I’d heard of it before. Bandied around like all those things that come with motherhood. Stretch marks. Night feeds. Tiredness. Mother’s guilt. Guilt? I thought. What have I to be guilty about?
I’ve just given up a year of my own body to bear this child. I’d gone through all the hoops, all the heartburn, the surgery birth and I was living in a baby bubble, strapped to the house, never leaving the suck monster’s side. Toilet trips were put off for hours. Showering intervals could last days.
I gave so much of myself to this needy little thing that I just couldn’t grasp what there was to be guilty about. I felt like a saint. I felt I should be worshipped, or at least a shrine put up at my front door. New Mom lives here. BIP (Breastfeed in Peace).
And then a few things happened. A family member offered to babysit. We got out for a night. We spent it in silence, shell-shocked to be out in public. Apparently the whole world had just been getting on with things while we HAD A BABY.
The night was spent checking the phone, texting, ‘is all ok?’, waiting for rapid responses and then giving up and calling anyway. Was this the mother’s guilt they talked about?
I got a new job and went back to work. And on that first day, as I sat, pumping in my car, I thought about the bundle at home. My whole life, back at home and I was not with her. There it landed, with a big, bloody bang: mammy guilt.
I never felt anything like it. I thought I am the worst mother in the world. I probably shouldn’t have been even let have a baby. I started thinking about the future therapists my child would have to see. I thought, for sure, this is the worst feeling there can be.
But, over time, things got better. Both I and baby got used to being separated on the days I worked. We went from pumped milk, to formula, to her not even needing a feed when I came in from work. She was growing and she was fine. We had enough mammy and baby time for no bonds to be broken. We were grand!
And as things progressed and life settled back down, and I realised I could work and raise a baby and do things that I had always wanted to do, a new feeling arrived. Secondary Mammy guilt. Selfish Mammy guilt.
This is a different type of guilt entirely. This is a self-interested, chosen neglect. Instead of being forced into abandoning my child for work and other such necessary bill-paying vocations, this was a wilful separation from baby. Or, more often, a decision to ignore baby while I got on with what I had to do.
Housework was no longer abandoned. I washed the floor with her strapped to my leg, sometimes whining. I cooked and threw scraps at her, like a little dog at my feet.
I learned loads of ways to keep her quiet. Cupboards were tiny paradises of ten minutes of peace for me, ten minutes of magical exploration for her. Oh look, tinfoil!
Soon I progressed from house work to the odd checking of email or sitting down for a few minutes with my phone. I got back to taking some ‘me-time’.
I found myself putting deadlines on my desk. A blog post had to go up – in the next few minutes! An article I was writing had to be finished – tonight! That book I was writing – for no-one in particular – well if I didn’t get two hours work in each night, I was furious.
“Who are these deadlines for?” my husband asked, frustrated at my devotion to work and not our baby.
“Me,” I’d say. “For me, I HAVE to do them.”
“But do you?” he said, logically. “Will the world fall apart, if you get something done this week?”
And with that one little man-to-wife chat, the whole world I’d created came tumbling down. This ‘office from home’ was abandoned. I realised I had brought work into my home life, because I missed it; the buzz of the deadline; the feeling of worth, the thought that I was more than just a mum. I was a person.
Now, we have tried to compromise. I still work, but I’m careful to do it to suit baby. I don’t get out the laptop until she’s down for a nap or in bed for the night. If I plan on doing work and she doesn’t feel like going to sleep, I no longer have a conniption and just breathe deep and get on with minding her.
I’m sure this all sounds terribly selfish and not very good mammy-ish. And you know, maybe I am just a bit of a selfish mammy. But I can’t help it. I spent 30 odd years working towards my own goals and future. I can’t just abandon it now.
And I think about my own little girl’s future. I plan on teaching her everything I valued along the way. Education. Personal growth. Hard work. Commitment. Would I want her to throw all her hard work away when her babies come along?
Probably not. And by that time, I’ll most likely be the doting granny in the corner, sending selfies with my grandchild, on whatever the equivalent of Facebook is by then. And I’ll offer to let her get on with what she needs to do. Because I’ll always understand the need for ‘me-time’ on ‘mammy time’. Even if it is on ‘granny time’.
Have you ever experienced Mammy guilt? Would love to hear your feelings on this subject and how you coped.