We are different now.

If you had asked me before I had kids, whether I believed in equality for women I would have said that yes I did, I did absolutely believe in equality, but I also would have described myself as someone who already had it.

People don’t really like to describe themselves as feminists.

I think sometimes we are afraid.

I asked a family member if she would describe herself as a feminist. She said that, ‘yes’ she would ‘but only if feminism acknowledges that men and women have different lives.’

What she said really made me think for a minute.

Then I stopped ‘really thinking’ because my baby started to cry and I couldn’t think any real thoughts apart from what I might do to stop my baby from crying.

Before I had kids I would say that as a white, kind of working to middle class woman living in England, feminism wasn’t something that I felt I needed. I already had equality, or at least, enough equality to lead the life I wanted. I had, at least on paper, equal opportunities in education and in work and when me and my husband got together we were equal. We earnt about the same, we shared the housework equally, we were equal players.

 

When I was pregnant with my first child I could not wait for our lives as parents to start. I had longed to start our family and to be a mum. When I imagined what life would be like as a mum I imagined it in the same way that my life played out before parenthood; I imagined that I would be an equal player in a team effort between me and my husband.

My experience of childbirth with my first baby was quite traumatic. It was an induced labour that was long and hard followed by an awful third stage in which there were complications with delivering the placenta. I ended up in theatre to have the placenta removed and before they transferred me to theatre there was this truly horrible ten minutes when they attempted to manually remove that placenta with no pain relief for me. It was an excruciating bloody mess. I lost a lot of blood. Each time I moved on the bed I remember kind of splashing around in it and it spattering off the bed onto the floor, like I was kicking around in a too-full bath. When I read in my notes how much blood they estimated I lost I remember thinking that I had almost lost enough to fill up one of those family size bottles of coke.

After I came back from the operation the afternoon passed in a haze with people bringing flowers and chocolates and various checks for the baby. The whole way through my husband was amazing and so supportive and was obviously going through the wringer himself, but it was time for him to go home. Visiting hours were over. If there was a way for him to stay with us in hospital then I think he probably would have done but there wasn’t, so what happened was that he went home.

As he gave us each a kiss and walked off the ward, they turned down the lights for the night shift and I felt the divide between us open up;

We are different now. Our lives are different now.

What’s weird about post birth care is that you have to try and get your head around the fact that despite having gone through what is often very physically and emotionally traumatic, ie childbirth and all the pain and complications and sleeplessness that comes with it, you then are expected to care for a newborn baby which is something that a) you don’t know how to do yet and b) involves very little or no sleep.

Also, because you are in hospital you are effectively on your own in the experience of caring for your newborn. Apart from the occasional injection into your stomach or blood pressure check you just lie in your curtained off cubicle wishing for it to be morning again and trying to figure out things like breastfeeding and how to use an empty sick bowl to hook your babies’ cot-on-wheels over to your bedside so that you can reach her to lift her in and out despite your legs still not being moveable.

At one point a midwife took my baby so that I could sleep but brought her back fifteen minutes later because she would not settle. I was learning my new place in life. I was learning that my comfort or sleep or feelings of isolation were not important. All that was important was that I kept caring for my baby. That any other feelings I had were to be soaked up under a blanket of gratefulness and maternal love for my baby.

I did feel love for my baby. I did feel happy. The only problem was that I also had a lot of other feelings like physical pain, exhaustion, shock and a generally great sense of inadequacy and stress.

And the loneliness.

There is something about having a little person to care for that creates an instant distance in your relationship with other people, partner included.

Now, let me get one thing straight, my husband is an excellent father and husband. He does his share of the parenting and the housework, but when his paternity leave was up and he went back to full time work after a week or two at home with me and our baby, I watched him get into his car from the lounge window and thought,

‘You are going back to your normal life, but mine has changed forever.’

Not fair?

Of course, his life had changed too, right?

Yes, it did. We both became parents and would forever spend our time when not in work, looking after our children. But our lives, although both changed, had not changed each into the same kind of thing. Before we had kids our lives were the same. They were not the same anymore.

He was smartly dressed and was carrying his lunch to eat on his break. He got into the car and turned his radio on, fastened his seatbelt and gave us a wave before driving off for the day. I rocked back and forth on my heels in my sick stained dressing gown with the baby crying on my shoulder. I hummed whatever I could think of and patted her gently on her tiny back. I wasn’t sure what I would do with myself and the baby for the rest of the day, except try to make her go back to sleep somehow so that I could sleep.

I wasn’t angry with my husband, but in a lot of ways, I was jealous of him.

