By someone who didn’t want children, like, ever.
Honesty and vulnerability.
If we had more of this as women, I truly believe our suffering would evaporate. Because, behind closed doors, we are all going through our own ‘fire’ – facing challenges, worrying we’re screwing this up, trying to find the way out. If only we were more honest about this with each other, and – more importantly – shared the lessons we learnt as we walked the hot coals of motherhood and womanhood, we would recognise it for what it is:
That’s all it is.
We’re changing within and without. We’re growing, healing, undoing to be re-done.
And I believe some of us are here to share our lessons. Like midwives of the soul, our path includes sharing what we’re learning along the way, in the hope that our change will help you.
I’m one of those women. As is Dr Rebecca Ray.
If you’re on Instagram, you may already know the words of wisdom of this amazing woman. We’ve also had Rebecca on Happy Mama before, sharing her wisdom around creativity with “The Art of Living“.
And now, she’s back with us, sharing the most vulnerable and beautiful insights into becoming a mother.
My favourite bit? Her reflections on vulnerability (number 5 below, if you can’t wait!). Being vulnerable and asking for help is still one of the hardest things for most of us, but perhaps it can be the greatest gift too.
Here are Rebecca’s ten things she wished she’d known before becoming a mama.
My adult life has been spent in a state of fixed opinion about the role of being a mother: Unless it was something furry and of the canine variety, I had nothing remotely maternal to offer.
Without a ticking biological clock, and with a clear self-understanding that babies were for other people only, I smugly entertained fantasies of a future that included doing what I wanted, whenever I wanted.
Hold on, that sounds selfish.
I should clarify that the evidence I had available at the time meant that I considered not having children as doing any potential offspring of mine a favour. Okay, evidence is probably a flimsy word given that there’s perception and reality and our individual truths always fall in the realm of a little of both. But let me explain.
The pull towards babies and children stopped when I was about 11 years old. Prior to this, I was babysitter numero uno … until I just lost interest. I was never one of those women who had 2.4 children firmly laid out in her life plans. I intellectually understood my friends’ choices to have babies but had no emotional investment in doing so myself. And, if I’m honest, I had to muster a significant amount of energy to show interest as brand new, wriggly, pink baby bundles showed up in the lives of those around me.
I’m aware that this is not the socially acceptable approach for women. In fact, I’m acknowledging a wave of shame and embarrassment in order to write this honestly. I was the woman that had no interest in children – mine or other people’s – and a considerably un-maternal level of impatience and focus on other things. That was my evidence for taking a child-free life path.
This was until Change arrived, barrelling headlong into my plans, sweeping them away in a Mary Poppins-esque ‘winds of change’ scene.
That’s how life rolls, isn’t it? Sometimes we choose change, and sometimes change chooses us. In my case, I fell in love with the most remarkable human I have ever met and in the unfolding of that love, possibilities arrived that had not been present before her.
Now, although love brought with it a sense of expansive potential, it did not bring the warm, maternal feelings I expect envelope most women contemplating motherhood. (Settle down, Shame. This is my truth, not yours). Instead, it simply opened up the idea that what could be created from loving and being loved in such a profound way was beyond anything I had thought possible previously.
And so, for the next three years, we discussed the mind-boggingly serious topic that is creating a life. In answering the “Do we?” or “Don’t We?” question, the answer we continually returned to was love. If it was to be, then the love we share would be the softest, safest, and strongest landing place for a small person to arrive into.
Twelve months of being poked and prodded, measured and monitored later, a magical collection of cells chose us as his parents.
I sit here at 35 weeks pregnant to share with you what I wish I knew before, and during this process in case you’re a little like me: Sure of some things but not of others, outside the mould of the classic Instagram-mama-goddess, and clumsily finding your feet in the blustery winds of change.
- The committees of judgement and comparison get louder
As someone who has done a significant amount of healing and personal growth around self-worth and living authentically, I have been surprised to experience a shakiness when it comes to my sense of feeling enough as I face motherhood. In a world that’s slowly becoming more body positive and encouraging of women expressing their unique selves, there seems to be an archaic (perhaps even toxic) level of comparison and judgement around pregnancy, birth, and parenting at large. This lesson has been one of choosing the opinions I pay attention to and drowning out any other useless noise.
- You never feel ready.
