At the weekend I read Laura Dockrill’s compelling memoir What Have I Done? which has been sitting on my bookshelf since its publication in 2020. I knew I was going to read it, but felt dread every time I looked at the rest of its title: Motherhood, Mental Illness and Me. There’s another one I feel the same way about at the moment: probably brilliant, I will read it, it will be a painful read, that’s just how it has to be: Alice Kinsella’s Milk (subtitle On Motherhood and Madness, I’m sure we can all spot the theme here).
I don’t know, some mothers really are the proverbial ducks to water when it comes to tending to their offspring. So many seem to breeze through it, ‘getting on with it’, no intense ripples or shocks to the system that last for years afterward. I truly envy them, and even their children, who get the immediate benefits of an emotionally stable mother from the get-go. I acknowledge that some of these breezy mothers are likely hiding pain also, and my view of these super-human capable mothers is skewed. Still, these vibrant beings exist in my head, something impossible to measure up to, as that will never be me.
I struggle. When I’m sad, and I am today, I have to lean back on a few clichés to get a post going: so here’s one: it is one step forward and it is two steps back. It is green smoothies and mulberries, then salt and vinegar crisps and a mountain of chocolate. It is signing up to all of the exercises classes and online too so there’s no excuses, and laying mute in bed, ruminating over all my past mistakes. It is a gloriously pretty dress, make-up on, or pyjamas stuffed under trousers because I can’t be bothered to get dressed properly. It is trying – always trying – to wipe off the stifling mood mud that threatens to engulf me, and then falling back into its suffocating gloop.
That’s moods, isn’t it? They do pass, but it doesn’t feel like that when you have to live them. Laura Dockrill’s memoir was so truthful and exactly conveyed the insanity that can happen post-natally; for her it tipped over into post-partum psychosis. I was close to that after my first-born, and waited far too long to get help with my shameful, horrid, tortuous thoughts (I feel for my self of 10 years ago, trying to plough through that with a sweet screaming newborn).
Anyway now I have a madness of another sort. It is denial of getting older. It is a shock of suddenly no longer having babies. This is another thing, to my eyes, that so many mothers move though gracefully – their babies growing up. Not me! Nope, this was my ‘purpose’ for so many years, following tiny ones around to check they didn’t die, feeding them, cuddling them, rocking them. Now I’m back working some nights, but rattling around the house in the mornings putting a lot of pressure on myself to ‘finally write that book’ or ‘get a highly paid high-powered job’ or ‘become suddenly extremely buff and fit’, and it’s all no good.
I get it, it’s a transition period, just like early motherhood. But do you know what? It actually sucks.