When I got pregnant I did what I imagine most expectant parents do: dreamed up tiny toes and eyelashes, a button nose and baby-gro bum; imagined cuddly mornings and kissing a sweet downy head. All of this felt natural, to me; I couldn’t wait to share the love I already felt for the little stranger who was with me, always.
What I wasn’t so sure of was how I was going to be “me”, as a mum.
I’ve never been very good at knowing what I want to be, in the way that lots of my peers seemed to. At one point I remember thinking it would be cool to be Beatrix Potter, oddball child that I was. What could be cooler than flouncing about in a long skirt all day, writing, with bunny for a pal? (Besides the obvious problems in wanting to be a deceased Victorian author, I’m pretty sure this version of her is as unfeminist as it gets. But I was 5. Let’s cut me some slack). Other than that, I could never imagine myself doing any one job.
I don’t feel like there’s anything wrong with that, now, but sometimes a job or skill can help to define you, so being totally without a goal or aim for yourself can leave you feeling lacking and nibble away at your self esteem. Somehow, not having this strong idea of who I was based on a job made it harder for me to picture my life post baby.
When I thought of “mums”, they seemed like another species. They wore paisley tunic tops and went to toddlers’ groups. They were organised; they had freezers full of pureed baby food and cutesy changing bags and knew about sleeping schedules.
These things did not seem like “me”. Not the actual caring for my own child – that bit I could sort of imagine – and I realise now that is what makes you a mum, as obvious as that sounds.
This all might sound like waffle, but the importance of identity to self esteem is huge. Knowing who you are, your values, how you see yourself in relation to others: these things help you to find your place in the world and feel secure in it.
Now that Soren is here, and a scampering nearly 16-month old, I struggle to remember who I was without him. I don’t mean that in a mawkish sense, only that mothering has made me a stronger and somehow, more rounded person. But it took a long time to feel both like A Mum and Myself.
I realise now that trying to feel like a mother when you’re pregnant is a bit like trying to feel like a pilot when you’ve just passed the pilot exams. (The Pilot Exams. Excellent. I probably could have thought of a better metaphor there.)
What I mean is it took experience and doing things my way – feeling it all out, wondering, most of the time, whether I was right – to make me feel like I was a mother. That and a vital realisation that there are a load of other women out there who are mothering and muddling along, too.
Soon after Soren was born, I stumbled across the now defunct Crafted Sisterhood, a blog of shared experience on motherhood; and Instagram accounts like Mere Soeur, who champions the sisterhood of motherhood and can sell you killer pins and t-shirts to wear with pride; and Selfish Mother, the blogzine dedicated to normalising parenthood.
Beautiful bi-annual indie print mag The Fourth Trimester, which supports new mums by sharing essays, artwork and features by real new mums, for real new mums, was a revelation. (They also have a version for dads, launching now.)
These outlets and the message they share is that there is no one way to mother, and that no mother is perfect – that most of the time, we’re all just trying our best.
I discovered babywearing and beautiful woven wraps which let me get outside, unencumbered by a buggy, to go tramping about wherever I felt while wearing something gorgeous. The independence and confidence that gave me was immeasurable.
I still have moments where I struggle to see the “me” in my day to day. It can be a challenge to remember who I am, sometimes, in between singing The Grand Old Duke of York for the 118th time; trying to making food while a tiny human hangs off your leg, changing nappies, doing the laundry, and not collapsing in a heap every night whenever the kid finally goes to sleep.
I realise the thing that really helped me to feel like a mother was empowerment. Seeing other women do it in a way I could relate to, normalise it and champion it.
This wave of feminist mums – of exciting, brilliant women, who happen to be mothers too – aren’t trying to live up to some last century ideal about what it means to be a mother (often because it’s unworkable: staying at home, for example, is now a luxury few families can afford) but are instead forging their own paths, and taking others, less sure but more than able, along too. They made me feel like maybe there was a place I could fit in, as a mum.