Blog Motherhood

A Crisis of Confidence, Ability, Myself & Motherhood

I have had this post on my mind for a long time now. And I’m not really sure where to start.

Mainly because it involves the f-word. And by that I don’t mean ‘fuck’ (sorry Grandma), I mean feminism. I think.

But it’s less than that. Or more than that? No, part of that? I supposed whatever ‘it’ is depends on your perspective.

I want to start with a story that, if you have been around for a while, is something you may have heard before. Because it’s a huge part of who I am today and a huge part of why I am the kind of mum I am.

And by that, I mean a very guilty mum. A mum who is forever chasing her tail and putting Peppa Pig plasters on the cracks of her own motherhood.

So, it was May 2012. It will have been 27th May 2012, actually. I remember the date. I was 39 weeks pregnant and I looked like I had been competing in Man vs. Food by that point. I finished work that day for maternity leave. And I cried. I cried with relief mainly. Because I was exhausted. And I cried because I knew I’d be coming back very soon too. And it felt more like a holiday with all-inclusive vagina stitches, stretch marks and breastmilk. I was being ironic there by the way – having a newborn baby is not like a holiday. But it is lovely, in its own way.

As short as my maternity leave was, I never felt any panic about my role outside of motherhood. I had my magazine issues planned, I’d pretty much arranged my own maternity leave and calculated my own pay, and the holidays I was eligible for. I remember leaving and handing over a big pack of information to my friend and former colleague (we both moved on), Eve. I don’t see Eve enough at all anymore. And Eve, if you’re reading this, we should probably change that. I miss you.

The thing is, I knew. I was able to predict what was going to happen to me in a way. The return to work was literally there in the distance. There wasn’t even a countdown for it really, because I’d accepted my fate, like a large pill that took a long time to go down. And eventually, I knew that was my fate and I couldn’t change it.

And I knew that work would miss me too. Not because no one else was capable. But because I was good at my job and my absence was more the sort that makes the heart grow fonder (I use that phrase loosely, you must understand), than leads you to forget.

So, for me, I was able to get on the bike again pretty soon after I fell off. I was battered and bruised, the seat was sore, and I carried a lot more baggage than the last time I rode, but I was still able to put my feet in the stirrups, and, what started off as a wobbly ride, became second nature. Before long I was reminded of the time, a long time ago, where I shouted: “Mum! Dad! Look at me! I’m doing it!”

But with that came a heavy mountain of guilt that I will never be able to erase. I will not get those early months of my son’s life back. He was so small. So small. If you’re close to an 8 week-old baby you’ll see how small.

I remember the last day before I went back to work and I lay on the bed in his old nursery. And it was warm and so sunny in that yellow and blue room. And I remember feeding him and as I did, my tears started to fall too, onto downy baby hair.

But I did it. I managed. And I made it. And in time it gets easier. When they start preschool and start learning and you realise the positive change in them and you can’t blame that or feel guilty about that. But even yesterday, I turned to Mark in a humid swimming baths, at the side of the pool, and I grinned at him and he grinned at me as we watched this little blonde boy swim. He could barely walk once upon a time. And now he’s, well, he’s this tiny fish.

I won’t lie that I am extremely excited to take this time out with my second child. Not least because I feel like, after years of playing, I’ve unlocked a secret level of the video game I’ve been trying to master, and I get another chance at being my son’s mother again.

For a long time, shamelessly, I have looked ahead to this time as being one of the best times in my life. Because I will be able to concentrate on raising my children. Teaching them. Helping them to grow. And not wondering what I’ve missed that day. Some people have asked me if that will be enough for me, because I’m such a ‘creative person’ or a ‘hard worker’. But I’d just like my shot at being a mother.

But right now, I am writing and my daughter is twisting and turning in my body and sometimes she can be so (for want of a better word) violent that I worry I might actually wet myself. My body is slowly being taken over and I feel like, at 21 weeks pregnant, I have begun the decent to 38 weeks and three days pregnant, which will be my last day at work. I’m a growing snowball, hurtling towards the bottom of a mountain that I spent my whole life climbing.