He was going back to something straight forward really. He was going back to a job that he knew how to do where he would work in a team and chat to people. He would have a lunch break and read a book and eat a sandwich. He would end his day at work with a few frustrations but generally would feel that he had achieved something. He would feel good for it. That would be his life for the bulk of his day and the bulk of his week and the bulk of his years.

But work is also hard, right? Work is hard too.

I had spent years putting in 50, 60+ hour weeks as a chef. I knew hard, long, stressful, relentless, work and I was soon to know looking after babies and young children.

Work is easy, being a mother is not.

Being a mother is utterly consuming and exhausting. Part of that exhaustion is that the overwhelming love you have for your children squeezes every last ounce of effort out of you as you strive to be the best kind of mother that you possibly can be for them. I believe that this is why we beat ourselves up about every little thing some days and feel we are not doing a good enough job. We want the very best for our kids and we will throw ourselves under the bus in an attempt to push ourselves to be the best carers we possibly can be.

So let’s talk about choice now because this is something that I hear a lot of. Well, if you don’t enjoy looking after children then why did you become a mother?

mmmmm yes, good point

Why don’t I just stop whinging?

Why don’t I just get on with it like I’m supposed to?

Would you believe me if I said that I actually love children and that I love my own children more than life itself?

They are my light in every struggle I have gone through in my attempt to adjust to this thing called motherhood and to do it right.

I write this blog to give a voice to the difficult feelings and struggles around being a mum and at times readers have responded by also sharing their feelings in comments either on my blog or on my facebook page. Inevitably a bloke called something like ‘Geoff’ who has a bulldog with an England flag in the background as his profile pic will wade in with a comment like,

‘Why didn’t you all just shut your legs if it’s so hard having babies?’

Thanks for your input Geoff.

Let’s look into that option for a minute.

Having children is as hard as it is wonderful and at times the hard bits can feel so overwhelming. At times when we are overwhelmed we might like to talk about how we feel. So mums, if you talk about the hard stuff, do you not deserve to be a mum and is it a choice you should not have made? If it is hard for everyone at some point then maybe we should just all ‘shut our legs’ right?

So, in a world where women just stop having babies because no one can handle it when they say they are struggling or are feeling overwhelmed what would that look like?

If women just ‘shut their legs’?

Eventually there would be no babies or children anywhere. For some people like Geoff this would be a massive bonus as there would be no crying children or breastfeeding mums ruining his experience of enjoying a gingerbread latte in starbucks. When Geoff goes to the supermarket there are no badly behaved threenagers threatening their mothers with French sticks for him to complain about on social media later when he gets home, which will be responded to by thirty-three comments from his friends and family calling for children to be hit more often and agreeing that in ‘their day’ children would never have dared to threaten their mothers with a bread roll, wouldn’t have been able to sit down for a week etc etc ad infintum

Anyway, if women stopped becoming mothers, stopped having babies, eventually there would be no children. There would be no teenagers. There would be no students. (Geoff would be very pleased about that) There would be no professionals, no doctors, teachers, nurses, accountants, politicians, chefs, roadworkers, train drivers, footballers, aid workers, writers, cleaners, bar staff, police officers, firefighters. There would just be the elderly, with only other elderly people to look after them.

One thing we often fail to recognise is that women having babies is the key to everyone’s future. It is the very existence and survival of the human race. Our children are not merely for our own pleasure. We bring them up to be their own people who we hope will go out into the world and continue making it a better place for everyone long after we have gone.

If women stopped having babies we would cease to exist.

To say, ‘well you chose to have children,’ whenever a woman voices difficult feelings about how hard it is to be a mum only really means ‘shut up,’ because do women really have a choice as a collective group to just stop having children? If it’s something that we all did then eventually there would not be a human race.

So, I guess that my point is, having babies and becoming mothers is something women do that is a service to society as much as it is a personal choice for our own pleasure and fulfilment. It is something that makes our lives irrevocably different from the lives of men, even from the men who have become parents with us. The world of paid work comes with more respect, monetary gain, appraisals, promotions, intellectual stimulation and a bit of a free pass to less housework, more sleep and more ‘me time’ even if that ‘me time’ is just being able to do a poo without anyone trying to get onto your lap or getting to eat your lunch without having to simultaneously feed it to someone else.

It is almost six years since I left the world of full time work to become a mother. I still work but on a part time basis and like the many women that have gone before me, I no longer do the same job as before I had children. It didn’t work with the kids. I have found other, less skilled and less paid work to fit around my life as a mum.

