This morning I posted a picture on my Facebook page with some words about the importance of finding mum friends. Your #mummassive, I called them. I was having a moment, remembering my NCT friends and how I couldn’t have survived the first year of motherhood without them. One mum commented that in an ideal world we’d all have that massive but a lot don’t, despite best effort. Motherhood can be lonely, she said (I know this, first hand). A lot of other mums liked her comment. And it made me wonder, am I being naive? Are there more mums out there alone than together, even though they’ve tried their best not to be? Are we spouting words about ‘finding mum friends’ that are just unrealistic and impossible to follow because some days we’re struggling to remember who we even are?
‘She’s having a baby!’
The first line I ever wrote when I started writing The New Mum’s Notebook was this. ‘Having a baby is wonderful. It can also be overwhelming.‘ I couldn’t think of any other way to say it. And if I had to sum up becoming a mum again, right now, this is what I would still say. I would say it every time a woman has a baby, no matter how many she has.
Having a baby is overwhelming.
(Let’s cut straight to the chase.)
Hanging on for dear life.
Before we become mums, we say stuff like, ‘A baby won’t change me. I’m still going to be me and not lose my sense of self.‘
I remember feeling this. I was petrified of losing my identity when I became a mum. So petrified that, when my first daughter was five months old, I wrote that list with 17 things on that I was going to do to be a good mum and STILL be myself. I also had an actual five year plan with things like ‘having a variety of hobbies,’ ‘learning new skills,’ and ‘playing the piano.’ What on earth did I think motherhood was going to be? I am now two years past that five year plan and I can tell you, I haven’t so much as touched a piano. And the hobbies? Well, I almost went to Zumba, once.
Does that count?
Who am I now?
So, despite our best intentions, motherhood shakes us to our cores.
It changes us. It makes us doubt ourselves. It makes us lose our confidence and forget how to interact with the rest of the world. I have friends who had huge careers and social lives before having kids that, some seven years on, are only just starting to find their feet again. And put on a nice pair of shoes.
I think this is why Instagram is so full of mums doing (great) stuff. To support their families, yes. To find a way of flexible working, yes. But more than anything? To hang onto themselves and some sense of who they were. Who they are.
And who they will be in the future.
I remember feeling lost.
So, when at times we’re struggling with our own sense of identity, I can see why me suggesting mums go out there and forge new friendships, when they’re often at their most vulnerable, sounds a bit idyllic and as overwhelming as the task of motherhood itself.
And it’s easy for me to write it, as I emerge from the baby bubble, now that baby no. 3 is almost two and a half. (It’s probably why I’m becoming one of those really irritating people feeling all nostalgic about it. If I ever write, ‘Enjoy them while they’re young,’ or ‘You’ll miss it when they’re older,’ please report me to Facebook. Or just go ahead and shoot me.)
But could I have done it when I was in the thick of it? Could I have put myself out there when I was feeling that intense sense of loneliness? When I was feeling forgotten. When I was feeling like I didn’t really have anything to say.
Possibly not. But I still believe we must try.
We are (probably) all in the same boat.
Mums have often said to me that groups they have tried to infiltrate are cliquey. And yes, there are some groups and women that may appear ‘cliquey.’ But the majority of women are not like this. The majority of women, of mums (new and old), are like me. And you. Feeling a bit shy or vulnerable or desperately trying to find those feet they once walked on.
Many of the new friends I’ve made since having kids have been in my lowest moments, when I wasn’t in a state to worry about what someone else might think. The mum I barely knew whose shoulder I cried (snotted) on. The mum who could see I was struggling and reached out. The mum who was warm and kind when I needed it. I hope I’ve done the same for others. These friendships might last a year or they might last forever, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that we open up. If we can. And reach out to one another. Otherwise, how do we ever know what boat someone else is really in? How do we know if they’re standoffish, painfully shy or just worrying they’re messing the whole thing up? It takes courage, which you might not think you have. But you have it, you do. And if you do open up and it comes to nothing, don’t give up. Move on. Try again. Your effort is never in vain.
Because, even if it seems they weren’t ready to receive it, to someone else, you have just been that mum who was warm and kind when they needed it.
And they’ll remember that forever, believe me.
Sorry for the mush. Sorry for the idyllic thoughts. But being a bit of an oversharer, I’ve learned that good things come when we talk to one another. I know we’re not all like this (thank god haha) and I’d love to hear your experiences. Tell me I’m wrong and idyllic (and possibly had too much sherry), I don’t mind at all! In the meantime, lots of love to ALL of you mums out there. You’re doing an amazing job and one day it won’t feel quite so suffocating, I promise.