Yes. I feel like I might be falling. Not floating.

It’s all I want this time around, but I’m actually terrified about taking a break from the world I spent years trying to build up around me.

I desperately wanted to make it as a child. I remember wearing orthopaedic shoes to school and vowing that one day I would get a pair of those ones that light-up when you run. I don’t think I ever did. But that’s probably okay, as shoes don’t really turn me on much as an adult. But things like that made me determined to succeed. And I was raised by proud parents, in a privileged village, where it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t succeed because I was a girl.

But now I am older and I am worried that, the closer I get to my due date, and nine full months out of work, out of place, out of meaning, left with one of the most over-abused titles in the world. ‘Mother’.

Because it feels like it’s not a good thing to be sometimes.

And I will to write this next bit and it’s a hard thing to write because you have to be very politically correct and “this is Davina, please do not swear” these days.

But being a parent is the most important thing you will ever do.

You might not know it yet if you haven’t had children. But it is.

It’s not to say that other things aren’t important. They are, oh yes they are. I lost over three stone and got into a size 14, that is important (life goals). I turned down The Daily Mail once, that was important (and very cool). I went to uni with an excellence scholarship, that was important because I wanted to prove myself. I learnt to sing when doctors thought I’d have trouble speaking, let alone anything else, and that was important. I spent a lot of time as a teenager raising money or volunteering my time, and doing a performance at a local school for children with disabilities, and their parents, is still a special memory for me.

These are all important things and I am proud of them all. They can’t be taken from me. They’re mine to own. Completely attributed to me. They’re mine.

But they don’t compare to how I feel about my son. And being his mother.

Something does change when you start loving someone else more than yourself in that way. You see things differently. It’s just different. And it’s not a divisive thing, or a right or wrong thing, but it’s a real thing.

We have to stop women from feeling so conflicted about this. And how it impacts on the life you might have had before.

Why do people do a wide-mouth-frog awkward smile when women explain they raise their children for a living? Why are women made to feel awkward because they had to take half an hour to express breastmilk in a server room, with two sheets of A4 paper and some sellotape acting as a makeshift blind for the tiny window in the door that protects her milky nips from the rest of the office (true story). Why has no one invented a machine to make people experience morning sickness for a week so they have more than a weak sympathetic smile for you when you do the decent thing and hold-in your spew in front of them? Why do we come across as the lazy side when we leave early, just because no one was there to see us start early? Why can I manage talk to very important people and clients, but never find missing socks?

The closer I get to my due date, the more I feel like layers of Charlotte are being stripped away. Maybe that was my (admittedly struggling) sex appeal that went first. My ability to put my shoes on without wincing at the mass that is accumulating around my middle. The next thing was my sense of style, because I look like a dumpling now. And then, slowly, like shedding a skin, my self worth is starting to go.

I know that, this time, I will be replaced. And I might have to take my personal things (the shit that clutters my desk) with me. And I might come back and everything will be different. I might not know how to use the coffee machine if there’s a new one. There will be new processes and things for me to try and get my head around. There’s a good chance my first day back will be emotional and terrifying. There will be new people that will not know who I am and people will say: “Oh yes, she had a baby.”

Do you know how scary that is?

And it occurred to me today that – in this rat race of a world we live in, in that you’re only as good as your next pay cheque, or the things you achieve – that you are always replaceable. Bae, you ain’t Beyoncé. You can’t send people to the left, to the left. Unless it’s part of your job I suppose. But the thing is, when you die, I’m not 100% that these are ‘deathbed moments’ to look back on.

And, when I come home, I can’t be replaced.

When I teach him how to write a W. How to cook and not burn the house down. How saying ‘stupid’ is unkind. And how we should always check if people are okay when they cry. How the colour of our skin doesn’t matter. How he can use my makeup if he wants, no it doesn’t matter if he’s a boy (and yes, it is a bit like paint, Bill, you’re right). How if someone pushes you in the playground, you don’t push them back (adults seem to forget that one pretty quickly). How people will forget what you say, forget what you do, but never forget how you made them feel.