I do not earn the same as my husband anymore.

Not by a long shot.

I still have choices but I feel like I am navigating a different landscape to my husband.

I don’t know if we are really equal anymore.

We may be to each other, we may even be when it comes to the division of labour in the home (outside of work hours) but our actual lives; what they feel like and the choices we are each faced with, no, they are not the same.

Our lives were the same once, we were the same once, but now?

We are different now.

When I write stuff there is sometimes a toddler on my shoulder.

 

29 thoughts on “We are different now.

  1. Cheryl M December 8, 2016 / 10:15 pm

    You’ve hit the nai on the head once again x

  2. Ana December 8, 2016 / 10:46 pm

    My thoughts exactly!!

  3. Anne December 8, 2016 / 11:12 pm

    This is well said, and completely on point.

  4. Ruth December 9, 2016 / 12:33 am

    I can remember arguing with my husband after he went back to work after our first. I can actually recall shouting “it’s ok for you, you get to go back to work, while I’m stuck here all day!” He didn’t understand how isolating it is to be on your own all day with a baby. Especially when you are used to working in a team where you have loads of people to talk to all day.

  5. Nikki Thomas December 9, 2016 / 1:15 am

    Thanks for the sharing your thoughts on this, it’s so true. It’s very frustrating when people react to you saying you chose to have children … when we complain about work people don’t say ‘well you chose to work’ do they? No … we’re allowed to complain about work.

    Great post 👍

  6. Sally December 9, 2016 / 4:32 am

    This is brilliant! So true, and your birth experience mirrors mine in many respects. You articulate the loneliness well. My baby boy is three weeks old and I felt the same when my husband went back to work, so accurate.
    Thank you for sharing. Love your wry sense of humour too – great writing.

  7. alison Martyn December 9, 2016 / 5:55 am

    Great artical. Couldn’t have said it better. I often feels as if i am left with the blunt end of the stick. People seem to think that you should be grateful that you can have children and that it is your duty to raise them without complaint. You do not know yourself if you will be any good or have natural mothering abilities. For people like myself who it doesn’t come naturally it is a constant battle with ones self/abilities. You lose yourself along the way. There is little or no achievement in your success, as it is your guidance and teaching which will lead your child to succeed at things eg walking. You can be proud, but it isn’t your achievement, unless you reconise getting out of your PJ is an act of achievement.
    The husbands day it easier in so many ways and get much more me time. I have to be thankful for that we earn enough that I don’t have to work, that I can choose to. For now I try to take it day by day and live in the present.

  8. KP December 9, 2016 / 9:21 am

    You’ve just written exactly how I feel. Very rarely do I vocalise it in fear of looking and feeling like a bad mum. It’s reassuring knowing that I’m not the only one who feels like this.

  9. Claire December 9, 2016 / 9:38 am

    What a lovely article. Thank you for the sensible articulation on what it is like to be a working mother. I love how you have expressed it. I adore my children. More than anything. But why, after many years study, should I have to give up my career, when we can divide it equally??

  10. Jenny December 9, 2016 / 10:46 am

    The Germans have a great saying which loosely translated means “You speak from my heart” I could never have put this any better myself xx

  11. Hilde December 9, 2016 / 4:48 pm

    This is my life, too!

  12. Jess Mio December 9, 2016 / 5:50 pm

    Spot on. Thank you for writing! Being a full time parent is HARD and should not be the exclusive domain of one gender. It’s great that Scandinavian countries have boosted the role of fathers by introducing extensive paternal leave and other measures. I also think that hospitals should cater for both parents, but also that home birth should be more supported. I had a home birth which meant my partner was fully involved throughout labour, birth, and the post-partum period, which set him up well for becoming a full time parent when I returned to work 5 months later. Baby slept on his chest for half of the first night, they bonded and I was able to get some solid sleep. I often think that parenting needs to be shared more, it’s too much for one person to manage the bulk of by themselves. Whether that comes from government policy enabling both parents to work part time, returning to a model of living with extended family, or sharing childcare with a network of close friends. All the best with your journey, and keep writing!

  13. Love it! This is so astute. We’re the generation of women who were raised to believe we could have it all. But the reality of having children is harsh. Too many of us end up abandoning our careers for the sake of our children. It doesn’t feel like there’s a real choice for us.

    I’m a strong believer in campaigning for equality for dads – enhancing their rights as parents to encourage the cultural shift we need to stop marking mothers out as ‘different’. As a female founder who faced maternal unemployment, I’m determined to make a difference and not to create another company that simply “fits the mold”. I’m looking at flexible ways of working and setting up remote teams that will give talented women skilled opportunities to work from home. If we want change in this world, then let’s go make it!

