Kate Pollard, Co-founder of Circle In, shares her personal experience of early motherhood, breastfeeding challenges, working Mum guilt and discovering her new self.
I always knew that I wanted to have kids but as I approached my mid-thirties, I did wonder whether it was actually going to be a reality for me. My career was going from strength to strength but I was missing that special person to share my life with. When I did finally meet my now husband Rowan, I was 34 and things moved really quickly. We were engaged in 9 months, married 9 months later and fell pregnant 3 months after that. During this whirlwind romance, we also both changed jobs and bought a house together. Not for the faint hearted but I guess when ‘you know, you know’ and everything just seemed to fall into place for us and felt so right.
So many of my friends had started their families and every time we’d go out for dinner they’d complain endlessly about the lack of sleep they were getting and how hard it was with a newborn. Other than being really grateful that I was going home for a good solid 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, before I had kids, I really didn’t have much of an idea of what it would be like.
I do remember having an in-depth conversation with one of my girlfriends pre-kids and she said to me “I’ve never loved anyone or anything more in my life than my kids. I’d never say this to my husband, but I love them more than him. My love for my kids is so unconditional.” At the time I really couldn’t get my head around this and I was perplexed by this other type of love that I hadn’t experienced yet.
I was lucky that falling pregnant was easy for my husband and I. Being a little bit older and creeping towards my 40’s, I had to be ok within myself that having kids may not be a given or a reality. Fortunately it all happened quickly and I remember that feeling of ‘wow this is really happening’ and also being a bit shell shocked that there was no ‘turning back’ now.
I had a pretty good pregnancy except that early on at the 20 week scan they identified that I had Placenta Previa, which meant that there was a high chance that I’d need to have a caesar. While that was a bit of a surprise, to a certain degree, it also meant that I didn’t need to make any decisions about what type of birth I’d have as it was already decided for me. It was essentially out of my hands.
So while I was busy planning for my baby to arrive and test driving so many different prams, getting a new car with a top of the line safe car seat, and designing a Insta-worthy nursery, one thing I didn’t think about was my career and the impact that having a child would have. Like everyone else I knew, I was just happy to get the finish line at work, enjoying the cupcakes and gorgeous and very thoughtful gifts that I was showered with on my last day. I was also not prepared for the identity shift that would occur and how this would rock my world.
So when my beautiful son Oliver finally arrived and he was happy and healthy, my husband and I were over the moon. As all mothers know, there isn’t really anything like it when you hold your baby for the first time. All that joy and unconditional love just comes flooding in and in an instant, your life has changed in a way that you couldn’t ever have imagined before. You are a parent! And you are responsible for a very precious land beautiful life.
Having a c-section though, I had lost a lot of blood on the operating table, so I felt pretty broken. All the medication and a body that didn’t feel like my own meant I really struggled at the start. But the bit I found the hardest was breastfeeding. I had a really horrible, judgemental maternal heath nurse who made me go almost daily to fail at breastfeeding in front of her. Meanwhile Oliver’s weight was still dropping and I felt like a bit of a failure. The fact that I’d grown up on a dairy farm also seemed a bit ironic (but not very funny at the time!). It was awful and saw me trying to weigh my son on the kitchen scales everyday as I was a paranoid about the regular weigh in at the maternal health nurse.
Anyway it all came to a bit of a head and we finally switched to formula. Despite the initial guilt of failing at breastfeeding, it was an absolute relief to move on from it and really start to enjoy my gorgeous son. The thing learnt about this time is that a lot of people just look at what is best for the baby, but it’s actually about how you are coping as a mother too. If you are barely hanging in there, then this can really have a negative impact on your mental health and your relationship with your baby. We need to consider the bigger picture of what is not only best for the baby, but also for the mother. And not judge people for the decisions they make.
I loved being on maternity leave and had 12 months at home. My mother’s group were unbelievable and really such a great day to day support through that first year as a mother. I’m not sure how I would have navigated all of those endless ‘firsts’ without them. They have literally seen me at my best and at my worst. It’s really quite a humbling and levelling experience becoming a mum and having my ‘tribe’ around me was my saviour.
Around the 6 month mark, emerging from the baby bubble and so many sleepless nights, I started to get a bit restless and was craving some time for myself. It’s fair to say that I really underestimated the impact and responsibility of caring for a child 24/7. And while I loved this very precious time, I felt like I was missing something…I was missing myself.
What I realised over time was that because my work-self was so intertwined with how I felt about myself, having so much time being a mum and without the structure and validation of work, I was struggling with my new ‘self’. I was struggling to deal with the identity shift of becoming a mother and what it all meant.
When it came time to return to work, I found it extremely conflicting. I was so torn dropping my gorgeous son off at daycare and feeling so guilty about going back to work. At the same time, I couldn’t wait to go back to have some adult time, use my brain and go to the toilet by myself! The reality was that working flexibly and juggling a young child was really challenging.
While work was really supportive, it took a long time for it to feel more normal. So much had changed, I’d lost my networks and I didn’t feel as though I was as important or valued at work. Not to mention the constant niggling feeling of sneaking out early to pick up my son from daycare. The guilt was so real!
I also realised that because I hadn’t really spent much time thinking about my career before going on leave, I hadn’t really managed it very well or stayed in touch. I also hadn’t been clear about my intentions before going on leave or communicated any of my career aspirations. And as a result, my career felt like it had gone into ‘maintenance mode’ but without having made a conscious choice to do so.
The reality is ‘I didn’t know what I didn’t know’ but it’s not until you go back that you realise the full impact of it. And if I’m honest, I actually felt quite frustrated at the time and I wasn’t really sure how to go about changing it. The silver lining is that this experience was pivotal in Jodi and I starting Circle In and wanting to give other women the tools and resources to have the parental leave experience that they want. We truly believe that having a meaningful career and a family at the same time shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.
Overall I think I underestimated the profound impact of becoming a mother and how it would impact every aspect of my life. It’s taken me a while to adjust and be truly comfortable with the new me. Being a mother is the most wonderful, precious gift. It’s just like my friend said to me all those years ago “I’ve never loved anyone or anything more in my life than my kids”.
We do need to talk more about how the identity shift impacts us through and have a plan for navigating our career through it. It’s also so important to have your tribe around you and regularly take some time ‘just for yourself’ (and not feel guilty about it).
Love holidays, cheese, wine and chocolate!
Hood: South Melbourne
Fav family friendly place: NGV and kids gallery at the Museum. My boys are soccer and footy mad, so you’ll often find us at the local park kicking the ball.
Coffee order: No coffee for me. Love a good English Breakfast tea with milk though.
Biz: Circle In. Supports working mothers as they move through the parental leave journey and ultimately return to work, directly through a range of online materials and tools.
Original article published on Motherhood Melbourne