Twelve years ago. Or fourteen. Or ten. It doesn’t matter really; the story is the same. Some days I only got out of bed to pee, burrowed like an animal in my duvet, throat tight with the anxiety that tomorrow was a brand new day and at some point I would have to face the teachers irritated that I had not shown my face. Other days, I went in and reported to the headteacher before assembly that yes, I’m here, still alive, and at the end of the day I would do the same, to confirm that I was leaving the premises and my death, if it occurred, would occur on somebody else’s time and premises.
If it sounds a little dramatic, that is because it was. I’m afraid that I always rather enjoyed a little melodrama; it distracted me from the utter bleakness that I felt when my body wasn’t punctuated all over by little wounds, or the will-they-won’t-they of discovery.
The tricky thing is that I am a mother now. It took a little while, and the adjustment to motherhood was not the easiest for me, but I’m ok. And yet my body has these scars. Some of them I don’t mind so much; they are almost beautiful, like silvery fish darting across my skin. Others are ugly; frankly, I would prefer my breasts unscarred and my thighs look positively misogynistic (no more walking around in short skirts once my sons are old enough to read, I suppose). I have never been tempted to Photoshop myself smaller, or to erase my stretchmarks or the crinkly skin from bearing twins twice in two years – but the scars I could live without.
I hate that they attract attention. I hate feeling grateful for dim lighting at parties if I’m wearing something strapless, that I am ambivalent about short sleeves in the office, that my sons are terrifically interested in accidents at present and like to roll up my sleeves to stroke them and to proclaim loud sympathy when we are out in public. It is so sweet that they care but I can’t help but wish that they would moderate their sympathy according to whether or not we are currently surrounded by little old ladies. I hate that it feels so different – even though I know that I cannot possibly be the only mother in this boat, and the comments on my vlog actually suggest that I may not even be in the minority.
Mentally, I guess I’m scarred too. Unhappy thoughts have worn channels in my brain; when sadness or anxiety strikes, it flows down those same channels in the same patterns. I have to remind myself that I’m not a child any more, that I am a mother, that lashing out in anger is unacceptable and damaging. I have to think of them. It doesn’t come easily, but I suppose that the most important things in life rarely do. They are worth fighting for. I am, too.
Mothers are people. Human. We are not infallible. We come with stories, and to suggest that we discard our histories when the babies are pulled up onto our chests is an unrealistic and damaging fallacy. My midwives, who were amazing during my pregnancies, disappeared shortly after my children’s births. My health visitor means well, but her working hours conflict with mine; I have not seen her once since my daughters were born. Mercifully, my antenatal experience with the girls has been healing and easy. But it wasn’t that way when my sons were born. Many women do struggle.
And it’s nice, isn’t it, to have a village behind you. It’s what we all crave – to kick off our shoes and accept a cup of tea and to say, I was crap today. I feel guilty. I feel sad. And for somebody else to respond that No, you are doing your best. And tomorrow will be better. Or to laugh with our friends that Baby was so sweet today, or Little one has mastered his bicycle, I feel so proud. To know that somebody has our back. Someone cares. (If you need more of this in your life I’d recommend joining the Channel Mum chat group; I’m an admin and we really care about keeping the group safe, supportive and friendly.)
But imagine if society were behind us too. Imagine if the key message in every facebook parenting group, behind the advertising of every bottle of baby shampoo, was that It’s ok not to be ok. You are trying your best. We’ve got you.
Nobody is perfect.
We are all just trying our best.
You are good enough. Love yourself, and you’ll be even better.
This is what I want mothers to to imbibe with every sip of lactation tea. This is what I want mothers to be told, every day, every time they deliberate between formula brands, nappy types, preschool or nursery, homeschool or private or state.
There is no perfect parent. You are enough.
They will be fine.
Whatever you choose.
I want to believe it, myself.
That is why I’m behind Siobhan Freegard and Channel Mum every step of the way with their #sadmums #CMYANA campaign. Over the next few weeks, you’ll see plenty of activity from the Channel Mum vloggers promoting the idea that there is no such thing as the perfect parent, and talking openly about our own struggles. Do use the hashtags and join in with the conversation. You don’t have to be alone.