You are an independent adult, a fully-functioning person with an agenda and expectations and goals. Then you have a baby and everything changes.
Suddenly your focus is shifted - from your career, from your relationships, from the personal rituals that have become so integral to your sense of self, whether it’s the commute to work, a long soak in the bath, or something as simple as an uninterrupted wee. It’s a wonderful shift in many ways that negates a lot of your insecurities as this new responsibility consumes you whole. But still most of us are, at one time or another during motherhood, in danger of losing ourselves a little.
Most of us are, at one time or another during motherhood, in danger of losing ourselves a little.
When my daughter was born, family friends I’d grown up with and my immediate family were the ever-present steadying hand of support. All I needed for those first blissful weeks was my husband and my baby. And yet there was a big hole, once occupied by my girlfriends who I partied with, spent hours on the phone with, and accompanied to dark, baby-free places like cinemas, theatres and bars.
And I didn’t care because I was the ‘baby bore’ we’d all sworn we’d never become. This tiny child was and iseverything. Having a conversation that didn’t begin and end with my daughter’s bowel movements was tough and damn it, I didn’t want to avoid those conversations.
I didn’t want to go out and drink, I certainly didn’t want to get on a tube. I was happy fully immersed in this miraculous ball of warm skin, mewling mouth and tiny fingernails.
And then I realised everyone had gone. Mates went back to work, the visits from far-away friends weren’t frequent enough to fill five husband-free days a week and my baby and I were alone. Sometimes I found myself floundering. When she slept during the day I chewed on my lip. Nothing prepared me for the constant self-doubt. Am I doing this right? Is she supposed to sleep now? Why isn’t she feeding?
Nothing prepared me for the constant self-doubt. Am I doing this right?
Add to this self-doubt the likelihood that you sleep a lot less and your hormones are raging – it’s a recipe for a potentially dark time, even for those of us who are lucky enough to enjoy the early months free from PND and other mental health issues.
It struck me that while we have fantastic midwives and, in some areas, a good continuity of care with post-natal visits from healthcare professionals, there is nothing else in those early months. You can schlep to a library rhyme time or a draughty village hall to watch toddlers bash well-gummed Fisher Price toys into one another, but with babies under six months it can feel a little pointless.
We can be so hard on ourselves and too worried about how each waking moment will affect our babies, when actually giving into an endless feeding session, feet up on the sofa in front of mindless TV is sometimes the very best thing you can do for yourself. Why shouldn’t we have someone to look after us in those early months, when we feel unsure? Or even have someone to tell us we’re doing ok?
Making sure these women were able to chat freely about whatever had gone on that week with their babies, was key.
I set up Mothers Collectivewith that in mind. Gathering mothers into a cosy and private space was the first thought, after countless hours spent dodging the buggy away from the grumpy lunch crowd in cramped cafes. Making sure these women were able to chat freely about whatever had gone on that week with their babies, was key.
I visited a few soulless conference rooms but eventually found The Park House in Bepton and suddenly it was as if we would be inviting people into our home. At the hotel we are allocated a room so there’s an en suite to use and plenty of room to change babies in comfort - or even have a lie down if needs be! They make the most incredible food for us, endless pots of tea and coffee, and in the summer, we can sit under the trees in the garden.
We start at around 11am, but in the loosest terms, knowing that getting yourself and a newborn out of the house can be a challenge in itself. We have one specialist visiting each week, sometimes leading an informal workshop on things like weaning or nutrition, other times giving one-on-one advice on things like sleep or negotiating your return to work.
Some weeks there will be a therapist offering mini treatments such as reiki, reflexology, massage. Other weeks we’ll have someone to lead discussions on the challenges of motherhood, sharing skills from the fields of CBT, mindfulness, meditation, yoga and positive birth reflections.
There’s a lot of frank chat too: rediscovering intimacy with your partner, how to handle pushy in-laws.
We try and shape the sessions according to the members we have and what they best respond to, but generally we see a more relaxed mother – and interestingly, baby – as the session comes to a close. There’s a lot of frank chat too: rediscovering intimacy with your partner, how to handle pushy in-laws - it’s amazing to find comfort in shared opinions and fears.
One day we’d like to create a dedicated ante-natal offering – workshops that introduce pregnant couples to the wealth of alternative therapies that can empower you in labour, as well as unbiased information on birthing from midwives, to hopefully do away with the ‘birth guilt’ so many experience when a natural birth isn’t possible.
It would be amazing to take women all the way from conception to toddlerdom and beyond, but at the moment we just want to focus on getting this bit right. It’s something that is growing alongside our children and our day jobs, so you learn to accept it isn’t going to happen overnight, but we’re enjoying the ride!