6.50am on 20th March 2021...I climbed out of bed to go the bathroom.
When I married my husband in the previous December, we knew that we wanted to start a family as soon as possible. It was always part of the plan. Anyone who knows me well knows that I like a plan – I like to know what’s coming next. This means that when I am faced with new experiences I like to do my research. And I don’t mean a quick skim over blog posts here and there or a glance at a couple of chapters in a book. I dive deep! When it came to starting a family it was no different. I had soaked up as much as I could from apps, websites and social media. Ovulation, TTC, TWW, implantation, BBT, fertile window – these had all become part of my internal vocabulary and dialogue. I had covered all bases. I was all in.
At school I was what you would call a “good kid”. I followed the rules. I put in the work and I reaped the rewards. I naively believed that if I just put my mind to it, I could achieve anything I wanted. I guess like an instruction manual I believed that I just had to follow the steps and tick all the boxes and I would get the end result I wanted. But here’s the thing, when it comes to conception and pregnancy even armed with all the knowledge in the world it is unpredictable and uncontrollable.
It was two days after my 32nd birthday and our third month trying to start a family. The number 3 has always been my favourite number and it has always had some significance in my life so maybe I should have seen it coming. And yet I stared in disbelief as I saw for the very first time, that faint second line that I had so many times seen on ovulation tests and longed to see on a pregnancy test. I was fit to burst with excitement and immediately rushed out to wake my husband to share the news. We were overjoyed. At this stage I’m sure you can guess what I did next? I had no sooner confirmed the pregnancy with my GP before I started to download pregnancy apps, trawled through websites on pregnancy and baby development and ordered too many books to count. Even with my background as a clinical psychologist, I still wanted to know more. And as with everything I do in life, I dove deep!
Reading served as a good distraction to me during the pregnancy while I managed pelvic issues which left me in pain most of the time. And of course my husband encouraged it – anything that kept me sitting still for a couple of hours so that I would rest was good in his eyes. I was like a sponge soaking up everything that I read feeling confident that I would be well armed with this knowledge when baby arrived.
Our beautiful little girl arrived into this world 9 months later. We were so in love and completely encapuslated in our bubble of happiness as a new family. And yet just a few hours after she was born I was already starting to see cracks in my usual strategy of simply following the steps and strategies that had been laid out in the books I had read. While my baby was a very relaxed baby right from the very beginning, I quickly learned that when it came to sleep this was a very different story. Yes she would sleep well but only in my arms. If I so much as leaned over the cot beside my hospital bed to gently place her down she would become hysterical. There really is nothing like that newborn cry. For me it wasn’t just that her cry alerted me to her needs, I felt a strong emotional response that unexpectedly felt like physical pain. All I wanted to do was to wrap her up in my arms and help her to feel safe. She slept in my arms for the four days that I spent in hospital which meant that I did not sleep because I was so frightened that I would let her fall out of my arms while I slept.
My sleep deprived brain struggled to recall what I had read. When I could recall the information I quickly became confused and frustrated with the complexity of the information. In those moments I no longer cared about the large body of research and the theoretical knowledge behind the writing. And just when I would think I had it figured out, I would come across an article or a blog that contradicted what I had read. I just wanted simple and straightforward guidance. I very quickly realised that although I had (what I considered to be) a good knowledge of parenting and child development – the key thing I was missing was the real life lived experience. And with that the rose tinted glasses were lifted and I could see with more clarity. I could see that the information I had gathered from books, apps and websites was almost always based on the ideal scenario in which it was assumed that all babies and children were the same. Often this literature was almost manualised with step by step procedures and lots of shoulds, shouldn’ts and have to’s. They were so black and white at times that it felt that if I didn’t live up to the expectations or made a mistake that I was not good enough.
The road to clinical psychology is long with sharp twists and turns and many bumps in the road. On that journey budding clinical psychologists are often faced with many rejections as they desperately try to get the relevant experience they need to be seen as the cream of the crop so to speak. I was in no way exempt from this experience and even when I had secured my place on the doctorate course, those feelings of just not being good enough still simmered close to the surface. I honestly felt like an imposter. Slowly slowly after graduating I became more confident in my role as a clinical psychologist and those feelings began to subside...until I became a parent and very quickly I was right back there. I felt like I was constantly striving and beating myself up if I made a mistake or didn’t know what to do. I guess I was fortunate to be able to recognise this early on and I knew that something had to change. I knew that I couldn’t be the mother I wanted to be if I continued on this path. I began to practice more self-compassion in those moments of feeling just not good enough. Treating myself with kindness allowed me to be more realistic in the expectations that I set for myself. And as I shared my experience on my Instagram account I found that more and more mothers were reaching out and saying “me too”. It wasn’t that they gave me the answers or the solutions but that sense of common humanity and solidarity was so powerful and I felt something shift within me. My mind-set changed.
I was very fortunate to have had this experience and to have had the clinical knowledge to apply good coping skills. However I was acutely aware that this was not the case for many mothers – that many mothers faced it alone for fear that speaking openly about their experience or reaching out for help would be met with judgement or that they may be seen as incapable of parenting. I knew I wanted to make a difference to other mothers out there who were just like me. With my professional background I felt that not only did I have a role to play in sharing information in an accessible way but I also felt a sense of duty or obligation to challenge the image of the ‘perfect’ parent portrayed in social media and to normalise the reality of parenting real life children rather than the mythical textbook babies I came across again and again. And with that, The Mothering Psychologist was born!
I hope that you will join me on my journey in motherhood where I will share my professional knowledge, the ups and downs of real life parenting, and my changing and evolving beliefs and values as I reflect on my clinical knowledge from the lived experience of being a parent. Admittedly this feels like I am putting myself out there and I really don’t like to feel vulnerable. But if sharing my journey is even the tiniest bit helpful to other parents out there and can help them to feel less alone in those moments when it all just feels a little bit too much, it will all be worthwhile.
To celebrate the launch of my website and blog, I've created a FREE ebook on positive affirmations just for us mamas! Click here to download the Positive Affirmations for Mamas ebook and listen to my Positive Affirmations for Mamas Meditation here.