The moment had come. After months of trying, the discovery of an underactive thyroid, and endless doctors and specialist appointments, we saw our first two lined test. This was it, my opportunity to join the ‘Motherhood Tribe’.
I gave work my notice and told them that I would not be returning to my job. I had known for years that I wanted to be a stay-at-home mum. I’d grown up in a generation of stay-at-home mums and I was excited for the next phase of my life. But like all things motherhood, it was not what I expected.
I had this vision in my head of what it would look like. Having spent many an afternoon growing up at my Aunty’s place after school, playing with my cousins, having my mum involved in loads of school activities and an involved community around me, I was determined and even thrilled to recreate this for my daughter and I.
After my daughter was born I started attending the local library, and getting involved in rhyme time and local activities, including mums and bubs yoga, morning teas, CPR courses, Mother’s Day events, dance classes, craft mornings – pretty much anything and everything that was free or cost effective and allowed me to bring my daughter along. I would head into these events usually not knowing anyone and looking for opportunities to bond and create friendships with others.
Many times, I would meet someone and we would hit it off. Sometimes it would go so well we would organise a play date and catch up. It was like dating all over again, except I started to notice a really common theme. When I would meet or catch up with these mums, the subject of either having more kids or returning to work would come up.
In my five years of being a mother, I’ve rarely met anyone that wasn’t returning to work within six to twelve months of having their baby, or who wasn’t already back at work with one or two days off each week to attend these activities.
If I was lucky enough to find someone not working, they either then got into work or moved really far away and the friendship dissipated.
So, time and time again I would build these friendships and then have to watch them fall apart as these beautiful mums would head back into the workforce and learn to juggle the working mum life. It always left me feeling alone, and wondering where my village was. Where were these cousins, friends, and ‘second mums’? Where were the kids running and playing together in the streets? Why was it always just me and my daughter at home?
The loneliness grew deeper over the next three years as I struggled with infertility, before my second daughter was born. I’d always dreamed of being a stay-at-home mum, having a bunch of kids and happily drowning in the bliss and mayhem of motherhood. Instead, I had one daughter and gnawing, unfulfilled and growing need for the companionship I was missing.
There weren’t a lot of people to talk to about my infertility issues. No one to be there for me month after month as my fertility medication failed to work. No one to invite over and share in the witching hour with.
Worse than all of that was the constant push from society to join the workforce. Just about everyone I know had some kind of side hustle. It’s not enough these days to be ‘just’ a stay-at-home mum.
As more time passed, I was left feeling more and more insecure about being at home with my two daughters and not pursuing a career, or side income. Everyone else seemed to fit it all in and here I was ‘just’ being at home. I felt broken.
How could it be that I had this beautiful dream, a good-hearted dream, and from the time I finished my childhood to becoming a mother it had been disassembled and moulded into something else entirely? I was living in a new world with new rules and values and I felt grief for the life I had dreamed that wouldn’t become a reality.
But like anything in motherhood you have to learn to adapt and grow with what is given to you. I also never imagined that I would have a daughter with special needs, that I would lose a baby I worked so hard to conceive, that I would have such a large, unintentional age gap between my two children and I never thought I would struggle with poor mental health due to the loneliness of being at home.
Each of these challenges has hit me incredibly hard, and not having a village of others mums to turn to and share my struggles worsened each blow.
When my second daughter was born, I couldn’t really go anywhere. My eldest was a flight risk and my husband worked an hour commute away so it was just me and the two girls 11 hrs a day, day after day. With my eldest behaviour declining as we waited for our booked specialist appointments things got so severe, I developed an eating disorder to cope.
Knowing that I could cope SO much better if I had a support network that was close in proximity is crushing. I think Covid has reminded all of us this past year just how much we rely on other’s company and connection. Life as a stay-at-home mum over the past five years has felt like Covid lockdown over and over again.
If I could go back to the moment I saw those two faint lines, I would tell myself to be open minded to change, mould your life into what you want and be brave in creating a village, even if it looks completely different to what you had pictured.
Motherhood is just one side of you, don’t forget about the rest.