pm

      Thank you for sharing this Leanne. I hope you do get some support, or at least get to hang out with other mums who get it.

      • Nicola on November 14, 2017 at 7:14 pm

        Thanks for writing about this difficult topic. Although it was a long time ago, I vividly remember feeling as though Ihad no voice. I had embraced attachment theory and breast fed my girls until they were toddlers. We had a family bed and I was a stay at home Mum for about 3yrs until I worked part time. When I wanted support I was told by well meaning, but misguided, family and friends that I had basically brought any difficulties on myself because I wasn’t bottle feeding and letting my babies ‘cry it out’. Any support given was on their terms without respecting my values and goals. This was in the 80s. Luckily I found a strong local La Leche League group who helped me so much.
        It saddens me to know that not much has changed in nearly 28 yrs, even though I was in a different country at the time.

  8. Bryony Flint on November 14, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    I was looking forward to having both sets of our parents so close for when we had our first baby end of October. I never realised I’d need then as much at I do… My husband died in a motorbike crash 6 days before or baby was born, and I’ve had round the clock supervision since. On top of the worrying about the breastfeeding and whether I’m doing the nappies and the winding and everything right, I’m now also terrified that my grief will be affecting my daughter and our bond. I’ve not made a drink or prepared food or done any washing in a month… Thank goodness for my village of friends and family who do take her to change nappies and clothes and to wind and cuddle while I sleep. But what if her strongest bond is with someone else? We can’t win, but we can do our best. And talk about it xxx

    • sophie on November 14, 2017 at 9:40 pm

      Bryony, I’m so sorry that your husband died. I can’t imagine how harrowing this must feel, and the rollercoaster of emotions at having to deal with such grief whilst also trying to meet the needs of a new baby. Sending you gentle hugs.

  9. Mandy on November 14, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    Yes, it can be so hard. I’m a single Mum, 50 in January, and moved house last December when heavily pregnant. I gave up my flat, job, life and friends in London, and have, at the moment, zero help from anyone here. Obviously, I’m also struggling physically, due to age, but am hoping as my daughter, now 8 months, gets older, things will be easier. There have been endless complications in my personal life, which have been very upsetting, and it’d be lovely to have a network of other mums in similar situations to share things with. (Though I’m probably quite unique in my situation!) However, it has been an endless, heartbreaking journey, to have my gorgeous little girl, and my tears are of unbelievable joy that I have been blessed with someone so wonderful as she is. I never ever thought it would happen and I love her to the moon and back. xxx

    • sophie on November 14, 2017 at 9:42 pm

      Mandy-thank you for sharing your story. I hope your life gets less complicated and that find your tribe and get the much needed peer support you deserve. I know of several mums who had a baby after 50.

  10. Fiona on November 15, 2017 at 6:09 am

    Great blog. You’re absolutely right that mums – and not just the new ones – need to hear about and talk about the darker side of parenting. I was lucky enough to live in a village when my kids were little (15-22 years ago), and to find a group of like-minded women through the local toddlers group, with whom I shared support and stories. We made cuppas and cooked for each other, held babies, looked after toddlers, shared breast-feeding advice, gave each other the courage to sleep with our children for as long as we all wanted it, played together, sat around talking, neglected housework, cried together, and laughed like drains… I would not have survived without them, because my eldest son’s dad turned out to be an alcoholic and left us when my son was 6 months old, and I have no family support. My poverty and work situation and mortgage meant I had to go back to work when my son was 4 weeks old. At least now statutory maternity leave gives some women some proper time to mother…
    The key is peer support. Only a minority of women will ever be able to afford professional help, and in any case, what mothers generally need is not paid services to help them get more done, but peers and co-conspirators to give them the inspiration and courage to do less! My most valuable support came from other women who were also struggling, who were brave and honest and foolish and desperate and confident enough to talk to each other about it. Highlights that stay with me include… A conversation where we suddenly realised our own mums had only bathed us once a week, and we’d had 3-4 sets of clothes to wear, while we had 7 times as much work trying to bathe our kids and put them in clean clothes every day… Another at the toddlers’ session where a few of us discovered together that the health visitor had made us all feel bad about sleeping with our kids, but one by one, we realised we were all doing it, a half-dozen or so of us, so we then felt able to continue… An occasion when I picked my toddler son up from a child-minder after work, and he did an explosive nappy-less poo in the half-mile between her house and mine, and I took him to a friend’s to hose him down, not just because she was nearer, but also because I thought I might lose it completely if I took him home and dealt with it alone…
    So my advice, with a couple of decades of hindsight, is to *find your tribe*. They’re out there somewhere. And you’ll need them, not just at the start but all the way through until the teenage years and beyond, probably; so even if they take a while to find, it’s still worth it! 🙂

    • sophie on November 15, 2017 at 9:36 am

      you’re so right, Fiona

  11. Lucy on November 15, 2017 at 11:34 am

    YES! Thank you for expressing so eloquently what so many of us have felt, and no doubt been confused by.

