The guilt, my god the guilt.
The confidence and conviction exhibited in first-time mothers about how they will cope/react/adjust when their baby arrives can only be compared to that of a 16-year-old teenager and their approach to, well, just about everything.
They pretty much know it all, okay? They’ve read the books. They’ve watched the segments on TV. They are totally never going to give their baby any sugar, ever. They’re totally just going to put their baby down to sleep and not worry if it cries because that’s what babies do.
They’re also not going to feel guilty about anything. That’s because everything they do – working, exercising, going out with friends – will only help to make them a better version of themselves, in turn ensuring they can be the best version of themselves for their child.
I should know. I was one of those mums-to-be.
Despite everyone telling me to “lower your expectations, Tash. No seriously, really lower your expectations” about having a child, I carried on steadfast with my Pollyanna-esque positivity. A brain-dead cuckoo who still chirped on happily, unaware that it had tumbled out of its nest and was now hurriedly hurtling towards the ground. Face-first.
I got this.
I got this.
I don’t got this.
Soon after G arrived I was very quickly feeling guilty about just about everything. How much G ate, how much she didn’t eat, how much she slept, how much she didn’t sleep, how big she was, how small she was, how much time she spent watching cartoons, how much time I spent playing with her, how much time she spent playing on her own, how much she… FUCK.
And on and on it went.
Honestly, once a new mother takes her first tumble down the rabbit hole of guilt (and every mother will take a trip down there at some stage) it’s near impossible to clamber out.
One of the worst instances occurred when I returned to work.
In the lead up to my return I spent a lot of time crying. Not openly, I didn’t want G to see me weep – I only wanted my daughter to get the best part of me. The crying came late at night when G was asleep and the house was quiet. I would sit in our darkened lounge room and sob silently into my hands. The tears came thick and fast; a furious waterfall fueled by pangs of anger and guilt and longing.
Anger that I could not control myself and think logically about the situation: I was going back to work at a job I loved in a career I had worked so hard and sacrificed so much for. Fulfilling my dream (I reasoned) would ensure that in the future I wouldn’t harbour resentment towards G for having to ‘give up’ my career in order to care for her. I would also be able to provide the absolute best life for my child and ensure she never goes without.
Longing because even though I was still at home with G I was preemptively missing her.
And Guilt was the thing that wrapped its stifling arms around everything and made it all sit like a heavy lump in my heart.
That said, I know I’m not alone. Working mother’s guilt is a bonafide thing. They’ve even done studies on it. There’s also a shit tonne of articles out there aimed at helping women cope and deal with it.
Not that it makes suffering from it any easier.
The thing I hate most is that I don’t really have any workable pieces of advice on how to cope with mummy guilt because I’m still struggling with it. Despite constantly trying to run that logical narrative I mentioned before through my head 24/7, I still feel guilty. I do however know that attempting to bury the feeling doesn’t work and that if you do push that guilt deep deep down into your subconscious it will not lie dormant. Instead it will fester and mutate and rear its ugly gargoyle head at some later date. Only this time it will cloak itself in feelings of anger or sadness.
And don’t try to combat its resurgence with drink – a hangover with a baby is, I’m convinced, one of Dante’s nine circles of Hell.
So, I guess the only thing I can say with certainty is that I’m not alone. Every mother will feel or feels what I am struggling with. At this risk of sounding like I’m indulging in some seriously sick schadenfreude, I take great comfort in knowing that this battle is one that’s been fought before and one that’s still being fought.
This is motherhood.
The guilt is part and parcel of being a mother. The reason we can’t escape it or talk ourselves out-of-it is because it is a totally normal, natural and endearing element of motherhood. This guilt of not being able to be with our children wholly, completely and ALL THE TIME only reconfirms our devotion to them.
And that is something I’m learning to teach myself.