Our founder Georgie Abay shared this story a year ago when her daughter started school. We thought we'd share it again for mothers who are sending their children off to school for the very first time...
My firstborn Arabella starts school next week. I’m sad, of course. I’ll probably cry. But I wouldn’t do it all over again. I wouldn’t go back in time and start from the beginning. I know many women who wish they could go back to the baby stage. The minute they’re around a newborn, their ovaries start dancing.
My ovaries just feel anxious and awkward around newborns. Don’t get me wrong – there were moments I loved. Many, many moments I’ll treasure forever, but for me, motherhood gets better as they get older. Gosh, it gets so much better.
The moments I treasure? I adored breastfeeding both my girls. After difficult births – both girls were premature – it was a joy to discover that I could feed without any major issues other than ending up a shaky mess in a medical centre one Sunday morning with a bout of mastitis. I loved the closeness I felt to them. The squeaky mouse noises they made. The way they stroked my chest with their precious, little hands. The floppy milk drunk state that feeding left them in.
I loved the smiles. The way their faces would light up when our eyes met. I’d never experienced such an intense love. Suddenly, my life had meaning. I adored the sound of them breathing at night. When I went back to work for VOGUE when Arabella was seven months old, I’d often get home to find her sleeping. I’d lie next to her cot and listen to the sound of her sweet breath.
These were just some of the moments I’ll savour. The moments that still make my heart melt. But I still wouldn’t go back and do it all again.
No way. You see, those early days of motherhood shook me. They made me anxious, scared, tired, vulnerable and at times, angry. Both our girls, born 17 months apart, were shocking sleepers. Night after night for months on end, they cried.
The hours between 2-5am were always the worst. I could handle it up until then. I’d shoosh my babies. I’d bounce. I’d rock. And then around 2am, my patience would wear thin. Thank god, my husband stayed strong. He never once lost it. I felt guilty for not being able to cope. I’m the mother! I should be able to cope. And I felt even more guilty because I had healthy babies after difficult births – things could have been so much worse.
Being premature, they both had reflux and vomited for over a year each. There wasn’t a day that went by where I didn’t smell of vomit. I became immune to it. There were nights (and days), where I felt like I’d lost the plot. Usually, this would happen around 4am.
With Arabella, I’d spend my days as a new mother roaming the streets with the pram. I remember trying to stop for a coffee. I’ll order it in a glass and take a seat. The baby was sleeping, so this would be my moment to sit down and stop. STOP?! Not a chance. Arabella needed motion to sleep. The minute I stopped, she’d wake, so I kept walking. I didn’t stop walking. She loved the pram but hated the car. She’d scream and scream in the car. I remember once driving and almost stopping in the middle of the highway because her screaming was so unbearable.
I’d turn up to mother’s group weary. We’d all try and act like things were fine. No one wants to break down in public or admit they’re not coping. Not in front of strangers. We’d act like getting to the meeting was a breeze, when actually it was harder than anything we’d ever done before.
I’ve bungee jumped in Nepal – how could getting up the road be so hard? I could never have fathomed how difficult simple things could become. Taking a shower even seemed overwhelming. We’d go around the circle, discussing our issues. Settling. Reflux. Witching hour. Cat napping. Breastfeeding. All of us new to the world of motherhood. All of us shell shocked by the enormity of it all.
Honestly, in those early years of motherhood, I was utterly lost, which is probably why I’m so grateful I started The Grace Tales. It distracted me. I remember calling on night nurses to come and consult. Help me! I needed someone to tell me what to do. I needed a routine and then when my baby wouldn’t stick to the routine they’d given, I’d call and ask for another.
I wanted control, but control is the last thing you have when you’re a new mother. We tried to do the ‘cry it out’ method (possibly one of the most horrific experiences for a mother) and it worked a little, but what really changed things was just time. The adage ‘This too shall pass’ is possibly the best thing someone can say to you. It’s so damn true.
Eventually, it will pass. Eventually, your child will sleep.
With my second, Lottie, I’d lost so much blood after my post-partum haemorrhage, that I couldn’t walk her like I did with Arabella. I was too weak. I kept her home for about a year, bouncing her up and down on our fit ball. None of this racing around the place, trying to look like I had my shit together. I look back on some of the things I did with Arabella and wonder what went through my mind. Dinner at a trendy inner-city restaurant with a newborn? Really?
I breastfed Arabella the entire dinner and she screamed the whole way home. And I cried the whole way home. The thing is, you’re desperate to feel normal. To feel like the old you. You see these mothers on Instagram out and about looking fabulous and feel like you’ve got to bounce right back too. But you’re not the old you and you never will be.
Motherhood changes you forever. So embrace the change and don’t fight it. I wish I didn’t fight it with my firstborn.
Both our girls slept through for the first time when they were 10 months old. The joy spread through our home the next morning. My husband and I looked at each other. We slept! Over the next year, their sleep patterns were anything but predictable, but we got a full night sleep a few times a week. We stopped bickering as much because we weren’t so ratty and tired.
Now, the mother of an almost four and five-year-old, things are getting easier. I’m relaxing into motherhood (don’t get me wrong – my anxiety levels are still far higher than they were pre-motherhood). And I can focus on my work more, which brings me a lot of personal fulfilment.
So next week, when I drop my beautiful daughter off at school for the first time, I might cry, but it’s not because I want my baby back. I’ve still got my baby (she’ll always be my baby). I’ll cry because I’m so proud of her. I’m proud of the little girl she’s grown into. There have been highs and lows over the past five years and I certainly haven’t been the perfect mother, but I’ve loved her fiercely and really, isn’t love everything? She told me the other day she loves me “more than her life.” Now, that’s something to cry about.
Holding image: Bridget Wood