  12. Anousha on November 15, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Thankyou for being the voice of empathy and the voice of sanity and logic. It is insane that mothers are shamed for admitting if they are struggeling. It is insane that when i asked for support and went to live with my mother, someone commneted “if you are struggeling with just one, what are you going to be like with 3?” How can someone be so ignorant and rude? How is it any of their business? How do they even know enough to even make a comment about my situation?

    Our society is so sick right now. Thankyou for writing this.

  13. Cat on November 15, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    Spot on, wholeheartedly agree X

  14. Clare Storton on November 16, 2017 at 12:01 am

    I love this!! So true, i think the more mothers i speak to the more i realise i am not ‘the odd one’ and most feel or felt the same at least once a week.(once a day)
    I am a new mummy and i too felt i was lacking or doing something wrong for at least the first 4 months, it wasn’t until month 5 that i started to focus more on what a ‘bloody good job’ i was doing and stopped being so hard on myself. I would love to instill this on other new mums and help them avoid those ‘4 months’ of distress and anxiety worrying about every little thing. It goes too fast to spend it suffering in silence alone. Ask for help, don’t be ashamed and do whatever you can do coz its only always the best you can do.
    We grew a human, we birthed it and now we are keeping it alive so i think thats a frigging big deal in itself. Without worrying about making it to every baby massage or sensory class with a full face of makeup on and a fresh pair of pants!! Or getting the food shop done and tea on the table. To hell with the housework. That shit can wait.
    Its ok to need help and its ok to not be ok and feel like an alien caged in your own house festering. It took me a long time to realise that and i thank my mummy friends and my own mummy for getting me through it all. Man its f*****g hard work!!! The hardest but by far the best job we’ll ever be privalidged to do!! Just look at that little bubba to remind yourself what you did. Amazing!!

  15. Jojo Hogan on November 16, 2017 at 5:57 am

    Beautiful post, thank you for sharing xxx

  16. Helen on November 16, 2017 at 8:54 am

    I think at the core of the glossy-Instagram culture is the idea that you should be enjoying your life all of the time and if you’re not, you’re doing something wrong. What a lot of pressure!

  17. Jess on November 18, 2017 at 5:51 am

    Beautiful words Sophie: im so lucky to have my mum and sisters around plus a lovely neighbour. And even with all this support there are still hard times: One thing that I have realized since having my second child is that there is absolutely no shame in asking for help and i have been pleasantly surprised by how many people open their hearts and homes to help: from neighbors to mothers groups to friends: i never used to ask but now i do: its helped me to survive: facebook mums groups and playgroups are great for this. While there are endless challenges, there is also great kindness in our communities x

  18. Jen on November 20, 2017 at 1:06 pm

    I see your sling pooplosion and raise you my pooplosion in an ergo😂 It exploded down my son’s legs onto my feet, between my toes and onto the carpet in a Baby Bunting store. I’ll never forget the look of terror on my husbands face until he saw me laughing because what else could i do?! The staff were brilliant. I bought the ergo and even got a discount 🤣

    Your blog is spot on!

    Ive recently been diagnosed with a prolonged pnd with severe stress and severe anxiety because i feel the pressure that i have to “do it all”. I was that mum that said i was fine when i really wasn’t and if i had my time again I would be more honest instead of letting 9 and a half years (and 3 kids) pass before putting my mental health first!

    We mums have to stick together! #mumlove

  19. Carol on November 21, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Yes, yes, yes and, oh YES….!!

  20. AJ on November 23, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    I’ll happily start the bad mothers club with you!

  21. Natalie Rutherford on February 20, 2019 at 3:19 am

    Can we please start an AA for mother’s. I need one!! Thank you for encouraging all of us to be real. Thank you for supporting women and letting us know that we have not been overlooked

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