Wednesday, 2 April 2014

I never thought I'd say this, but...

Tom and I (and bump)'s fancy photo-shoot
About 4 years ago, when I was pregnant with Ethan and Thomas was only about 18 months old, I responded to a journalist's request on a parenting forum.  She wanted to speak to mothers under the age of 25 who had children and chose to stay at home with them rather than return to the workplace.  She wanted to examine the 'Rise of Generation Y' and why young, smart women would choose to be at home instead of pursuing a career.

It was an awesome experience - I was flown down to London for the day and given a swish makeover and a fancy photo-shoot, before appearing with some other young, hip mothers on the cover of  The Times Magazine.

The request kind of hit home for me - here I was, 18 months into my post-graduate year with a baby on my hip and another on the way, and a career wasn't so much an option for me as a closed door.

Hiding my bump (kinda) under my gown!
I felt like I'd had no other option than to be at home with my kids.  Having graduated with my undergraduate degree while six months pregnant, I was well aware that any career pathways were closed to me until future notice.  Dave was still finishing university himself, and all the job experience I'd had, albeit a lot, had amounted to cleaning tables, pulling pints and changing bed linen.

Dave finally graduates and I'm not pregnant for a change! Hooray!
This, coupled with and MA in English wasn't really going to cut it in the real world.  Recession had just bitten and the country was flooded with thousands of people who had just lost their jobs and had 20 years of experience and training under their belts.

Any job interviews I'd had always amounted to the same end question; 'what do you plan to do with the children while you work?'
And I had no idea what my answer to that question was.

Perhaps, somewhat foolishly, we had started our family a lot earlier than we should have.  In fact, in hindsight, it really wasn't a great idea.  It was daft.  And we were crazy.  But, like anything we do, we made it work.

Tom and I do some reading!
After making some degree of peace with what I'll always believe to be the female sacrifice, I'd recently committed myself to being a full-time mummy.

If I couldn't afford to pay someone else to look after my child while I worked, then I would do it myself, and I'd make a damn good job of it too.

I would love to say I felt like this, like, any of the time...
Trying to make peace with the fact that I had to stay at home with my kids through getting pregnant at a stupid time in my life was the reason that I answered that journo call.  I needed to justify to myself and the naysayers what I was doing.

The postpartum depression I experienced after having Thomas had been grueling and borne, in retrospect, out of doing just the thing that I had just committed to doing; being the domestic home-body who stayed at home changing bums and washing clothes, while my loving husband and father of said sprog enjoyed adult company in an intellectually stimulating environment while making his own money.

Can you tell I'm still bitter about it?

What I told that journalist about what I wanted to do in the end was true; I did want the best for my children. And in their formative years, yes, I did want to be there in person.  I knew how damn important it is for children to have their mother around in the very early years.

In having no job, indeed, I was very lucky that I had that as an option and didn't have to return to the workplace within months.

But what I did instead actually nearly killed me.

Me doing my mummy thang
Anne Perkins for the Guardian today reported on Lily Allen's return to work after she proclaimed so passionately that she wanted to retire from her own successful career in order to care for her kids.

Lily took to the headlines to announce it all - so sure that she was about to fade into the distance with two wee babies slung on her back.  Domestic bliss called and she ran into it's open arms.

Lily doing her mummy thang too
But now she's back, back to work and back to doing what she does best; saying it as it is.

Speaking to Hello magazine she said:

“I didn’t get ... I mean, I’m not bored by my children. Actually, I am, you know, the oldest one has only just started talking now. So it was really hard because you’re spending all day, every day, with two human beings that can’t communicate back to you.  And for someone like me, when my whole existence is about communicating and response and reaction, it was quite frustrating. I felt like I needed to get out and do something else with my time.”

Now I am not a massive Lily fan - I certainly don't agree with everything she says.  In fact, when she announced that she would love nothing better than to stay at home all day and look after her kids and her man, I laughed hysterically a wee bit.  And then I cried.  And then I laughed a bit more.
Have you got enough time for this?
By the time she said she was taking to the hills with her babes in her arms, I had been there, I had done that and I was clawing my own way back out of it.

That statement that she gave Hello magazine is the most sensible thing I have heard her say in years.

It's exactly how I felt as a mother of two small children at home.

There were great times, of course.  We had long days in the house playing games and making cakes and going to the park.  We spent days in our pyjamas when one of us was ill, we had long days in the garden and we had days where we watched a lot  of T.V.

I loved my time at home with the kids, in the main, but the truth of the matter is, I was just not cut out to be a stay-at-home mum.

Terrible two-some!
And whatever decision I thought I'd made by having it printed in a national magazine, complete with photos for all of my friends and family to see, just didn't stick.