In the profound words of Taylor Swift: “Like, Ever.” I was hoping that, by now, the hormones would bring a sense of right-side-up to what is sure to be upside down in a few short weeks. But I remain in a surreal bubble about what’s to come. Readiness is an emotional, cognitive, and practical state. Thoughts and feelings are transient at the best of times, and this reminds me to choose flow and not force.
- Make sure your obstetrician is your kind of people.
Following on from choosing the opinions you listen to, choose a specialist who gets you. I chose mine based on a pretty website and a throwaway comment by a medical receptionist that, “Dr X is amazing – everyone loves her.” By chance, Dr X turned out to be my kind of people and has been instrumental to me coping with countless physical challenges I couldn’t have anticipated.
- Pregnancy doesn’t look like it does on Instagram
You know how I mentioned that I don’t fit the norm on the Scale of Maternal Mostness? Well, I’ve had a pregnancy that’s not looked as I thought it would either. Far from chiffon-laden maternity shoots and gestational glowiness, I’ve felt like crap every day since about Week 6. I’ve learned more than ever how much I appreciate honesty and vulnerability in others when describing their experience. It’s about getting real with the bad stuff.
- Being vulnerable is life-changing.
I’m the type who is pretty good at teaching others to be vulnerable. Comes with the territory of being a psychologist. But like most things, teaching concepts and applying them In Real Life are two very different things, and being vulnerable is not one of my strong suits. I wish I had known that pregnancy would flatten me and force me to ask for, and accept, help. Not because I think I would have coped better with prior knowledge, but because it’s brought with it the gift of re-learning that other people benefit from being able to give, and provide, and support. I had forgotten how much my fierce independence robs my wife of the chance to step up for me, and I didn’t realise how much accepting her help would make me feel even more loved.
- Fears that I once easily put in their place now seem bigger and uglier.
You know those late-night mind monsters that show up in the dark? Like what if my wife gets killed in a car accident? What if my parents become ill? What if my brother is trapped in an overseas disaster while he’s on holiday? It seems that my mind now has pieces of bait that are very easy to buy into about my important people staying put for this baby. It’s been a conscious effort to mind my mind and conserve my energy for what’s real in the present moment.
- Output changes long before bub has arrived.
While on some level I’ve felt it is much easier to turn down things on the basis that I’ve been so physically unwell I simply can’t do them, I’ve also felt the psychological burden of not being as productive, creative, available, or “on” as I normally am. The fact that I understand the role of the right prefrontal cortex stepping into the spotlight for bonding and caregiving skills doesn’t necessarily make it easier for me to accept that my analytical, logical, problem-solving left prefrontal cortex is less enthusiastic as a result! And so, I continue practicing acceptance of what I can and what I can’t control.
- There may not be a defining moment where maternal goddess-ship arrives.
I’m starting to realise that this far down the track of growing a little human, there’s not likely to be a single moment where I transition into a maternal goddess. I trust that identity shifts in its own time. I also trust that the role of “Mother” is up to me to define for myself outside of the expectations of others or society as a whole. I give myself time to arrive into this role authentically.
- I didn’t realise my relationship with my body was so tenuous.
Apparently, my relationship with my body is only positive as long as I’m my average weight or less, and not stretching, leaking, or hurting from places I didn’t know would stretch, leak, or hurt. To every control freak reading this, I feel you, girlfriend. I didn’t realise my level of self-acceptance was confined to a body that did what I expected it to. So, back to practicing acceptance I go.
- Becoming a Mama requires courage – on every level.
I thought I was brave before I conceived. I believed I lived courageously, full out, and in ways that challenged me meaningfully. I now have a new view on quiet courage. Becoming a Mum has required daily whispers of brave: To survive the pain, to manage the fear, to step into vulnerability, and to take on the task of raising a human knowing full well I’m not perfect and am still learning.
To my fellow mamas-to-be: I hope you see your courage. I hope you see your willingness. And I hope you see that every time you hold your fears gently, and choose to speak kindly to yourself, that the path is a little softer. We can venture into the unknown because we are brave. And we can do it knowing we are not alone.
Dr Rebecca Ray is an inspirational writer, speaker, and clinical psychologist and has just released her new book. ‘Be Happy: 35 Powerful Habits for Personal Growth and Well-Being’ is a collection of her favourite psychological techniques for thriving and living your best life possible. Follow Rebecca’s words, insights and beautiful reflections on her instagram page or her website.