Showing up: Come As You Are
When I was 24 years old, I became a mum. My glorious daughter was born, and as is the case for most parents, my whole world changed. It was marvellous. The first few months of my daughter’s life I would describe as deeply intuitive. I showed up for her in the only way that I knew how. Completely and utterly as myself, allowing her to be completely and utterly herself. Pure, crying, inconsistent, dependent, breast obsessed, beautiful, whole. I fed her when she needed comfort; I let her sleep on me when she wouldn’t go down in her bed. I hadn’t read any parenting books, I allowed her to guide me and to teach me. She was pure consciousness, I was completely relaxed, and for a few brief months I knew exactly how to be her mother. It felt uncomplicated, albeit very messy and imperfect.
I am not going to say that my daughter was an easy-going baby. She was demanding of my time, extremely sensitive to my energy, extremely sensitive to lots of environmental things actually. She cried a lot, and was soothed only by me. I was entirely ok with that. What else was she meant to be doing? Later I would realise that this phrase ‘meant to be’, is one of the most insidiously harmful pressures we place on ourselves as women; and indirectly, the women around us.
The temporary unravelling of my parenting style began when I was connected with a local mothers group. I showed up at the community centre, grizzling baby in the pram, and was greeted by a group of new mums and cooing babies. They welcomed me warmly. We sat with cups of tea and scotch finger biscuits, talking about labour and birth, tummy time, sleep, and self-soothing. Everything from head circumference to birth weight, neck strength to sleeping behaviours were discussed and analysed like stats after a football game. While it felt natural to talk about our babies, no one seemed to be saying the one thing I was thinking. Am I doing ok? Is no one else here finding this hard sometimes? Nope. Apparently everyone else was just fine – no one had much variation from fine. I left feeling alone and a little unsure of myself.
Now in fairness, this reaction and the unnatural shift in my parenting style that ensued were completely on me. I let insecurity swell up inside me so that every helpful titbit these seemingly flawless mothers offered, felt like a swift blow to my intuition. It wasn’t just in the mother’s group; it was everywhere. Online forums were specifically overwhelming. Was my daughter really meant to be sleeping through the night? Based on what other babies were apparently doing, she absolutely should be. Was letting her fall asleep at my breast really a recipe for an unhealthy dependence on me? Was I really meant to avoid eye contact with her while putting her down, so that she knew that I meant business? Was it really so bad to give her a dummy? Was I condemning her to extensive childhood dental issues if I did? Who made up these rules? Was everything I did by instinct the opposite of what I was ‘meant’ to be doing?
For the next couple of months, the way I showed up as a woman, and most importantly as a mother, was guided entirely by my interpretation of what I felt I was meant to be doing, rather than what felt right to me. It became about how things appeared, rather than how they actually were. I entered the world of controlled crying; something that I know works perfectly well for many families, but for me felt like hell on earth. The strict routines, letting her scream in the pram – oh how she hated the pram- because she was meant to able to do it with ease. I was meant to do things with ease. Wasn’t I? I was miserable. My daughter was stressed. Everything that was once flexible and fun had become rigid and difficult.
The reason for my discomfort turned out to be rather simple. I had forgotten myself in order to fit in with a group of well-meaning women. One night, as my daughter cried in her cot, my fingers were shoved deep into my ears and tears streamed down my cheeks. Every inch of my being was telling me this felt wrong. Something in my heart, not anger but something quite like it, spilled over into my consciousness. What on earth was I doing, and whom on earth was I doing it for?
I ran upstairs to my little girl, picked her up and held her tight. She buried her tear soaked face into mine, and as her sobs turned to tired gasps, I took her into my bed, and fed her to sleep. We did this for many nights afterward. She is now 10, and still likes to sleep with me sometimes. Slowly I began to forgive myself for losing sight of who I was and becoming someone I thought I needed to be. I stopped going to mothers group then, and I stopped accessing too much online advice. Not because the other mums weren’t lovely, they were; but it didn’t feel like the village I had imagined. It felt like an arena, and being there didn’t make me feel good.
I sometimes wonder how many of them really were ‘fine’. How many of them were genuine in the way they showed up for each other as women? Maybe I really was the only one feeling like I was not keeping up sometimes, but I doubt it. I wonder what would have happened back then if I had been honest, unapologetic, genuine, and authentic. What if I had done things my way and supported them to do things theirs? If I had been completely myself, perhaps even one other woman may have felt free to exhale, to feel whatever it was she was feeling that day, even if it wasn’t ‘fine’.
Fast-forward 10 years, and I have become a mother twice more. I have felt different things, and faced different challenges with each child; but one thing I have made sure of is that I show up as myself every single day. On the messy days, the fantastic days, the easy days, and the plain awful days. I do not apologise for how my life looks, nor do I hide it from other mothers. I embrace it all. I do things my way, and I only offer advice to new mums when it is invited; because I know that sometimes advice is not the same as support. At the end of the day, we are all just doing the best we can with what we have. It will look different for us all, and that’s the point. I figure that when we let go of who we feel we are meant to be, and start showing up as we are, we free every mother in our village to do the same.