I’m sure by now that many of you have seen the front cover of TIME Magazine, with it’s screaming headline “Are you Mom enough“. It’s a controversial cover, with many blogs written supporting both points of view.
While I’m a big fan of breastfeeding having done so with both Monkey and Bimble, I’m also a firm believer in choices. The cover is implying that if you aren’t still breastfeeding your child, then you are not, a proper mum. Give me a break.
It’s not just breastfeeding though is it? There are so many role models of mums out there that just make other, normal mums, feel really bad. They are able to juggle their 6 children, make home made bread by hand (none of this bread machine lark) daily, they grow all their own organic vegetables, they homeschool their children, they sew, they work out, they have regular sex with their husbands, and they lost their baby weight the second the child just slipped out without having taken any drugs of course. Oh and they manage their multi million dollar home based business while doing all this from the comforts of their country kitsch home.
I admit though, I was always looking around to see what other women were feeding their children when I first became a mum. I’d feel smug that I had made home-made rusks, and that at age 1, Monkey was a great little sleeper. I’m mortified that I was so judgemental. Having Bimble made me chill out a lot more. There wasn’t a competition after all. I stopped making my 3 dimensional birthday cakes which incidentally, looked pretty good but no one ate as it was layered with inches of buttercream, and settled for good old fashioned round chocolate cakes with simple sprinkles.
I allow my kids to have the occasional Happy Meal, because they also have their daily servings of fruit and veg, and eat fish 5 times a week. And they have ice cream for pudding at home. It’s all about balance isn’t it?
It wasn’t all so rosy to begin with. When I was first pregnant with Monkey, I experienced what I self diagnosed as pre-natal depression. The pregnancy made me feel awful. I threw up 5-7 times daily, couldn’t do anything but curl up in the fetal position, and was constantly shivering, and tired throughout the first trimester. I recall one day, on the sofa at home, and I had thrown up for the umpteenth time, and couldn’t fathom going through this one more day. I actually looked at my outstretched wrist, and contemplated walking to the kitchen, getting a knife, and just ending it. The thought going through my mind was, I didn’t sign up for this. Why was this baby making me feel utterly miserable? Apart from the fact that I couldn’t physically drag myself to the kitchen, our dog saved me. Leia knew something wasn’t right, and didn’t leave my side. When she licked my outstretched hand, I knew that I wouldn’t do the unthinkable.
Then during what may have been the 14/15 week scan, I was asked if I wanted to know the sex of the baby. I couldn’t care less, but grumpily agreed. She told me it was a girl. As soon as I heard that, I saw my baby girl being born, growing up, and getting married in a space of sixty seconds. It was then, at that very second, that I fell in love with that growing being inside me.
When Monkey was born, she was a preemie, and had to spend 8 days in the neo-natal intensive care unit. When I brought her home, I wasn’t elated. It was just so hard. No one told me how hard it was going to be. I didn’t have any family around me to help. One day, a neighbour came to visit, and she walked up the stairs to find me sitting gazing out the window, slack jawed, breastfeeding Monkey (I had been feeding her for a couple of hours as she wasn’t satiated), and I was just like a zombie. I didn’t take to motherhood naturally. I was depressed.
One thing saved my life. The Rock had told me about a Mother & Child centre nearby, that organised a Baby Cafe once a week. I decided on a whim to go one day, and nearly wept with joy when I met other mums, who were Just. Like. Me. We were in the same boat! We had the same problems! I went every week for nearly a year after that. I was tested for post natal depression, the results showed that I was borderline. But it was knowing that there was a community of first time mums, who were mostly expats living in Singapore like myself, who didn’t have anyone to help them. Most of us had domestic helpers. Filipina’s who were there ready to help in a second, but my helper, Jean, hadn’t looked after babies before. So while she wanted to help, she too was at a loss and waiting for me to tell her what to do. Me? But I didn’t know what to do either.
When Monkey was 6 weeks old, The Rock went on a business trip for a week. That was the worst week of my life. Monkey was diagnosed as having reflux, so she could only sleep if she was held upright. She was constantly crying and screaming. I was tired, exhausted, and then found out she also had colic. She just wouldn’t stop crying. I was constantly on the internet, trying to find a solution to this unbearable problem. The afternoon The Rock came home, I was feverishly on the internet looking for answers, Jean was holding Monkey trying to stop her crying. He stepped into the house, and both Jean and I burst into tears. At last, someone else who could help, even if it was just to hold Monkey while she screamed so that we could get some respite.
In short, it was so hard. But yes, it got better. If anyone asked me how it was going, I was honest. Perhaps I cried telling these friends how I felt. But talking about it helped, what with a problem shared is a problem halved. I found the greatest help in an online community of mums who were just like me. There are around 15 of us who live around the world, who to this day, keep in touch daily.
What about the mums who don’t talk about how hard it is? Do they feel that if they admitted to not loving their baby, and to having horrific thoughts when the baby wouldn’t stop crying, that they would be judged? I have had so many thoughts, I can’t even write them down here, about what I wanted to do to both Monkey and Bimble when they just wouldn’t stop screaming. I didn’t carry them out – thank god. But I did think about them. What about the mothers who do carry them out, these mothers who suffer from post natal depression, who don’t reach out for help? What about them? What about their babies?
I’ve made it my mission that wherever possible, I’m there to help new mums by just listening, and to offer any help where I can. In my job as a pilates instructor, I especially reach out to my post natal clients. I always ask how they are, how the baby is doing. I let them know that it’s okay to not be perfect. They are encouraged to make that weekly or bi-weekly pilates session, as they are doing something positive for themselves, which is so important. Yes, the baby needs you to care for it, but who is going to care for you?
Every time I heard someone tell me “This too shall pass”, I wanted to punch them in the face. It was the same as them shrugging and saying, hey, we’ve all been there, get through it, toughen up. I wanted help. I wanted solutions, and that phrase didn’t help.
We don’t need the world to tell us that we aren’t doing a good job as mothers. We need support where we can get it. We need a sympathetic arm round our shoulders, and we need this help from other mothers. Let’s not judge. If you think that there is a new mum out there who isn’t coping well, then do your bit and offer some help. It could be a few hours of babysitting so that she can get her rest. It could be your knowledge given your experience in being a mum. It could be a warm cup of tea and a hug. But don’t judge her because she isn’t breastfeeding or dressing her child in organic bamboo clothing. Don’t make her feel bad, as what she’s feeling inside is worse than you can ever imagine.
So Happy Mother’s Day to all those mums who aren’t perfect, and thank you to all our supporters. If it wasn’t for you, it could be a very different story.