Through all the fear, frustration, disappointment and anger; there was joy, relief and an overwhelming rush of love. During the birth of my first child I could only hear the sounds filtering in around me. The sounds of a busy theatre in an emergency situation and feel the pulling and tugging as my obstetrician carefully manipulated my body to bring my little one into this world. The hours in the lead up to this moment was nothing that I had expected. It was so far from the somewhat stereotypical and what manifested into a very unrealistic view of childbirth. Throughout it all there were but a few moments, brief but full; full of raw emotion and feelings of complete happiness to which nothing –in my mind- could compare.

The love one feels for their children is like no other. I had been told this and read this.  From the moment my daughter was held up in front of me, fresh from within, the love was overwhelming and something I could not describe, at least not in a way that could truly explain the enormity of what I was feeling. But I now understood what I had heard from others before me -this moment was perhaps one of the only moments throughout, where at least part of that longed for ‘picture perfect’ version of events I had in my head felt like it was actually happening. However like the rest of the journey –both before and after- this moment of euphoria and dizzy relief was yet again quickly torn from me. Leaving me to feel the cold stream of reality that ran its way through my exhausted mind and caused a physical numbness more crippling than anything medically induced.

I had so many friends that had taken this journey before me. Most of which sailed through the entire experience with no problems. From the moment they fell pregnant to the minute they gave birth to the beautiful little person they had created with such ease. Then, a short hospital stay and off home to start their life as a family. They had experienced all the things we as women are told about. Told about through television, lifestyle articles and of course those celebratory emails we receive at work that congratulate a co-worker who has just had a beautiful baby. These lovely emails are usually accompanied with a gorgeous picture of mum and baby in the hospital; mum looking ecstatic, baby looking healthy; its precious little body lying naked, snuggled onto its mother’s chest.

The first photo I have etched in my mind, signifying my first moment of motherhood with my new baby, is vastly different. I am surrounded by machines, tubes attached to the backs of my hands and my baby is wrapped up tight. The only part showing is her tiny face, which is pale, her lips slightly purple. She looks cold and confused, like she absolutely knows that she is five weeks early and should still be safely cocooned within me. I feel such conflicting emotions. On the one hand I feel that all encompassing love for my child, and yet the feeling of guilt rises within, forcing itself on the situation. ‘It’s my fault, my body could not keep you in for long enough! I caused that confusion on your little face and now you are being taken somewhere else for warmth and comfort instead of receiving that from me …’

Self worth is powerful. If you have it, working to get it is tough.

The pictures of happy mothers holding their babies, breastfeeding so comfortably. Their babies small but strong –again pictures taken from what I always thought was reality. Another challenge of my perceptions and ultimately my self worth. After days, not hours, the moment had come, I was finally able to properly hold my baby. She was beautiful, tiny, fragile, with a feeding tube inserted into her nose. Again, those conflicting emotions fighting each other.  I had held so many babies in my arms, friends, relatives, and I had always found it so easy. I always felt like I was a natural. I could hold them close and rock them to stop them from crying. I would look into their little faces and watch in wonderment at their eyes trying to take in all this new world had to offer. Watch their little mouths twisting and contorting as small incoherent sounds pushed their way out; their way of ‘having a chat’. I marvelled at the way the new mothers would move around, like their bodies hadn’t just been through possibly the hardest thing that a woman’s body can go through. Easily lifting and moving the baby around, chatting away whilst this precious new life hungrily and strongly suckled. I longed for all of this. I was getting older and each time a new baby arrived I would feel an overwhelming rush of happiness mixed with jealousy and longing. ‘Would I get my chance?’

Now I sat here with this baby that looked nothing like I had expected she would. She was not big, not strong, she could not suckle, strongly or otherwise. I had held all of the other babies confidently, aware that they were new but already a little robust, happy to be handed from visitor to visitor. Why couldn’t I hold my own baby the same way?! I didn’t want to hold her too close, didn’t want to risk moving her the wrong way and accidently pulling out her nasal tube. It was all wrong and once again the feelings of guilt and lack of self worth rose up. This was my baby and I had to accept that what I wanted and what I received were different, and that I had to get on with it. However, the reality of the physical and mental exhaustion felt by struggling to get my baby to feed created a pocket of doubt that was extremely hard to fill. The words “she can’t go home until she is successfully feeding without the tube”, from midwife after midwife constantly in my head. I would look into my daughters big blue eyes, pleading with her to please eat. Would cry with frustration as she would refuse over and over. And again torture myself with images in my mind of friends with hungry babies devouring such large quantities of milk in a matter of minutes. Here I sat using all the tricks the midwives had shown me to move, squeeze and manipulate my little ones mouth to force her to drink from a bottle. My body certainly not ready to move around with ease, happy to have my precious bundle of joy wriggle around on my belly; which was stitched and raw. Everything seemed to be a source of pain.

Friends who came to visit were supportive. All had encouraging words and lovely smiles. “She’ll be right, she is getting stronger, she will be home soon.” And although I appreciated all the support and all the encouragement; it was me who had to realise my self worth throughout it all, not through the words of others but through my own thoughts and actions.

The mind is a powerful thing. The power of perception perhaps even more so. We are shown images of the perfect life. Amongst all of the happy stories I had been told by friends about their fantastic pregnancies and fabulous births were the stories of those situations that didn’t go quite to plan. However people were less likely to tell me those. Is it because like me there is an embarrassment associated with it? The question of why could I not be a ‘real mother’ and just get everything right? That lack of self worth again seeps in. Not helped at all by the perception that has been felt and then shattered.

I had a tough start to Motherhood – although I want to acknowledge not anywhere near as hard as some – and I questioned my self worth constantly. When a person looks back on a tough situation once it is over they can do so with a little more clarity. They may realise that comparatively it is not as hard as others have had it, however it is the power of perception that is rallied against the reality of the situation that creates a much bigger problem within the mind. Motherhood is portrayed in the media and magazines as wonderful and special, and it is; however it is also hard. Hard to live up to the expectations of the perceived. Natural birth is promoted as the ultimate, the way ‘nature intended’, and when that cant happen, guilt and lack of self worth take over.