And how loved he is.

I’m raising a good person. Soon to be two.

I’ve given up a lot to do that right.

The world wants good people, doctors, nurses, teachers, entertainers, creators, game-changers, game makers, heroes, lovers, fighters (depending on the fight) and more people that write music like Elton John.

When will society recognise how hard it is to raise them to the point that they can go out into the world and become those people?

And when will I find my place? And recognise that I’m important too?

That mothers are important too.*

*I deleted this sentence four times, before keeping it, because it felt cheesy. But then I realised that it feels cheesy because no one ever says it. And I feel like I’m surrounded by mums, every day, who are constantly questioning whether they do enough, are enough, or if they can have it all. Or simply just be accepted for what makes them happy.

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  • Reply
    9th December 2015 at 9:44 pm

    Finding your own balance is SO important. Whether you stay at home, or work – it has to be right for you. I decided to stay at home after I had my twins, and actually it wasn't as easy or amazing as I had thought it would be. It was tough for different reasons – the loneliness etc. There were days that I wanted to work! But mostly it was the best decision for me and my family, and I don't regret my decision. I think that as long as you're happy you'll be just fine – and it sounds as though you will be. And so will your lovely children too 🙂 Jess xx

  • Reply
    Kate Aldworth
    9th December 2015 at 11:15 pm

    Thank you for this post Charlotte. I took a year off for mat leave with my first daughter (who's now approaching 3 years old) and I'm due my second daughter in March. I'm 37 years old and after 12 years in my career I'm planning to not go back to work after my mat leave ends. I'm terrified about what this is going to do to my bank balance, my confidence and heck, even my sanity but I also know that I'm really lucky to be in the position to give up work and I know it won't be forever. Just whilst the kids are little (and frankly because the logistics of nursery plus commuting into London 4 days a week is just too hard for us to consider) and I'm going to relish every moment I'll get to spend with them and for once raise my two daughters all by myself. I've been prepping my husband for the emotional breakdowns that I will have over I losing my identity and my self worth etc but I will re read your post over and over again to remind myself that I'm still going to be just as important. Thank you. X

  • Reply
    10th December 2015 at 8:33 am

    Well, I reading you almost 2 years Charlotte and first of all I want to wish you from my heart congrats on the new baby girl!
    I am a mother of two working 10 hrs a day for almost 18 years.From after uni graduations (22yrs) till now that I am forty.
    For both of my children I took only 8 weeks leave from work and for my second (now his is five and the princess is 9)I was breastfeeding exclusively the baby for 11 months. This meant that at work I had to pump milk every 3 hrs, etc….
    Well I think that you find all the things overwhelming now maybe because everything is new to you. You Know that nobody is here to jugded you but yourself and from my point of view the "good mother" is not about how much time you spent than the quality of time.
    You have acomplished many thing in your professional life and if this please you after the baby girl this is not something bad….you should go back to work if you feel like that. It may take some time to balance all things but nothing is impossible.
    From the other hand if you ask me there were a lot of times that I was feeling simply exhausted, but as the kids were growning I also felt powered and strong. And one think that I could tell you is that when the kids will be let's say five they will look up to you like "This strong individual is my mamma!"
    In any way I'm not diminishing the work of the stay at home moms but I am just saying that the "stay at home" is not something that feets everybody.
    Greetings from Greece my love!

  • Reply
    Tinuke B
    10th December 2015 at 9:01 am

    I always look forward to your posts and admit I'm guilty of not commenting even though so often you move me.
    THIS moved me.
    Your words, your fears, determination everything was voiced so eloquently. I'm so happy you'll be able to have a longer maternity leave this time. I'm happy you graduated to the secret level on this game of life and are hitting some parenting targets as well as the others. You rock, as does your writing X

  • Reply
    Rebecca Holt
    10th December 2015 at 11:27 am

    I don't have children yet (hopefully i'll have them at some point in the future!) but I already feel as though i'm having a crisis of confidence as a woman. I find your blog inspiring and so felt I needed to comment.

