A friend of mine runs her own business while looking after her two children and of course running the house. She’s a busy lady who is so devoted to all of her life, but she has expressed how difficult it is to do it all without feeling guilty. Guilty for prioritizing something over another thing, all the time. Mum Guilt, she called it, and I think it’s another one of those things I feel needs to be acknowledged by society, by individuals — not just other mothers.
It made me think about all the times I have felt bad as a mother, and that’s without running my own business. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to split yourself between your work, your kids, and all the extra baggage that isn’t named officially — like housework and anything that’s running a house for multiple people. That alone is exhausting on your own.
Guilt At Birth
My body delivered Andriel just one hour after I arrived at the hospital, having been contracting at home for just 2 hours. There was no time for painkillers or breathing exercises. I was terrified.
One of the first times I felt guilty as a mother was when Andriel was only a few minutes old and I had to leave my husband and our son for a couple of hours. My body was so shocked from the rushed labour that it had stopped contracting as soon as Andriel was born, forgetting about the placenta.
I had to go into theatre urgently to have it surgically removed. I couldn’t bear to think that Andriel might miss the person who had just spent 9 months getting to know. He was for the first time exposed to the world, vulnerable, and I wasn’t there. I was worried he’d be hungry and need his first feed and that he would instead be with his dad, someone whom he barely knew.
Likewise, this was going to be my husband’s first moments with our son, alone, in a waiting room, wondering how it was going with me. I smiled at how awkward it must’ve been, and how Devonte might have even cracked a joke or two to break the ice. I imagined Devonte introducing himself, kissing Andriel’s forehead while rubbing his head softly, saying “mummy will be here soon”.
My guilt turned into love, to jealousy, to love again.
But I also had a really good laugh with the anesthetist. Darah talked to me (or rather listened to me talking at him) during the whole surgery to ensure I didn’t lose consciousness. Actually, I only give that reason to make me feel better about rambling on during the entire operation because I felt exhilarated from the labour and just high of happiness. What’s amazing about Darah is that he engaged fully and responded with genuine interest, despite me being one of many patients he would have to listen to just during this night shift.
He helped make the time fly for me to get back to my son. And I do feel like I flew out of surgery — the medical staff received an emergency callout literally seconds after finishing with mine and they had to hurriedly plonk me onto a wheeled bed from the operating table. A midwife pushed me around the corridors of the hospital like a shopping trolley on Black Friday into a room where she assured me someone would come for me as she ran off to help her team. I pictured them all wearing capes instead of gowns, saving the world, one mother and baby at a time. I felt such pride in the English health system. But I also wondered if anyone was going to pick me up and take me to my son, for I sat up in bed, paralyzed from the waist down from the spinal block, twiddling my thumbs for what felt like hours.
It’s crazy how much of an effect hormones have on the mood. I can’t remember any other time before becoming a mother where I felt so many heightened emotions at once. I’ve never done drugs, but I wondered whether this feeling of extremeness and awe was what users seek. I remember thinking to myself at the time how awful circumstances must be for people to choose something so destructive to feel good and it left me in tears. By the time my husband got to me with Andriel, I was a wreck and he just assumed I was crying tears of joy to see my son when in actual fact, I was feeling sorry for all the unhappy people in the world. I left a silent request for the universe to take care of the world while I started taking care of mine.
For a few weeks after the surgery, I had a terrible pain on my back because of the bruising from the spinal block. Devonte had to keep Andriel in a cotbed next to him and pass him to me when he woke up for a feed in the night because I couldn’t lift him. But when he went back to work, the cotbed came to my side of the bed and I had to stand up every time Andriel woke up in the night and position myself carefully to be able to pick him up safely without bending my back too much. Sometimes, he would choose not to sleep for hours meaning I would walk around the room soothing him, rocking him up and down, and basically, everything except sleeping, while I silently whinced in pain.
Eventually, I took myself to the doctor, Andriel in the portable car seat which I struggled so much to carry, for the doctor to explain this pain to be normal and to expect it to last 6 weeks at least. He said I’d need rest and not to pick up heavy objects, including the car seat I had just carried into the room. I laughed. Nobody helped me carry the car seat back to the car.
It was impossible to just rest while on my own with a newborn. I felt awful about not being able to keep up with the cooking, the housework, my baby’s needs, the shopping. This with the lack of sleep, the change in hormones, and the new routines I was trying to get used to, would all become suddenly overwhelming at times and I understood at this point why so many women struggle with postnatal depression. I felt, amongst many things, guilty and inadequate.
Getting Away With Guilt
Like every baby, Andriel couldn’t do much until he was at least 6 months old, so I found a way to cook and clean — with him in the sling, mostly while he slept, as he slept multiple times a day. I remember cooking an entire meal while he was peacefully sleeping on my chest. The sound of the kitchen fan soothed him. The number of positions I ate in to make sure he didn’t stir were crazy. My back was better by then so carrying him was little struggle.
One particular time I sat (or rather, stood) throughout an entire meal at a restaurant, being fed steak and chips by my sister because every time I moved Andriel would stir and risk waking up. That was fun.
Getting Caught up With Guilt
Now, he is aware.
He is clingy at times.
The guilt I feel for having to choose to either be with him or make a half nutritious meal is not just a mild impracticality. Sometimes, he will go through a phase that lasts around a week where he has to be with me constantly and will scream and cry if I so much as step away from his grasp. He may be going through a developmental leap that causes separation anxiety and I fear that if I don’t respond the right way in that window, I will psychologically f*ck him up. Takeaways are my friends during these times but then I fear that if I choose bad foods to be able to spend more time with my son then I’m creating bad habits with food that could lead to obesity, diabetes, and more. Either way, the guilt just always seems to be there. It’s nuts.
It won’t get any easier. Sooner or later, when my need to work more increases, we’ll have to send him to a nursery and the guilt will eat me up then, too. Nothing will prepare us for it, so all I can do is just be there now, all the time, loving him, even when I am not feeling good.
My guilt is not Andriel’s fault.
My guilt is not his problem.
So it’s therefore up to me to lead by example and teach him that guilt is part of life, not to be seen as a weakness. Because I cannot let him think of me as weak. He needs to know how strong a mother is in spite of her guilt.
My aim here is to reassure you, the reader, that if you’re a mother suffering from mum guilt, it’s OK. And, if you’re not a mother, I’m sure you know one — bear that in mind. Bear in mind the conflicts she will have gone through, the older her kids get. If she’s anything like me, I promise you she has the best interests of her kids at heart, and she was/is doing her best — all the time.
And, I’m telling you, you’ve got this, I’ve got this, and your mother has got this.
“Motherhood: All love begins and ends there.” — Robert Browning
This post was previously published on Medium.com.
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