I have been compelled to write this blog post because of two things:
Firstly, I had a call from a mother of two who needs some portraits of her and her second baby. I listened to her request and was ready with my response but it was when she told me ‘why’ she wanted the portraits done that stopped me.
She wants to have some beautiful portraits of her and her baby because she feels that she hasn’t bonded with her second child who is about 6 months old.
The second reason is that today is the 4th day I have been without my son these school holidays as he is with his Dad for this week, something that has never happened before since our marriage ended about 8 years ago.
When Bridget* rang me and told me that she feels she hasn’t bonded with her child it struck a chord with me.
When I had Henry almost 10 years ago when I was 40, I knew he was my first and only child. My family thought I would suffer post natal depression and that I wouldn’t cope. I felt the same way! I am an anxious person and do get a bit stressed, so I thankfully none of that happened and I have coped…. so far!
I didn’t really think about having a child until my body clock started to tick. Being a mother wasn’t something I was born to be. In my early adult years I preferred the hedonistic lifestyle of partying, having the right outfits and trying to meet Mr Right. When I had the urge to procreate it was incredibly persuasive and I felt it may never happen, but eventually it did.
I remember Henry’s birth like it was yesterday. The midwife lay him on my chest and he suckled my breast. It had been a long labour and I was exhausted. I looked at my child and was marvelled that he had been this ‘thing’ inside me for the last 9 months but I didn’t get any feelings of overwhelming love, no feelings of the joys of motherhood, no feelings at all, apart from thinking he looked like my husband’s youngest child from his last relationship. Was I weird? This isn’t surely how it is meant to be? Why wasn’t I in love with this child; something I had loved from afar for years? There was no magical overwhelming feelings of love and this is hard to admit. Am I abnormal for not feeling the love? Surely other women didn’t feel like me? Have I failed?
I managed to breastfeed, bathe, dress him and in hindsight he was a very easy baby. I was very fortunate but it was a hard slog. I cocooned myself for about 2 months at home and set my sights at being able to mother this child at the the lowest common denominator. When I had little wins I felt proud and invincible. When I had days of sheer boredom and frustration I kept asking how I could feel like this?? I loathed myself when I got so angry at his crying. It frustrated me that I couldn’t just pop out to get a loaf of bread from the shop without being madly organised. Shouldn’t I be revelling in the fact I had a beautiful healthy happy baby who was hitting all the milestones?
I know now that I probably did love him in those early months but to me back then it was like being possessed by a parasite. He fed from me, drained me of energy and emotions until I felt I had nothing left. It is all consuming. This was not love. I felt responsible. I felt the need to grow up. I felt the need to provide and to protect and I felt scared.
I still feel scared.
However, I have learnt to parent. I went to parenting classes, swapped stories and anecdotes with other mums, accepted support. I was also very lucky to have a wonderful support system in my mother and sister.
So for me being a mother didn’t feel natural. As women we are exposed on a daily basis what a stereotypical mother is through media and in reality it is often far from that. In hindsight I was being unduly hard on myself.
Mothering isn’t about doing craft. I do not do craft! His bedroom, food, toys and outfits didn’t and don’t look like the do on Pinterest!
In my defence the one thing I have always done is read to him and have done since he his birth. I am so proud that he was reading before school and that he has a wonderful general knowledge and is a creative sensitive boy who loves music and his sport also. Henry and I are a team. I love our open and candid chats about religion, about love and about politics and the world in general. His insight to what is happening around him is astonishing.
So a mother’s love for me is more than the warmth you feel inside when he is behaving well. It is more than the tears I spill when I watch him sing the national anthem at school assembly. It is the everyday, the normal stuff that happens. Love of my child is and has always been with me, I just didn’t recognise it through the tears and frustration.
Being a parent is the hardest job in the world and we want the best for our children and for me as a single parent of a boy I want to teach him resilience and respect.
I feel I have plenty of resilience. I have always supported myself, even when married. I am a risk taker and have always bounced back if problems have occurred. I have learnt many lessons in life and feel I am a great role model for my son.. I hope that my son will have the strength of mind to be his own person, to make his own decisions in life, live with those consequences and be a fighter, metaphorically speaking.
As primary carer for my son I sometimes worry to do not receive the respect I feel I deserve from him, especially when disciplining him. Threats to “call your father” help, but I wonder Why? Why should he be worried about his father knowing of his undesirable behaviour, when he should be worried that he has upset me? Does this constitute a lack of respect of me? Deep down I know it doesn’t as I know he is at his most comfortable when he is with me; it is just at times when things have been tough, it is hard to remember.
I still, to this day, struggle with the fact that my son’s needs will always come first until he is old enough to live his own life. But, I can honestly say that I love my son. Henry is a wonderful, intuitive, intelligent boy and I was recently told by his Year 4 teacher recently that he is “bound for great things”…. which made me feel incredibly proud. I look at him and see a beautiful handsome young man. I can watch him sleep for ages! I love him so much that being without him this week is like losing a limb, like I have lost something and cannot find it. Life can be a bit repetitive when you have kids and though I may feel much frustration with many jobs half done, the lack of money and no “me’ time, I could not imagine my world without him.
So, to me being a mother doesn’t always mean magical feelings of love, it is the day to day, the silly little things, it is knowing that you are needed for just being you, knowing that someone else is thinking about you, even if only to feed them!
*Not her real name