On the process of becoming a mother, I can only speak for myself — parenthood is such a personal thing — but the change in status certainly didn’t happen overnight. I wasn’t all of a sudden ‘a mum’: I was still Alice, but Alice supercharged with anxiety. The combination of raging hormones, sleep deprivation, and having the life of a tiny and defenceless human resting in your hands will do that to a person.
Falling pregnant took longer than planned. It’s ironic after so many years of trying to avoid it, and regarding pregnancy test results with trepidation, to find yourself in the exact opposite situation. Once pregnant (box ticked), I was then consumed by the changes, both physical and emotional, taking over me. Unfortunately, any ‘glow’ evaded me: I got morning sickness, rosacea, and a particularly caustic kind of reflux that knocked the breath out of me. I even developed a limp because the extra weight I put on made an old foot injury flare up.
I’ll spare you my birth story, but let’s just acknowledge that birth, although natural, is violent. The human body is a wonder, but giving birth leaves it beyond depleted. It marks a clear line in the sand that sees you forever changed. I will say, however, and with a swell of pride, that it is a private triumph for women and women alone: we are indeed warriors.
While it’s true to say that I had always wanted kids, I had never really given much thought to how challenging it would actually be. I was prepared for sleeplessness, but not the intensity of it all. In those first few hours, weeks, and months, you could throw any probability at me, and I would turn it inside out for hours. Calculating the ideal temperature of a room and the corresponding amount of layers needed, taking into account the material composition of said layers, has literally sucked days out of my life that I will never get back.
I was also capable of mulling over the ins and outs of my daughter’s bodily functions for hours on end, tracking the contents of her nappy with the enthusiasm of a scorekeeper. Sleep was the worst for me. How many hours of sleep did she need? Did 30 minutes count as a nap? Then, once she was finally asleep, I fretted over whether or not she was still breathing. If you’re exhausted from just reading these last two paragraphs, then imagine living through it. Of course, every parent has similar fears, but no one can ever prepare you for the amount of mental space having a baby consumes. Around 89 % of my brain was preoccupied with making sure my daughter was OK, while the remaining 11 % was paranoid that my husband was thinking I had lost the plot. For the record, he did, but I think he’s let it pass, now that I have significantly chilled out.
It’s perhaps thanks to the common nature of childbirth that we forget how awe-inspiring it is. For the uninitiated, imagine being restricted for months and barely sleeping, then going through an extremely physical process that leaves you broken, then bowing down in servitude to an inept and incomprehensible human, denying yourself rest, sleep, and, in some cases, meals, and basic hygiene, for weeks on end.
People talk about making sure you take care of yourself, but I just didn’t have the energy to get dressed properly for weeks (OK, months). When I did my first exercise class, four months postpartum, I almost cried because it had been so long since I had really even considered my own body. Heck, I think my daughter was about eight months old before I started using eye cream again — for special occasions when I felt I needed a ‘lift’. I am privileged — I had help — but, even so, I was simply unable to refocus for months. I worried I had postnatal anxiety at one point, but after speaking to many mums, I think for me it was more straightforward: like so many before me, I was just in shock. 10 months on and I feel ‘myself’ again, but I wholeheartedly take issue with the phrase ‘bounced back’. Let’s just say nothing really ever bounces again.
While writing this, I was hoping to strike a tone that might convey honesty with a dash of wry humour, but, looking back, I can see that my words might come across as negative in parts. This is not my intention. I think what I most want to convey is the challenge of it all, and how personal growth (which is, after all, the purpose of our being) can only really manifest in those moments when life leaves you a little winded.
The best part about the whole process is that it serves to bond you to your child with great intensity. You are together in this — two humans experiencing something so entirely new. You share fears, pain, and confusion. She was born, but I was born again, and my strength has rebuilt at a rate that has matched hers. As she plumps up with rosiness and happiness, so do I. As she stands a little taller, I do, too. I laugh when she laughs. I cry when she cries. We are connected. Our arms are around each other. Our hearts are full.