When you put off having children until later in life, as I did, people start to wonder. They can’t help but speculate as to all the possible reasons why. It was assumed I was avoiding the whole thing because I was a ‘career girl’, too focused on my career (as a Journalist and News Presenter) to even think about it. Also I was single. Blatantly so. I even wrote a book and a column about my search for a Good Man.
This couldn’t have been further from the truth
It was trepidation. The truth was, the thought of becoming a mother terrified me – on many levels. As much as I hoped to be a mum one day, I didn’t think I’d be any good at it.
I wasn’t sure how I would cope with being responsible for someone else when I was still trying to work myself out. In my early 30s, when it would have been advisable to start contemplating motherhood, I had only just begun my own quest for self-awareness. I certainly wasn’t equipped for being responsible for the happiness of someone else. I felt inadequate to mother another.
To me, motherhood was for other women. Women who are natural nurturers. Who have their lives, homes and emotional states in seemingly good order. That certainly wasn’t me at the time. And, yes, I was also single. I just hoped by the time I got all of that sorted (my life and a good man) it wouldn’t be too late.
I was also anxious about the disruption. I’d been warned endlessly about the endless sleepless nights, the hijacking of my life – about just how bloody hard being a mother would be. And that was before I was even pregnant.
Motherhood felt like a giant daunting abyss and I wasn’t sure I had the mettle for it.
So I kept putting it off.
When I finally got pregnant (at 39), jumping in despite my reservations because time was running out, the bad press intensified.
“Get to the movies now because you’ll never go again”, one friend advised ominously.
No movies I could deal with, but I wasn’t so sure about the predictions of two hours sleep a day, insistent crying for seemingly no reason (the baby, that is, and quite possibly the mother too), staying in your PJs all day and a shower only if you’re lucky.
The motherhood picture was clear.
No more yoga classes or strolls on the beach ever again, your career on an inevitable downward slide, feeling out of control and not having any answers.
Some friends and family did occasionally buck the trend with assertions of how lovely parenthood could be, but I didn’t believe them. Their words were drowned out by the constant warnings, the pervading message of our time that motherhood is an arduous path which must be “endured”.
I steeled myself to just take a deep breath and get through it.
My pregnancy didn’t help either.
I was knocked for six by a severe bout of ‘all day sickness’ which lasted a good five months, throwing up several times a day. I spent most of that time lying in bed whipping myself into a frenzy about my imminent new life. (Or lack of).
On reflection, I’m sure I was suffering from ante-natal depression. This was supposed to be an exciting time – this wait for a new baby, especially after 35 when I should be basking in a sea of gratitude for defying the odds and getting pregnant – but I was as flat as a tack. I’d had depression before and so I feared its return. This did not auger well.
When my baby arrived, I got a shock.
After a grueling 48 hour labour followed by an emergency cesarean, I held my beautiful little boy in my arms and knew life would never be the same.
In a good way.
I was instantly and hopelessly in love and excited about our life together, and I couldn’t imagine feeling any other way.
We took our baby home and I kept waiting for hell to kick in, (as I’d been told it would).
But it never did.
Despite struggling to breastfeed, persevering through searingly painful bleeding nipples, I was happy. Sure, like every new parent, I was exhausted with not a spare minute to catch my breath (or have a shower or get to yoga). And I had no idea what I was doing, yet I had never felt so content.
The hardest part for me was facing that my baby would one day grow up. I had empty nest syndrome already.
Stunningly, I was finding motherhood the most rewarding, exhilarating thing I had ever done.
I began to think maybe it would always be this way. Maybe this was to be my experience.
I knew why. It was because I had started to meditate.
When I was five months pregnant and in the thick of impending parenthood panic, I did a meditation course, and I have no doubt it changed everything.
I meditated twice a day (for 20 minutes at a time) through the second half of my pregnancy, and began to feel the first inklings of hope that being a parent might not be all that bad. That I might be ready for this. That, like so many trillions of women before me, I too had the stuff to be a mother.
