On the third day after I’d given birth; family came to visit us in hospital. One of the first things someone asked me was whether they had accidentally “left one in there” pointing to my swollen stomach. I was so upset, that after they left I anxiously asked one of the nurses whether the swelling should have subsided by now. She said something along the lines of – you’ve carried two growing babies in there for 6 months and you’ve just been through a significant operation…it will take time.
The day after we were discharged from hospital we decided to go to a cafe in an attempt to be “normal”. A pretty young mum intercepted me as I was hobbling back to our table and told me I looked “amazing” and I should be very proud of myself that I had made it out. I didn’t look amazing, but the fact that she took the time to say something so nice really touched me; and whilst I did (of course) have a little cry about it, it made me feel immeasurably happy.
In stark contrast the countless people that stopped me when I was out to comment on the fact I had “double trouble”, or “you’ve got your hands full”, or “poor you”, or “I can’t think of anything worse” probably didn’t realise the effect their thoughtless words had on me. With one of these utterances I could go from being thankful that I had been able to get the little people out of the house, to being tearful and full of self-doubt and fear.
A while ago a new friend and mum of twin girls popped round for a play-date. She was tired and the girls were clearly wearing her down. She told me that she had received an anonymous note through her door with a link to a website for managing crying children. On the same day after a long and emotional day, her husband had relieved her of the girls and she was having a well-deserved quiet moment in the garden with a glass of wine. Whilst sitting there she overheard one of her neighbours on the phone saying that she was “sitting in the garden having a glass of wine whilst her kids are screaming inside”. My friend retreated to her bedroom and cried.
If only people knew how utterly exhausting (on every level) it is being a new parent; how destructive thoughtless words can be; and how desperate many of us are for just a kind look or a word of support from those around us.
When I told one of my friends about the concept of this blog, she asked me if we would be writing about being a Mum when you’re in your 40’s. Whilst pondering that, another friend suggested that we write about how hard it is to make friends with other Mums.
I’m an early 40’s Mum and since I only know being “an older Mum” (hideous phrase) I can only give my perspective which will of course be biased. Unlike a few new Mums I have spoken to who have struggled to get out of the house in the first few months of being home, I forced myself to get out of the house and mingle with other human beings as soon as I could for my own sanity.
The logistics of getting out of the house with newborns are quite demanding. Remembering to pack enough nappies, changes of clothes, blankets, comforters, car seats, buggies, milk apparatus…then you need to think about where you’re going: accessibility, changing facilities, how long you will be out for, will there be coffee, etc. On the basis that I was carrying two of everything, I soon discovered that classes better met my logistical requirements than my preferred cafe jaunts; and discovered that my desirability criteria of a class was Mum based. Whether the teacher could sing in tune (a rarity it would seem); whether the craft ideas were achievable; or whether there was decent tea/coffee and biscuits served were important but not as important as the Mums that attended. That probably sounds a bit small-minded, possibly selfish, but when you are spending every waking moment with little people, what limited time you have with adults must be as good as it possibly can be otherwise you will find excuses not to leave the house.
I mentioned this to someone once and we laughed about the fact that is a bit like being back at school. You want to be liked, you want to be considered fun to be around, you want people to choose you to sit with and possibly (dare I say it) suggest a get-together outside of the class. In order for this to work, you also need to make an effort – fresh clothes (I won’t say “clean” because we all know they don’t stay like that for long); a bit of make-up (not too much); the ability to self deprecate and laugh at yourself; something non-child related to talk about;…basically you need to present a side of you that you may not be feeling; that may not be entirely authentic at that particular moment in time. All of this just so that you can find some “friends” and soften the acute feelings of loneliness and disconnection.
Despite the Office of National Statistics stating that: “54% of mothers in 2016 were aged 30 and over, up from 41% in 1996 and 48% in 2006”; I found that a lot of the classes I went to were attended by younger Mums. Mums in their 20’s and 30’s. Mums whose figures had snapped back and were shown off by super-skinny jeans; who were still regularly partying into the early hours; who were seemingly unfazed by their change in lifestyle; and who weren’t comparing notes on energising teas and anti wrinkle products. With a mixture of (subconscious) envy and a perceived lack of things to talk about I would (subconsciously) circumnavigate this cohort and seek the comfort and familiarity of the older Mums. The Mums who were training hard to reconnect with muscle tone and fitness; who didn’t have the stamina to be out past 9pm; and who were still trying to figure out what it meant to be a Mum.