GUEST BLOG: Bethan Thomas, Hot Tea Mama
I had a vision of what being a mum would be like while I was pregnant, that was nothing like the reality!
It came from novels and films, and the superficial conversations I had with people about how much they loved their kids. The love and happiness that they spoke of, was undoubtedly part of how I felt, but it didn’t cover any of the more difficult and complex feelings that I faced when my daughter was born.
I should start by saying that at this time, we lived in a tiny one bed flat and were waiting to complete our house purchase. We didn’t, and still don't, have family nearby, and none of our close friends had families at this point. We’d done NCT, but as Jake works abroad he’d only been to 3 of the classes, and they’d been so focussed on birth, that I had just rather ignored what might come after…
So when we came home from the hospital after a relatively straightforward birth, I subconsciously expected it to be extremely easy.
In actual fact, it was hard. Really hard. I struggled with breastfeeding as she wouldn’t latch, and my partner went from being a stoic, emotional rock, to an anxiety ridden man who regularly had to leave the room when she was unable to feed properly.
Whilst I coped fine with this (in terms of persisting and establishing breastfeeding), after this hurdle was completed, we got our house keys, and Jake had to spend most days there or at work, leaving me on my own most days. Now, this is the situation virtually all women, or primary carers, find themselves in after 2 weeks paternity leave, but for me. It was when I really started to feel the baby blues.
Our tiny flat felt like a trap. My little baby didn’t nap easily, or for long, but the sound of her crying when I was out, made me stressed. To meet NCT friends for a coffee made me anxious, as it seemed their babies were well behaved and already smiling. My daughter cried and didn’t smile for 9 weeks. I thought it was me.
My partner by this point had got used to our new reality and was in a love bubble with our daughter. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t seem happier. I remember in my head screaming, ‘I know I love her, but I really don’t like her’, as I failed to put words together when he came home late, as he fancied having a few drinks after work.
Not being able to exercise wore me down. It’s always been my mental escape, but I religiously followed the advice not to do anything at all for 6 weeks. To be fair, this has meant my pelvic floor has been good, but it also meant I lost a key part of time in my day for me. At the same time, we’d moved to a new area, with no friends, no family, and in retrospect, it’s no wonder I didn’t feel joyous.
But I slowly got through it. Talking to my parents and my partner, my closer NCT friends, and getting back to running. Stopping trying to get back to the centre of town for NCT meet ups, when it was just making me stressed to make the journey. Slowing down.
I started baking, as something that could give me a sense of achievement, but didn’t require too much time. It replaced some of my feelings that I wasn’t doing enough. When my daughter started to smile, things improved. I realised that she didn’t utterly hate me.
I realise now, that the cakes, the jogs and the chats were all acts of self care. That making time for them is one of the most important things that I could have done.
It can be extremely hard to make time for yourself when you become a mother. You’re almost permanently attached to a baby, but my biggest advice to anyone in this position, is to try to get your partner, family or friends to help you find this time and space. Or get them to read this, so you don’t have to ask them – they’ll know.
It can be 5 minutes for a hot cup of tea on your own, not a day at the spa. But these small pockets of time for yourself are invaluable. They give you time to breathe, get perspective, a break.
It’s what allowed me to begin enjoying the moments more, and I’m not alone. The more I talk to people about this, the more it’s apparent that it’s a common thing. Don’t feel selfish, don’t feel like you need to do more. You are enough.
Bethan Thomas is the founder and owner of Hot Tea Mama