I was so taken aback by my surprise reaction to motherhood that, when my baby was about nine months old, I did what any writer does when they notice an anomaly: I decided to write about it (in a story for Sunday Life Magazine).
I felt compelled to share my own joyous experience with being a mother, which clashed so harshly with what I had been expecting.
I intended it as an uplifting story.
It was to be a reminder for us to recognise the joy and privilege of motherhood, even when it gets tough, in the hope it might resonate with other mothers who feel the same, and provide hope to those who didn’t.
I certainly wasn’t prepared for what came next.
The morning after my story appeared, my inbox started overflowing with emails from women thanking me writing it. From mothers who could relate, to women who were apprehensive about becoming mothers because of all the negativity they had heard and were grateful for another perspective.
Just as I had anticipated, people were getting it. But what it also revealed was that positive motherhood stories are a taboo. One woman called it her “guilty secret” that she loves being a mum. Another wrote, “Good on you for being brave enough to say what I, and many other mums, couldn’t say.”
And then the backlash began.
The blogosphere went into overdrive with women venting their frustrations about motherhood. My story inspiring a flood of angry and often vindictive messages from mothers who felt my experience highlighted their struggle, clinging with all their might to their belief that their life – since motherhood – had been hijacked. Apparently I had “no right” to comment on motherhood with only one baby. It seems a mother is not qualified to say her bit until her child is at least two, starts school or hits puberty. And she should have at least two children, preferably three. Or more.
I was accused of everything from having a ‘full time nanny’ (I wish) to having Post-Natal Depression (apparently showing symptoms of denial). I had ill health wished upon my child and infertility wished upon me.
It felt like every mother in Australia had something to say on it, both in agreement, and vehemently against. It was the biggest reaction the magazine had ever had to a story. The Sydney Morning Herald comments section reached capacity within hours and mamamia.com.au (which also hosted my story) had thousands of comments. I was invited onto TV and radio to ‘defend’ myself, and it inspired several follow-up articles and opinion pieces. The ‘conversation’ went on for months.
It wasn’t fun.
The reaction shocked me. I didn’t understand how a piece of writing with purely positive intent could inspire such negativity and vitriol. But, as difficult as it was to take in, I realised I had unwittingly struck a massive nerve.
I had begun a conversation that was crying out to be had: That, like it or not, there is another way to approach motherhood.
By hearing about the lives of other mothers, I was given an insight into the challenges many of them face, of how trying their circumstances can be.
But here’s the thing: I don’t believe that the fact that my experience is different is due to some stroke of luck. My enjoyment wasn’t thrust upon me. It wasn’t that I was randomly blessed with a ‘good baby’ or that I have a nanny (I don’t) or that I’m in denial (I’m not. Really).
The only ‘luck’ I have had is that I found a way to focus on the positives and keep things in perspective.
Not in every moment, of course. But I try.
Of course, it wasn’t possible to fit all of that into one magazine article for a Sunday morning. So I am doing it here.
I have started Mother Zen so we can continue the conversation about positive mothering and share information and insights.
I still hear from women (three years after the story appeared) who say they have my article stuck on their fridge as inspiration. Others ask me for advice on how I manage to enjoy being a mother.
I’ve worked hard to get to this place – where I am able to embrace motherhood, with all its challenges and ups and downs. Even more so with two little ones, as I have now.
And I believe it is possible for all of us, no matter what our circumstances, to have a more enriching parenting experience.
We are moving towards a new era of motherhood.
Mums today are being guided away from the endless negativity towards relishing this unique opportunity, and accessing the joy.
Mother Zen gives mothers ‘permission’ to have a range of experiences, including daring to find motherhood enjoyable, gratifying, blissful, even. Most of the time.
If I could find a way of going from apprehension, stalled by fear, to happy mum, then anyone can.
And if I can find ways to share with you how that is possible, then I will…
I am no guru, but I know people who are.