I'm not ashamed (now) to say, I seriously struggled as a mum of two under 3.

I was not one of those mothers who took everything in their stride and got on with things, I really, seriously wanted to be out at work, out at university doing a Masters, out of the house to do anything.  My brain felt underused and I felt trapped. 

I know it was crazy postpartum me talking, but I genuinely thought that it was the end of my life.  I couldn't forsee a different time where it wouldn't be this way.

There were days when the four walls just closed in, closer and closer, suffocating me alongside two screaming, relentless children, who took everything from me, even when I had nothing left to give.

In fact, I probably would have loved to have been someone in the same position as Lily Allen, because unlike her, I didn't have the option of slipping back into an already-made career when the going got tough.

Lily with her fancy Silvercross pram - I had a Silvercross too, but not as nice as this one!
I'd stupidly gone about it the hard way, and I felt ashamed and useless and unwanted.  I felt judged.  While my peers had gone and re-trained and found new niches in the world, I was the only one who'd gone down the domestic route.

The world for new mothers, especially those younger mothers whose communities don't exist in the same way as they did for our own mothers ten years ago, or even older mothers now who have their own community and support systems formed through years of work, is tough.

In fact, it is tough for every woman in her very own way.

We are bombarded with information from the moment we find out we are pregnant.

We need to eat the right things, wear the most fashionable clothes, buy the latest baby gadgets and then, out of nowhere, there's this whole uber-cool 1950's housewife thing where we are supposed to be smart and ready with the home-cooked meals three times a day and also know all about early years care and development.

Everyone is happy to tell us what do and what we should be doing.  And very good at pointing out when we don't get it right.

Society is very good at judging mothers, but not so good at giving them a leg up, as Anne Perkins so rightly observes:

'But the value of the first months and the importance of the role of the parent-with-care – yes, that is still mostly the mother – is only one of a whole load of messages that bombard them. It is not even the loudest nor bossiest in the post-partum environment. When women have to launch protests in order to assert the right to breastfeed in public, it is crashingly obvious that ours is a society that values neither babies nor parenthood. Boarding school-educated politicians talk about the importance of parenting and make policy that treats every adult as a taxpaying economic unit. Or a scrounger. They threaten a law criminalising emotional neglect, but fail to provide the education and support to stop it happening.'

I'm glad to say that now I know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Now I can see possibility and finally, a pretty bright future ahead for myself intellectually.

Me and Ethan having a laugh at home recently - I'm a lot happier with a work/home balance!
Out of the fug of day-to-day childcare grind I can see how easily confused I was - I knew that this was the best for my kids, but I struggled with the fact that I was intellectually bored and that no amount of creative or clever parenting was going to cure it.  

I'm so much happier now, and this reflects on my ability to parent.

There's a difference between being so emotionally and physically exhausted and feeling the burn after mental stimulation, that looking after small children doesn't quite touch.  I hadn't quite worked out what I was going to be, and I think I lost a part of that along the way.

It's taken a long time to work out how I feel.

When I did that interview for that article I was so sure that that was how my life was going to go; that I was this new generation of super mum who didn't care about 'having it all'.  That we were the women who had gone the full circle and got to the point where we didn't need a career to make us happy.

Well, I don't need a career. But I really did need a lot more support when my children were young to stay in the home to provide them with what they needed.  To make me feel valued.  And I did need more validation for my choices.  Where that should have come from will remain arbitrary.  I do however think that there should be more general, properly funded, community support for new mums that smacks them in the face and helps them out more.

And I really want to thank Lily for saying it how it is for so many of us who are scared to state what we feel.

I'm very glad that I gave those years to my children.

I am equally glad not be in the same place now.


  1. Oh, Genna - I'm so sorry you felt judged. I haven't been able to have kids, but having also grown up with a mother who had three under five when she was only twenty-three, I knew it was hard. And yet, sometimes that's all I'd be good at -- so it must have been a bit terrifying to find that no, that "natural" girl option wasn't it, either... and to slog forward, and find where you were meant to fit.

    I think you're quite brave.

  2. Thanks Tanita :)
    I feel like I have been through's taken me to write it down to work out what it was, but I think I'm finally getting there.
    I feel quite humbled.

  3. I hadn't actually appreciated that it must be even harder for intelligent young girls who have made the choice to be young mums because you're right. Now that the national average for 1st kids is pushing 30, i feel like i am surrounded by mum's of a similar age and life experience. It must be really alienating to have gone through early motherhood so young. And undiagnosed PND must have been the pits. Well done for getting thru it! We are definitely kindred spirits!


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