Following one of our courses, a review was posted from a recent participant which read: ‘Birthing for the first time, in the pandemic, meant I had no means of socialising with other new mothers or anyone in general. I felt isolated and alone until I joined the online course. The world needs more spaces like the ones Mothers Uncovered creates.’
Mothers Uncovered has been running for nearly thirteen years and has supported well over a thousand mothers. In that time we have seen many women struggling, but the rates where we have serious concerns about their mental and emotional wellbeing have increased worryingly in the last year. Becoming a mother for the first time is already a massive overload on the senses. Since the outbreak of Covid19, this has been added: ‘the restrictions on informal support’ – a phrase that I gleaned from the Centre for Mental Health’s recent report, meaning that women are dealing with an added load.
We have been running online sessions since last April. In the main, these have worked very well, providing an essential lifeline for mothers to connect, particularly when so many statutory support options have been curtailed. We don’t always get it right. Sometimes there are technical hitches, sometimes the balance of the group, much more manageable in real life when a feeling in the room is more nuanced, becomes untenable online. Sometimes, the facilitators, all with primary age children, are juggling their own lives and concerns and are finding life difficult that day. As we’ve always said, we are peer supporters, we have our own challenges.
Which is why, when I saw this quote on a social media post: ‘Someone is watching you today and learning how to be a human’, I found it a bit disquieting. I can completely understand the sentiment behind it. It is meant as an encouragement, a ‘Go You!’ endorsement, a validation of all that you are doing. One of the saddening aspects we encounter in our groups is that there are many women who don’t value their work as mothers. It is because society doesn’t value them, nor does it value all those that care for others (all of us at some point in our lives), instead believe the economy, rather than the people, must be protected at all costs. That is why we support the call for basic income, but that is a different argument.
However, supposing the mother that is being ‘watched’ is having a difficult day? She will undoubtedly be tired, if she’s a mother of a young baby. Perhaps she has snapped and shouted at her child and feels guilty. Perhaps she is wondering how she cannot manage to do anything other than sit on the sofa with her baby, while the washing-up mounts and she suspects her partner is thinking, ‘What did you do all day?’ Perhaps she hates the fact that her clothes are covered with stains and her hair is unbrushed. Perhaps she is having guilty thoughts about wishing she wasn’t a mother, or even worse that it would be better if she weren’t here and is therefore letting her baby down.
It’s a difficult balance to strike between motivational pep talk and a ‘It’s tough here in the trenches’ narrative – I’d never want to tell someone else what to post to their followers. But it is important to realise that whatever you are feeling as a mother is ok. And to never feel ashamed of voicing the dark thoughts in your head, feel like you’re failing or reaching out for help.