I never planned to become a mother; at least, not in a tangible way. It was always likely to happen. At some point. In the future. Way down the track. But wasn’t even a blip on the radar when my husband and I took our first proper holiday, three years after we were married. We’d both been working two jobs with barely a day off between us; to say we needed the time away was a hilarious understatement.
We spent a week in the mountains. At least, I think there were mountains. There was alcohol – I know this because every day we drank our body weight in red wine; and then some. It didn’t occur to me until two weeks after we returned home that my period, which was due while away, hadn’t shown.
A week later when it still hadn’t arrived, I stared at two blue lines on a stick; horrified. “But how much did we drink while we were away?” I sobbed, convinced the baby I’d never anticipated to be in my womb at that time would be born with fetal alcohol syndrome.* I hadn’t even become a mother, and already I had failed.
*said baby is a straight-A student, Grade 8 pianist and 3 times recipient of the Dux award – he turned out okay.
Three babies arrived into the world in the following six years; no more anticipated or planned than the first (we eventually worked out sex was the problem and promptly stopped having it) (kidding) (sort of). This is where I’d love to be able to say I transitioned into motherhood with grace and ease; instead, my rate of failure only increased with each child.
Like the time my second child climbed over the gate at the top of the stairs and landed wrongly as I was in the throes of both post-natal depression and making lunch and just. couldn’t. deal that day. I played down his tears with hollow reassurance: you’re okay, you’ll be fine, just eat some lunch and you’ll feel better. My husband arrived home later that afternoon and noted his lopsided angle. Maybe we should get him checked out. He had broken his collarbone.
Or the time I had to grab a few things at Camping World and left the store, busy and distracted, thinking I had four kids in tow, only to realise at some point the third one was missing. Where’s Aliandra? Confusion. Panic. Retrace steps. Stay calm. More panic. We found her back at Camping World – she had strayed too far behind as we’d walked out; the automatic doors had closed on her and, too short to activate the door sensors, she’d ended up trapped inside.
And then there was my fourth child who could barely walk yet managed to climb onto the table, momentarily, before landing headfirst onto the wooden floor below; her initial scream lasting less than a second before she blacked out and went limp in my arms and I was left with only the screaming in my own head: oh my god, she’s dead, she’s dead. The ten seconds it took for her to regain consciousness have never felt more like a lifetime. Ten years later, I’m still reeling.
My biggest failure, however, was believing these failures (and the million unmentioned others) defined me as a mother. That I wasn’t a just a mother who failed at times, like every mother, but that I was a failure. Enough so, that I could no longer fight against the inadequacy which overcame me.
Defeated, I walked away.
Everything in me at that time believed my family would be better off without me; that my husband was a far better father than I could ever be a mother. That I wasn’t competent enough or equipped enough or able enough. That I’d not been raised with the kind of mother who’d modelled how to parent well, so I could never be the kind of mother my children needed me to be.
I didn’t have a tribe or a village or a support network or anyone to tell me, this is normal. That failing as a mother is as much part of being a mother as anything else. That motherhood is a fucking hard gig and no matter how it may seem, all women feel like they are failing at times.
I needed someone to tell me this; to tell me how I would struggle with the isolation of being home all day with my kids; that no matter how desperate I was to leave the house and actually see other real-life people, there would always be one sick or one sleeping or one who needed to be fed or one who would have a meltdown because they didn’t want to put their goddamn shoes on.
I needed someone to tell me how alone I would feel when I swapped an adult-filled world for Play School and the Alphabet Song and never-ending rounds of Go Fish; how small my world would become. How small I would become.
How I would lose all sense of identity and self-worth to days I couldn’t even find the energy to shower and dress; how when I eventually did manage to shower I would be too overwhelmed to do anything more than stand there and cry.
I needed to know there would be days where the loneliness would become too much. Days I would be too tired to pick up the dirty socks strewn around the house; too exhausted to put away one more toy or wash one more dish. Days I would be irritable and short-tempered with my kids and react too quickly and speak too harshly.
Days I would feel desperate to be left alone; to not be touched by another or have to speak to another or listen to another. Days I would barely hold my marriage together because of this. Days I would barely hold myself together because of this.
I needed to know there would be days I would fail.
But more so, that it was okay to fail. That failure didn’t define me; not as a mother and not as a woman. That every mother out there was failing and feeling inadequate and falling apart on the bathroom floor on the days it all seemed too much. I needed to know this is what being a mother is like; that for every good day there are even more bad days. That some days are little more than survival. But even then, we’re still enough.
Being a mother isn’t measured in success or failure, but in our ability to meet our children with unconditional love; regardless. It’s in the way we offer them acceptance, understanding, compassion, grace, forgiveness, support, guidance, comfort. The way we nurture them in the truth of who they are and cultivate in them the confidence to become all they’ve ever wanted to be. It’s in the way we show up, even when we don’t know how.
It’s in the way everything they become is because of everything we are.
Even on the days we fail.
Tonight, my children sit around the dinner table; there is talk about their day, the usual ribbing of one another, much laughter. These days, being a mother is less struggle and more heart-in-throat as they begin navigate the world themselves. Days that never seemed to end become years which go by too fast; I am all too aware of how numbered my days are with four of them under my roof. Greedily, I soak in this moment, willing it to stay.
I needed someone to tell me we never really fail, even when we think we do.
Article originally published at whimn.com.au