We all know Perfect Mum.
Or at least we think we do. We’ve seen her about; in the supermarket, the doctors surgery, outside the school gates, in the park. In the magazines, on the tv, in the movies, on our Instafeed. We know what she looks like: she has makeup on, the natural look. She wears clean, comfortable but stylish clothes. Her hair looks good, tied up in a simple shiny ponytail. Her children wear carefully chosen Mini Boden and her buggy is a crisp clean aerodynamic machine. She squeezes in a yoga session and makes smoothies for breakfast, whilst stuffing the kids lunch boxes with various crudités and homemade dips. Her baby is weaned with organic purees according to the Annabel Karmel calendar and there is a stack of frozen homemade meals in the freezer for emergencies. At the weekends the family take to the seaside where hubby has baby in a carrier and mum is free to run up and down the beach with the toddler. At school sports day, the Perfect Mum chats and chortles with the other parents and teachers until it gives her a headache, then takes part in the mummy and daddy races…and wins!
We all know Imperfect Mum.
Or at least we think we do. We’ve seen her in the same places, in our local town and in the national press. She’s been slated for giving her child juice instead of water, her belly circled in Closer magazine 6 months after giving birth and was spotted putting out the bins, with a tear streaked face. She wears no makeup; and dresses in pyjamas or tracksuit bottoms. Her hair was brushed..a few days ago. Her children wear lovely outfits for about 5 minutes before pouring cereal down themselves or peeing their pants, and then, upset with having to get dressed again they cooperate only if they can wear their hideous Primark onesie. The buggy is a good one, second hand Phil & Teds from Gumtree. It’s a bitch to carry just after you’ve given birth though. The Imperfect Mum ends up streaking her tracksuit bottoms with mud trying to kick the heavy wheels into place. She grabs biscuits for breakfast and is relieved that nursery will get her fussy eater to eat a hot dinner today, so that she can just sort her out with Dairylea on toast later. The baby gulps down jars of Cow & Gate and the odd Ella’s Kitchen when they are on offer. When the day is over and hubby comes home, he sorts their dinner – grabbed quickly from Tesco express. At the weekend the family take to the seaside where mum spends most of her time stopping toddler from running into the sea and dealing with a tantrum afterwards; whilst hubby tries placating the screaming baby who is hungry and cold. At school sports day the Imperfect Mum opts out of the races, sitting gratefully on the grass, enjoying the sun on her face, people watching and not talking to anyone – it’s bliss.
These two women couldn’t be more different. They would judge each other for their triumphs and failings – wouldn’t they?
Well actually, no. Because these aren’t two different women – they are the same person. With the exception of the aerodynamic buggy (maybe for child number 3, ho ho ho) this woman is me. And every other mother I know.
I didn’t realise that Perfect Mum was in me until this morning. The toddler, baby and I were all on our way to nursery. The sun was shining and I said “let’s race!” so for a moment we all ran. Toddler was belly laughing with joy, which set me off too. She looked so cute: running at full little-leg speed, wearing her next-size-up coat and her bright red wellies. Baby was asleep in the pram, the hood of her fluffy coat framing her serene little face. We ran and we laughed, we laughed and we ran. The moor stretched ahead of us and in the very distance, on the horizon, I could see the sea sparkling. I had a moment: this is wonderful; I am truly blessed. I get those moments a lot. From a window, another mum watched me; ‘Perfect Mum’ in full action, sleek ponytail bobbing behind me, skinny jeans clean on today, smiling with adoration down at my children.
She didn’t realise who I was yesterday. Perfect Mum doesn’t exist. Because Perfect Mum is a fallacy and can easily change like a chameleon into someone completely different.
Yesterday I shut myself in the bathroom and took some deep, what were supposed to be therapeutic breaths. It might have worked had I not been interrupted with hammering on the door from the toddler and the sound of the baby kicking off. I ran past them, grabbed the phone and called my mum: “I can’t do this anymore!!! I don’t want to be a mother!” What an awful thing to say. I feel quite sick just thinking of it. I didn’t mean it. I was just so desperate in that moment, those untruthful emotional words came out. At the time my mouth was dry as I hadn’t had a glass of water for hours (HOW can that happen, you ask. I ask myself the same thing, on a day like today, how did I not manage to grab myself a quick glass of water? I have no idea. I am the same person today as I was yesterday. Things just worked out differently). If I had looked out of the window and seen the Perfect Mum I think I would have cried with guilt that I was failing so badly and everyone else seemed to be finding it easy. Little did I know that I would be her in 24 hours.
I have been to picnics where I have successfully managed to pack carrot sticks, red peppers and hummus into mini tupperware. I have also been on days out where I have grabbed a jar of sweet potato and cauliflower mush and shoved it into the changing bag (guess which one my weaning eldest ate?) Somedays I have make-up on. Most days I don’t. Sometimes the pram will go up. Sometimes it gets stuck and ALWAYS when the wheels are wet and muddy and the car parked next to me has left us with 2 inches to manouvere in. Just like the weather, days being a mum vary and even with all the planning in the world it can be unpredictable. Like birth.
A few weeks ago, I had a brilliant birth. YES. I actually wrote this in the announcement text: “happy to announce that baby is here…8lb…both well…great birth.” Great birth? Why did I write that? Because the previous birth was so horrendous that I felt this was as much to celebrate as the fact that my child was safely here! I sent my texts and picked up baby, who ‘latched on’ to me beautifully and gulped away (which was incredible – just incredible).
In the bed opposite me I could hear a mother quietly weeping. I couldn’t help but hear her speaking with the nurse and her husband. She had an assisted delivery and it had gone ok, her baby was well and healthy but she said “I just must be in a bit of shock! Sorry…*sob*” The poor girl. She was me, two and a half years ago. I did the same thing at the time: cried the next day with shock, apologising and justifying to myself that it was probably a perfectly normal thing for all mothers to do after birth. I knew now: it wasn’t. The nurse moved round to my bed and drew back the curtains. I caught the crying mother’s eyes and looked away. I couldn’t bear to think what she was going through and what she must think of me: the smiling, ‘Perfect Mum’. I hope it’s her next time.
To every mum. You are Perfect Mums, you are Imperfect Mums. You are both – not one, or the other. For every perfect moment there is an imperfect moment waiting around the corner. And the same applies on the days when you are guiltily counting the hours til bedtime – the next day you will be laughing and counting all of your lucky stars. When we look back in years to come, we will realise: every moment is important: the great ones and the dire ones. Every moment makes us A TRUE MUM.
This article is dedicated to all the mums on my ward at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth and to all the midwives, doctors and nurses who looked after us through our perfect & imperfect births. And to my girls. I love you so much.