    I left University and went into full-time work, first in a hotel and now, for the past two years, I've worked as an administrator. I've been thinking for the last few months that I might want to go back to University to train to become a teacher, but i'm holding myself back because I don't know whether i'll be good enough to manage it (I have incredibly low self-esteem!). Also, because even though i'm only 24 (nearly 25) I know I don't want to be an 'old' mum. If I train to become a teacher, i'll be around 27/28 by the time i'm fully qualified. Then I'd need a couple of years to get a job, find my feet and perfect my methods etc. By that time i'll be 30 and my partner will be 34.

    I don't know realistically how I'd manage the workload with having a family, running a house and making time to spend with my loved ones. And so I have to now make the decision as to whether I train to do something I believe will bring me fulfillment and happiness long-term, or stay in this job for the foreseeable future because it will enable me to have a family sooner, if that's what we decide to do.

    Being a woman is incredibly difficult and we're made to doubt ourselves and feel guilty about our life choices far too often. I'm thrilled for you that you're having a longer maternity leave this time around and I hope you thoroughly enjoy having time to capture precious moments with your newborn, as well as being able to spend more time with Bill.

    Wishing you all the best!
    Becky x

  • Reply
    Jenny Ripatti-Taylor
    10th December 2015 at 11:57 am

    What a heart felt lovely post written so beautiful, so raw, so true hunny. We have been there and everyone's story is slightly different you are a great mom to bill and will be to your daughter and only you will remember that time away from him he only knows you loving him, kissing him and tucking him into bed. Enjoy every second of your life the next nine months and you will bounce right back to working life as a mother of two and it will become second nature again to you.

  • Reply
    Mummy Limited
    10th December 2015 at 12:25 pm

    This is lovely. It's something I still struggle with, being proud of my 'job' if you like. I gave up paid work when my eldest was born and even after six years and two more kids I feel myself go red when people ask me what I do for a living. It really does seem to have little value in society. My cousin went back to work full time after her first and is about to go back after her second, but this time part time. I think, she will appreciate that extra time she has with her kids so much and you will with your latest maternity leave. This is all so perfectly put, without jumping into any 'camp', although I'm not sure we women actually have camps, but it still always feels like a fine line.

  • Reply
    Nicola Weaver
    10th December 2015 at 9:07 pm

    Beautifully said Charlotte, written with such heart and feeling. You are amazing. Keep keeping it real! Super excited to share your journey via your blog. Massive hugs xxxx

  • Reply
    15th December 2015 at 7:31 am

    Oh Charlotte! I totally hear you. I'm a year back into work after my second son, I took a year off for each of them. It is tough. Really tough. But just like riding a bike, you never really lose the spark – work is still fulfilling and challenging, and the people you work with will be so happy to have you back that you'll feel like you've never been away (seriously, it's scary!)
    My eldest has just started school and I feel like I never reached that secret level of being able to set aside time to be his mum without a million other things to do at the same time. I have felt immense guilt about that, but I'm coming to realise that it's quality over quantity that's important with kids. I'm focusing on this now – I get to spend Tuesday afternoons with just him, before picking the littlest one up from nursery, and it's heaven.
    You'll find your feet. Believe in yourself and your abilities, and please don't judge yourself. Enjoy this precious time, however long your maternity leave lasts.

  • Reply
    24th March 2017 at 7:04 pm

    Charlotte, this is such an old post but I’ve been browsing your blog tonight in the office – you’re my favourite guilty pleasure, but you know that already, and my breath caught in my throat. Because oh, Charlotte, you look so different now! So much happier. You are beautiful bigger and beautiful smaller, but in your recent posts you look as though your skin fits you and you are comfortable in it, and your eyes sparkle and your smile is so radiant. And I just wanted to say somewhere what a difference it has made, and how good you look, and how proud I am of you, friend whom I’ve met once and hugged for all of ten seconds. I am, I am so proud of you.

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