I recently stumbled across a quote that really resonated with me.
It was from American author Elizabeth Gilbert, and she wrote: “Whenever women are honest about their struggles, they give other women a gift.”
“Yes. That’s it,” I thought. “That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to articulate myself, ever since I became a mother just over three years ago.”
And what a gift it is.
See, I don’t remember much about the first few months of my son’s life. Except that it was hard. Really, bloody hard.
I do remember that I cried a lot. Slept very little. Struggled to breastfeed for weeks on end. Rarely showered before midday. Ate chocolate for breakfast and coffee for lunch. And yelled at my husband more than I care to admit.
I also remember wondering why the hell everyone else seemed to have a handle on this mothering gig. Except me.
On Instagram, well-dressed couples with perfect hair and perfect smiles, planted kisses on their bald-headed babies, as if parenthood was one big loved-up party.
And at mother’s group, my fellow mums shared stories of their babies sleeping thought the night and of establishing daytime routines.
Routines. I was lucky enough to schedule in a shower, let alone a whole damn day. And as for sleeping through the night, my son woke every two hours for over a year.
And then I received a gift. A truly magnificent gift. It came over coffee one morning when my son was about three-months-old.
I had arranged to catch up with an acquaintance who had recently moved to the neighbourhood. She had a baby boy much the same age as my own.
It had been years since I had seen her, but as she sipped her coffee, bouncing her gorgeous boy on her weary knee, she told me just how hard she had found the past three months.
She told me that despite waking all too often to feed, her baby boy’s weight was plummeting off the charts. She told me she was wracked with guilt and exhaustion and was constantly arguing with her partner. And that while she loved her son more than anything in the world, being a mother was the toughest job of her life and one she felt she was failing miserably at.
I wanted to hug her right there and then. Of all the lovingly-prepared, home-cooked meals, offers of help and baby clothes I had received over the past three months (for which I’ll be forever grateful), she had just given me the most wonderful gift of all. She was honest about her struggles.
Her honesty made my own struggles feel less overwhelming. Her honesty made me feel less alone. Her honesty made me feel less incompetent as a wife and as a mother. Her honesty meant I was better equipped to parent my child because I understood that what I was experiencing was normal. That not everyone was sailing through this gig with perfect hair and red lipstick.
I don’t know that I hugged her that day. But I did thank her for her honesty. And I have hugged her on many occasions since. Our friendship was forged on an all-important, honest conversation between two mothers struggling with their new-found roles.
Thankfully, I also have a twin sister, for which honesty is one of her greatest strengths. With three children under the age of four, she was also a constant, reassuring voice that I wasn’t alone on this exhausting, anxiety-riddled ride called motherhood.
The point is, without these women in my life – women who were brave enough to be honest about their own struggles – I wouldn’t be the mother I am today. A mother, who despite her imperfections – knows she isn’t alone and is doing the best job she possibly can.
As women, and as mothers, we owe it to each other to tell the story of motherhood as it really is – the good, the bad and downright challenging. It might make our Instagram feeds look less pretty, but it is the most important gift we can give.
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