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Doing It All: The real Motherhood Challenge

February 8th 2016 / Emma Bartley

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In light of the 'Motherhood Challenge' last week on Facebook, Emma Bartley (who is a week off her due date) reveals the true fears of motherhood

I felt curiously distant from the fuss about the Facebook Motherhood Challenge this week. In case you’re not on anything as pointless as Facebook or Mumsnet, I’ll recap: we’re talking about a viral status in which women post pictures that make them PROUD TO BE A MUM and nominate other GREAT MUMS to do the same. A bit like the ice-bucket challenge, only more uncomfortable (at least for the people watching).

Normally, I’d have come down strongly on the side of This Is The Smuggest Thing In The World And Everything That Is Holding Modern Women Back. Or indeed of It’s A Nice Sisterly Pat On The Back FFS Leave Them Alone. But this week I was a little preoccupied facing the approach of perhaps the ultimate motherhood challenge, which is giving birth.

For it is clear that I am about to give birth. At 39 weeks and two days pregnant, I am more like a cruise ship than a woman; I can see fear in the eyes of those who must pass me on the pavement, thinking “Will I fit round that thing? Can I cross the road to avoid it or is that too rude? Will it crush me in its path?”

The baby itself has run out of room and is visibly - and uncomfortably - wriggling around, elbows out, pushing for space. The head is engaged and when I spent a portion of today hooked up to one of those continuous monitoring doodads (an overzealous midwife sent us to the labour ward because she was concerned about the baby’s heart rate) the chart showed certain “tightenings” of my uterus, which is to say contractions.

I know, right? Shiiiiiiiiit. I’m going to have to do it all again, only this time I haven’t spent the entire nine months reading books on birth, going to classes about birth, doing exercises to support the birth, listening to hypnobirthing CDs, and generally becoming an Olympic birth athlete. This time, I’ve spent nine months pretending it wasn’t happening, because I wasn’t sure I was quite ready to have two kids.

My daughter’s birth was relatively straightforward - done in a day, birthing pool, all that. But today on the labour ward I could see my vision of a natural labour slipping away from me. A bit like how old people don’t want to go into hospital for even minor reasons in case they never come out, at nine months pregnant I have a horror of the labour ward, because to me it’s a labyrinth where the only exit doors are labelled with terrifying words like “venteuse” or “episiotomy”.

And really, the birth is only the start of it: a metaphor for how out-of-control you’re going to be, now, forever. This baby is happening and I’m just the facilitator - the onlooker, going, dear God, let this child be OK, let me not screw it up too irrevocably. I’ve become “Mum” to the midwives (and the frightened-eyed people in the street), handing over my work identity to a 29-year-old man who can stay late in the office every day if he likes, and sacrificing my social life to relentless feeds and naps.

Well, not quite yet. On Saturday a GREAT MUM I know organised afternoon tea for me and a few other close friends. We talked about the loss of identity we felt as mothers, particularly while out of work, and how to get it back. For me, I realised, a lot of my sense of self comes from my friendships and I think this may be at the root of the Motherhood Challenge. The fears, and the confusion, and the indignity of being a mother - along with the joy, and the beauty, and the love - are hard to process. You can’t really put it into words, there isn’t time to think it through. So you post a picture and know that other women you know have a sense of what your life is now, and you of theirs, and you all agree that you’re doing fine.

For now, I’ve escaped the labour ward. One of those brilliant, Jedi-like midwives who calms you down instantly just by looking at you told me that my baby’s CTG was “beautiful” and I could keep the straps from the monitoring. I won’t be needing those, I said. But I really don’t know at this point if I’m physically or mentally fit enough to birth this baby by myself. It’s a bit like I just woke up and decided to run a marathon, with no training, on the basis that I managed to complete one three years ago. It’ll be… a challenge. But don’t expect to see the pictures on Facebook.

What did you think of the Motherhood Challenge? Any advice for giving birth second time around? Let us know in the comments!

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