“I just feel trapped,” she said. “I don’t want to do this any more, but I can’t leave. I feel as though I’ve made a massive mistake and it’s all my fault. I thought I wanted this!”
A client recently said this to me. She had not expected that motherhood would feel as overwhelming as it did right then, and she felt at times as though she had made a huge mistake. She was angry and upset, but felt that she couldn’t blame anyone but herself. And she felt guilty for feeling that way, because she loved her baby and felt as though her feelings made it seem as though she didn’t.
I remember one client telling me that when she thought of motherhood, she imagined an idyllic scene with wellies at the back door and muddy, chubby, laughing children coming in from playing outside. Another mother had imagined the connection she would feel with her own mother, as this baby brought them together.
Before we have our baby, we have an idea of what motherhood will be like.
It might be vague, or it might be clear. Consciously or unconsciously, we all have things we think we might gain from becoming parents - maybe a sense of continuity, maybe a connection with other parts of our family or friends, maybe a sense of ‘doing what’s expected’, maybe a connection with our partner, maybe a sense of wanting to nurture others in that way…
Whatever your reason for coming to motherhood, this might not be what you experience when you first become a mother. Especially if you unconsciously expected to gain something from motherhood, you might find that you feel disappointed and let down and ‘trapped’ but not really know why. You might feel as though you’ve been ‘conned’ or misled.
And these feelings can be even harder to bear if you have had fertility issues or lost a baby in the past. It can feel devastating not to love this period of motherhood when you’ve longed for it so much.
It can be really hard to tease out these expectations, especially when they are part of an unspoken set of ideas about motherhood that you didn’t even realise you had. Just even reading this might feel like I’m talking nonsense, or else it might feel as though there is something there - you’re just not quite sure what.
There are lots of ways of starting to figure out what unhelpful thoughts and feelings you might be unconsciously holding about being a mother. Listening to the experience of other mothers can be helpful, and books like ‘What Mothers Do’ can sometimes lead to moments of “they could be describing my experience…” Groups where emotional realities are spoken of, including online groups such as The Motherload Facebook page can help reduce isolation and that can help reduce fears about really talking about your experience. And therapies such as counselling can help you start to see where your reality differs from your imaginings, and figure out how to reconcile the two.
However you understand this article, I think the most important thing I can say is that you are not alone. You are not the only mother to feel conned by motherhood. It’s important to be kind to yourself as you adjust to the reality of motherhood and what it means for you - that doesn’t mean it will always feel this way.
And as ever - if you’d like to chat to me about any of this, please do get in touch.