  14. Tin December 9, 2016 / 7:44 pm

    Wonderful, well written and utterly brilliant blog post. I’m sat reading this on a train from work, nodding along. We are both changed but no longer the same. I think this would ring true to so many parents.
    Thank you

  15. Natasha December 9, 2016 / 11:03 pm

    As I read this I felt as though it was my voice. Women’s lives ARE different, we are blessed with the ability to bear life and nurture life, to experience the joys of a being a Mother…. but it comes at a price, our choices narrow, our lives take a back seat and being a Mom is the hardest job I’ve ever done.

    I have had my own business, I have worked three jobs but nothing is as emotionally and physically draining as raising my three beautiful children.

    Of course I wouldn’t change a thing, but it was a realisation that hit me after my first child too, that now my life was different than before, in ways I hadn’t considered.

    Thanks for writing such a great article.
    It’s good to know that I’m not alone in these thoughts.

  16. Mel Brzonkalik December 9, 2016 / 11:28 pm

    Fab piece. An absolutely spot on! 🙌🏾

  17. Sarah December 10, 2016 / 3:19 am

    Good article and very real.

  18. Shayna December 10, 2016 / 3:29 am

    I get that you are exhausted but spare a thought for the millions of women out there who struggle to have babies or cannot have them at all. Five years worth of back to back IVF. Painful procedures with little to no hope of success. Remortgaging the house to pay for it. Every single time you feel these thoughts, remember how privileged you are to have your child. Never forget it. I would take exhaustion over childlessness and depression any day of the week and twice on a Sundays. I don’t know your level of exhaustion but you can’t possibly know that it can a black hope of a world out there for infertile couples.

    • Like Real Life December 22, 2016 / 9:01 pm

      I cannot imagine how painful that must be. I am so sorry for what you have been through.

  19. Bill December 10, 2016 / 3:47 am

    This is the absolute truth. My wife will back me up. Working fathers who have any inkling of how hard motherhood is must surely see what a break it is every time they go to work and their partner stays home to look after the kids. Do your bit when you can fellas!

  20. Damo December 10, 2016 / 4:59 am

    High five!

  21. Tamara Pearce December 10, 2016 / 12:04 pm

    I totally relate to EVERYTHING you have written. My kids are 13 and 12 now. But I remember the first hours, days, years like it was yesterday. Thank you xxx

  22. Withheld December 10, 2016 / 12:48 pm

    In tears reading this and not quite sure why.
    I hope you never experience it but all this really comes home to roost if the father decides to leave you and you realise the choices you made about divisions of labour have made you forever unequal. And the anger you face for suggesting that things need to be made at least a little more even. Then realising that no value was placed on your role all along despite the lip service paid to it.
    But what’s to be done if you don’t believe that full-time childcare is best for small children?

  23. Jo Mortimer December 10, 2016 / 5:58 pm

    Excellent article. Thank you!

  24. Johanna December 10, 2016 / 7:01 pm

    I’ve read this post daily for three days now. It’s so exact. Thank you. Can’t help but chuckle at “thanks for your input Geoff” every time. Can’t help but tear up when I read your comment on the overwhelming love we have for the kids, every time. Whenever I think I’m done and I can’t do more, another cry from kiddos makes me get off the couch. Somehow there’s always a tiny bit more I could give them, coming from I don’t know where. I guess from that love.

  25. Lurgy78 December 10, 2016 / 7:28 pm

    Absoubloodylutely. Have been a sahm for the last 8 years and have produced 3 new human beings in that time. It’s not wrong to sometimes moan about the children, we all moan about our jobs, the only difference is strangers feel they are allowed to not only comment but also judge us for it.
    To all the parents out there, you are doing a fab job and sod what everyone else says.

  26. georgina December 11, 2016 / 2:36 pm

    Well, if you don’t enjoy looking after children then why did you become a father?

    In Europe, many firms give a one year “maternal leave” to mothers followed by a one year “paternal leave” to fathers. Some time during the 3rd year, the child can be looked after in a toddlers’ creche.

    Surprisingly few fathers take advantage of this offer!

    As a single parent (mother) who worked from the time my child was 9 months old, I can only say to all new mums out there:
    if you want to survive, you must sleep when the child sleeps, eat whenever you can and let the other adults look after themselves (and the home) – at least for the first year.

  27. SarahLou January 6, 2017 / 9:40 pm

    oh, yes, this…over & over! Thank you for sharing x

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