I dug this picture out recently and smiled a little sadly to myself.
Looking at a very young Archie and Rufus, with a mum nestled in between them, left me wondering why I'd wasted so much of my - and their - time thinking that I wasn't a good enough mom when they were small.
I'm not talking a dramatic lack of confidence in my abilities to mother. It was more of a creeping undertone of thinking everyone else knew what they were doing, and that they were all doing it so much better. From family and friends who'd been there, done that and got the milk stained t-shirt to my new peers at the screeching mother and baby groups.
"No one would go back to work if they had the choice, would they?" I was rhetorically asked by Jake's mom, who was clearly enjoying new motherhood.
"Erm, yes, I would actually," I silently replied to myself, while shaking my head emphatically so as not appear like a monster.
The truth was more closely aligned to being ever so slightly underwhelmed and overwhelmed all at the same time. There felt like not enough hours in the day to get things done in - like have a shower in peace - with a baby that seemed to need all of me at any given moment, but conversely, too many hours stretching out before me with actually nothing much to do; babies don't say a huge amount and there's a limit to how many times you can wind the bobbin up.
I was all too influenced by what others thought and allowed self-doubt to pull a chair up at the porridge splattered table during those early years. I'd scour Mumsnet during the night feeds, bouncing between different forums, searching for suggestions for the perfect swaddle or feeding bottle to help me transition from breastfeeding as I was soon to start back at work. I must have been looking for ways to improve as a mother, for the best fix to make it all that bit easier and to help me do a better job. I'd read the replies from other mums and wonder how they all knew so much.
But what I couldn't see was that it isn't a job that you can be performance reviewed on. There isn't any training. And as parents, you are essentially thrown in at the deep end with the expectation that you won't drown in a sea of tiredness and worry with a tiny human in tow.
But what I couldn't see was that actually all my baby needed was me, imperfectly winging it. I didn't need all that advice - unsolicited or otherwise - and I think I could have been much happier if I'd have done these two things:
Firstly, I should have trusted myself. I should have had a little faith that what I was doing was good enough. Actually, no, strike that good enough bullsh*t; I was answering my babies needs in the way I knew how, and for them, that was more than enough. I realise now that whilst the support I searched for on the internet had its place and the mother and baby groups I was part of (in real life) gave me friendships I still have to this day, I could have spent less time looking outward and more time simply being with my children, having a bit more confidence that I was best placed to mother them. Because, well, I am their mother.
Secondly, I should have said that I didn't love the early days. Becoming a new parent felt akin to being transported to a different planet overnight. A place where a different time zone is being operated in, sleep is generally frowned upon and yet you're expected to welcome an endless line of people into your house, serve drinks and then all sit there, smiling inanely at a living form that gives very little back.
I found the night feeds to be particularly hard. It felt the loneliest of times and with only the radio turned down low for accompaniment in the semi darkness, I still can't hear a certain DJ's voice today that hosted the graveyard slot on Radio 2 without a feeling of sadness descending over me.
I recognise that I'm not painting a very good picture here. But it was my experience and to gloss over it in any other way would be disingenuous. What I wish I'd have done was to tell those closest to me how I was feeling. But, no, it took me until my firstborn was 10 months old to go to my GP and admit that I wasn't very happy. And it did feel like a guilty admission. Because surely I should be enjoying it and think it was the best thing since Calpol had invented, right?
Not necessarily. My understanding doctor looked me square in the eyes and explained that neither did she wish to spend 24/7 with her two young twins and that she, too, looked forward to 7pm when she finally had some time to herself. I didn't feel like the aforementioned monster so much now. She referred me to a mental health nurse who, at the end of our meeting, handed me a leaflet entitled "Post Natal Depression; A guide for mothers, families and friends". I started to cry at the realisation that this is what I had. It rubber stamped it, which made me feel better and worse all in one.
I accessed talking therapy which helped hugely. After the first 15 minute of our first session, I knew there was hope. My therapist simply said "Everything you've just described to me is totally normal". I felt a huge sense of relief; it wasn't just me being a rubbish mum after all.
It took time to start enjoying being a mum. I can remember on our son's first birthday (a whole 365 days of him being on this planet) that it started to click. There was a happiness that was slowly growing that I'd not felt before. The baby stage is hard...but then so is the toddler stage... and the pre-teens (where we are at now), but maybe we all find our groove at different points in our child's lives as their parent, and I'm now a little more accepting of that.
They are still young, but I've come to realise after another period of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), that along with their dad, I'm actually the person who's perfect for this particular role. This is no proclamation that I consider myself to be a contender for a Best Mum Award (which I happen to think is a terrible concept). But rather I'm slowly developing a confidence to know that I am the best mum for them. I was meant to be their mum and actually, I'm not doing such a bad job after all.
This post is about confidence, love and a little self-belief for anyone else who might need a boost. And if it seems like it's an insurmountable struggle or you're feeling low, no matter what stage of parenthood you're at, please talk to someone. Because I can absolutely guarantee this; you won't be alone. An understanding GP, in my experience, is the best place to start.
Oh, and you're the parent your child is meant to have by the way, so please don't waste any precious time thinking otherwise.