Motherhood can feel claustrophobic and incredibly lonely, despite the fact you’re never alone, says best-selling author Katy Colins. She loves her kids but has battled that insidious 'Mum guilt' feeling for far too long. Here Katy shares how you can conquer it and get a sense of self back
‘I’m worried I’ll lose who I am when I become a mum,’ I vividly remember confessing this ‘Mum guilt’ to my midwife. I felt shameful for letting myself think it – let alone saying it aloud. I was supposed to be brimming with excitement as my daughter’s birth grew nearer, not consumed by an identity crisis. Having children was my choice after all. Yet no-one prepares you for all you will gain and all you will lose.
In the thirty-one years before I became a mother, I’ve been Katy. I’ve learnt to enjoy my own company and embrace who I am. I loved being independent and traveling the world. I was even nicknamed the ‘Backpacking Bridget Jones’ by the media. Then, upon falling pregnant, I am bestowed a new title: Mum. Every appointment and check-up starts with ‘how’s mum?’ Delivered with a head tilt and a syrupy smile.
‘Mum’ is sleep deprived, elated, sore and consumed with love.
‘Mum’ is everything good and bad wrapped up in a stretched, misshapen body that doesn’t feel like her own.
‘Mum’ doesn’t have post-natal depression, or maybe she does. When nothing feels normal anymore, who knows what normal is?
But the default answer is always ‘yeah, fine.’
Motherhood can feel isolating and lonely
NHS stats show one in 10 new mums experience post-natal depression within a year of giving birth. The NSPCC put that figure as high as one-in-five. We’re all currently trapped with our lives on hold. This sense of longing for what we once had is even more intense during a pandemic. When every day is a replica of the one before it’s no wonder this is taking its toll on new parents. PANDAS Foundation (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support) has reported a massive 240% rise in calls to their helpline and their email service jumped by 150%. Annie Belasco, head of the charity, told how mums have struggled without ‘me time’ – balancing their own perinatal mental health - the period of time when you become pregnant and up to a year after giving birth – while raising a child.
Parents are feeling isolated and lonely; stretched physically and mentally. She said: “The parents calling our helpline are at the end of their tether with anxiety, depression and worsening symptoms of perinatal mental illness. Whilst the pandemic has not caused perinatal illness, the normal coping mechanisms parents would use from conception through to birth and beyond, are not working due to government restrictions. PANDAS Foundation is a proven and crucial support service, widely recognised. But we urgently need the funding to support our people who make this charity such a lifeline to so many in their hours of crisis.”
Let’s break this Mum guilt taboo
Motherhood can feel claustrophobic but it can also feel incredibly lonely, despite the fact you’re never alone. Often, in my case with a three and two-year-old in tow, not even to go to the toilet. But speaking openly about all the difficulties of being a mum is still taboo. It’s as if there’s an unspoken rule that you never utter the words ‘I miss my life before kids.’ Not out loud at least. I bottled up so much of how I was feeling, scared of being judged, convincing myself I was unworthy of having children if I didn’t feel anything less than blessed at all times. The guilt is unlike anything.
I now realise you can’t cherish every moment and shouldn’t be expected to do so. It’s easy to see why you might crave a break. Motherhood demands the impossible from you. It’s tiring and often boring. I had a row with my daughter last week as she wanted to play mummies and babies, yet again. This time I wanted to be the baby. ‘I’m always the mummy!’ She cried, I cried. We put the TV on and had a snack instead.
It’s not that I don’t want to be a mother. At times the love I have for my children terrifies me. I just fantasise about a break from the harder parts of parenting where you feel like you’re living on the edge of your emotions. There are times when I’d like to press pause for a while. And the truth is we can’t go back. We are forever changed because of our children. They left more than stretch marks and unique birth stories.
But you can be more you right now. The world won’t stop spinning if you ask for help and get creative with some ‘you time’. Whether that’s reading a good book, having an uninterrupted bath, or simply getting an early night. You’re not a bad mum for wistfully taking a walk down memory lane every so often. More people than you imagine will be thinking the exact same thing. Parenting is hard, trying to do that against a backdrop of a pandemic is even harder.
Desperately wanting time to yourself doesn’t mean you’re selfish or that you don’t love your children. It means you’re human and need a break and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can love being a mum and still miss your freedom too.
* Katy Colins’s new novel The Best Is Yet To Come is out with HQ on 18th March