That pretty much sums up how I feel most days, since becoming a mother. Guilt about breastfeeding, guilt about feeling annoyed and tired when they won't stop crying, guilt about not spending much quality time with my firstborn since the second arrived, guilt about going back to work. And that's the tip of the iceberg.
Let me back up slightly and paint you a little picture...
People say it to you over and over again once you're expecting. ‘Life will never be the same once you have kids’. To be honest, it got horrendously irritating and I'd always just shrug it off and dismiss the other (not so encouraging) titbits of advice from practical strangers. Such as ‘Oh you wait, you've no idea what you've let yourself in for’ or ‘Say goodbye to sleep!’ and my ‘favourite’, ‘You won't have a social life now for about 18 years’.
What is it about other parents and relatives that they have to traumatize you with these not so helpful comments? Especially during a time when you're insanely hormonal anyway and anxious about what’s to come. I tell myself that I'm not going to be that kind of mother but I can't promise I haven't given an expectant mother a knowing look of pity now and again.
A lot of it is correct of course. But who needs to hear it, especially in the negative way they say it, with a wide eyed smirk?
In a way, I think all those comments helped us prepare for what was to come and my husband and I found ourselves talking a lot about how we were going to cope, what kind of parents we wanted to be and how we were 100% going to put the same effort into our marriage as we always have, little person or no little person. It's so cliche, but communication really is the key to everything.
16 months on from the birth of our daughter Murphy, we are now very proud (exhausted) parents of Murphy and Maximus. As I write this, Max is sleeping soundly next to me, 3 weeks and 5 days old. Murphy, our very boisterous 1-year-old daughter is currently splashing around in the shallow end of our local pool with her Daddy, happy as Larry! I can honestly say, that aside from our perpetual tiredness, we're still as strong as ever. Despite having little or no quality time together.
We steal the occasional kiss on the way in between rooms. If we're lucky we might be able to watch 10 minutes or Game Of Thrones in the evening before one of them needs something. Ah, gone are the nights of Netflix marathons and popping out for a pint or two. (whistful sigh).
Yes, we plowed into parenthood like it was going out of fashion and decided that if we were going to do it, we might as well have them both pretty close together. Sod the hardships and challenges. I'm not going to lie, at the beginning, we were keen on at least 3 children but we've just decided that two is probably plenty. We're very lucky to have one of each even luckier that they're both healthy and happy. Why push our luck. Also, why the hell would we out number ourselves?!
Running a business
There's another challenge, however. We run our own business from home. I've been a freelance designer since 2012 and it's been fantastic, best thing I ever did and in 2016, after our daughter, Murphy was born, my husband Dave left his job to join me full time as a motion designer.
It's something we always wanted to do together and once our first baby was born it seemed like the perfect time. It was either try or spend a fortune on childcare once I went back to work. It didn't make any sense. With a lot of hard work, it seems to be working out and our children and lucky enough to have both parents around all the time.
‘So when do you get time to work?!’ I hear you ask.
It's difficult. After Murphy was born I had a grand total of 4 weeks off work. It was a case of; if I don't work, there's no money so it was needs must. Of course, there's the statutory maternity pay but who are we kidding? It's not enough to last 6 months. Aside from that, if I did take 6 months off work I doubt my clients would have hung around. Sustaining the business was also an important factor for the future. Plus, Dave was around so we could shift responsibilities as and when we needed to get some work done. It was exhausting but it worked. It still works.
Cue the guilt.
Murphy didn't take to breastfeeding. I had heard how it was difficult and it might not come naturally but, man, I wasn't prepared for the pain! It was excruciating and I cried nearly every time I tried to feed her. But that wasn't the only challenge. She wouldn't latch properly, had terrible colic so the crying was relentless and in the end, she lost so much weight that even the health visitors and Midwife's that were visiting said I needed to give her a bottle because she needed to eat, now!
So we did. And it was a relief, she ate properly, started to gain weight and I didn't have to deal with the pain and the emotional trauma of breastfeeding. Phew! Not so much, I was still surrounded by breastfeeding Nazi’s who thought (and vocalised) that I should try harder and persevere and that it was ‘the most important job I'd ever do so I shouldn't be going back to work so soon’. Sure, I could have tried again once she'd put some weight on but by then we were in a nice routine and she was settled and healthy.
Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.
These comments are from the same people I mentioned earlier with their lovely nuggets of ‘wisdom’. Why would you want to make a new mother feel as though she was failing?
The guilt I felt was amplified by these people, who had no idea what we were coping with day to day, no idea about being self-employed and the pressures that come with that. And dare I say, the pleasures that come with being self-employed. I love my job and I was not about to let it fail. It makes me so angry that mothers judge other mothers for choosing to formula feed when they know perfectly well how challenging it is and that every baby, every family is different. We have choices.
Support in the right places
Eventually, with my husband's wonderful support I learned to block out that noise and come to terms with the fact that as long as she was eating, that was the best thing for our daughter and my emotional sanity.
It also meant that working was an option because we could share the feeding, which was brilliant.
Cue even more guilt.
It's not like I had to leave the house to go to work. But even being in the office upstairs and hearing Murphy crying sent waves of guilt through me as I wondered whether I was a terrible mother for not being in the same room as her 24 hours a day. Jeez, would this guilt ever end? Nope. But as with everything, we worked something out. I cut down my work hours (as much as I could) and reduced to 4 days a week and myself and Murphy spent a whole Friday every week just the two of us which was wonderful. That guilt is there everyday but I tell myself that I'm working to provide a wonderful life for our children and that in the long run it's a good thing. They won't want for anything and we’ll both know that we spent as much time with them as was possible, at the same time as giving them a stable, sustainable upbringing.
Oops, we did it again
Fast forward 6 months and I handed Dave a gift box one day when he was feeling a bit bleh. Murphy was in bed (we'd finally mastered the sleeping) and Dave said ‘hmm, we need something to look forward to, or a new goal to get us motivated’ (chuckle chuckle). It definitely wasn't planned but thankfully, a box full of positive pregnancy tests made Dave smile with delight instead of run for the door. We knew it was going to be a challenge but that's what we live for.
And so, Maximus was born on the 25th July, 2017 and we are now a family of 5. Us, two kids and our long suffering Labrador Ruby. (She used to be my only fur baby with all the attention). He is a wonder and we're so lucky. It's hard work but I think we've found it much easier coping with a newborn this time around. We know what we're doing and there's no dramatic culture change as we already have little to no social life! Haha!
But, cue all the same feelings of guilt about the same stuff but with extras. Max took to breastfeeding much better than Murphy but there were still some challenges. As I write this I’m easing back into work and as you can imagine it’s not easy. It’s a choice as well as a necessity. As we’re self employed, if we don’t work there’s no money coming in. But, we also love what we do and have worked extremely hard over the past six years to build up a successful business and a great life for our family. That’s not something we want to let dwindle or suffer. And so, we’ve decided that 8 weeks of breastfeeding will be all we can do, and Max will have to adapt to formula feeding after that, so that we can again share responsibilities and maintain the business. Cue the guilt. And cue the judgemental few that say we are causing Max harm by not feeding him for as long as possible.
In the long run, we know that we are doing the best thing for out family and slowly but surely I am becoming more confident about our decision.
I also now feel guilty about not spending as much quality time with Murphy. A newborn takes up a lot of time and our fun day Friday's have suffered. The attention she gets from me isn't as it was. However, she has both of us at home with her full time and I have to keep reminding myself of this. She isn't going without and things will get better and change again once Max is a little older.
I’m writing this, not to judge, brag or to gain sympathy but as a kind of therapy for myself. A therapy to thwart the guilt that inevitably comes with parenthood, however you’re approaching it. I know that our children will have a great start in life and with a little luck, good genes and hard work will grow up to be healthy, intelligent, kind and hardworking members of society. Children who’ve seen their parents work hard to provide and spend as much time with them as we can and know how lucky they are to grow up in this kind of environment.
I also write this to all the parents out there who have to put up with judgemental naysayers who always think they know best. To parents who feel an overwhelming guilt for the decisions they make, even though deep down they know they’re doing the right thing. To parents who are working hard to provide a great life for their kids and are doing a darn good job too!
Keep doing what you’re doing, and enjoy every minute!