When I found out I was pregnant in 2013, I still had a lot of learning to do.
I was a 19 year old student. I still had to learn about different theatre practitioners as part of my degree. I still had to learn how to convince a bartender I wasn’t steaming drunk so they’d still serve me after two rounds of Ring of Fire and several rounds of shots. I still had to learn about taxes and mortgages and bills and everything involved in being an adult.
Suddenly, I had to learn how to be a mother. I was stuck.
You can read books to find out about theatre practitioners. I could call on my acting skills to pretend I was sober enough to be served. Google was my friend when it came to taxes and mortgages.
Parenting? No amount of books, acting and Google could prepare me for that. Soon I’d have a tiny human to care for. I could barely take care of myself, let alone a totally dependent newborn.
There is no book to teach you how to parent, and I say this as someone who wrote a parenting book. You learn as you go along. It’s a learning curve that begins during pregnancy.
Throughout pregnancy, I learned to put my own wants and needs second. I learned to listen to my body and trust my instincts. I learned that the world and his wife has an opinion on my pregnancy, but I didn’t have to listen to it.
Giving birth doesn’t seem like the ideal opportunity to learn, but it still taught me more than I could’ve imagined. I learned that I am so much stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. I learned just how wonderful the NHS is. I learned how incredible and supportive my birth partners – Daf and my own mum – were.
Then came the time to be a parent. Pregnancy and birth was just the warm-up; the real lessons came as we adjusted to life as parents. Continually learning to trust our own instincts rather than Dr Google. Learning to take all parenting advice with a pinch of salt. Learning to adjust to sleepless nights and 2am feeds and changing nappies.
As she got older, the learning curves grew steeper. Putting on a brave face for her jabs, even when we didn’t feel brave (and even when I got jabbed accidentally myself!). Learning that going back to uni when she was five months old didn’t make us bad parents. Balancing essays and lectures with naptimes and calls from the nursery because she was running a temperature. Graduating, and working full time, and learning to deal with the guilt of feeling like I was abandoning her.
I learn something new every day. Sometimes it’s a little thing, sometimes it’s huge. I’ve just come back from five nights away, down in Cardiff, training for my new job. It’s taught me that I can still be “Maddy”, even though I’m a mum. It’s taught me that I don’t give Daf enough credit for what an amazing dad he is, as he was absolutely brilliant. It’s taught me that my bond with my daughter is so strong it even surprises me sometimes – standing on a train station in the pouring rain, tears streaming down my cheeks as I held my daughter for the first time in six days, I was taken aback by how much love there is in my heart for her.
It’s taken me until now to realise that I could never have learned all of this from books or the internet. I also didn’t learn it just from experience.
Motherhood is a skill. It’s under-appreciated and under-recognised, but it’s a skill passed down from generation to generation, and from person to person.
I’ve learned how to be a mother from so many incredible women in my life.
The antenatal groups I joined on Mumsnet and still go to for advice and wisdom to this day. I’m pretty sure there isn’t anything those ladies don’t know about motherhood.
The women who have overcome so many obstacles to become great mothers, even when so many have said they wouldn’t be able to.
The women who have become mothers to children they didn’t give birth to; raising them amazingly and surrounding them with love.
The mothers who have shown incredible strength after the loss of a child.
The mum in the supermarket down to her last nerve as her toddler has a screaming tantrum over a bag of crisps, the mum trying desperately to keep up a happy exterior as her kids fight over chips in McDonalds, the mum who plasters on a smile to take her newborn to baby group even though she’s in the depths of post-natal depression.
My own mom, who taught me more about being a mother than I’ll ever be able to write down.
For me this year, Mother’s Day is about more than breakfast in bed and buying a card for my mom. It’s about being thankful for all the amazing women out there who have taught me to be a mother. It’s about appreciating everything they do for their children and for the wider world. It’s about aspiring to one day be like them, and to help another frightened, pregnant 19-year-old learn what it means to be a mother.