From a mother who needed IVF, a deeply honest confession: KITTY DIMBLEBY on the aching guilt of trying so hard to have babies… only to battle boredom as a mum
- Kitty Dimbleby discussed the ups and downs of being a mother
- She conceived her son Max, three, and her daughter Chloe, six, using IVF
- During her struggles to become pregnant she felt jealous of those who had kids
- She says motherhood is overwhelming and often feels like she’s getting it wrong
- The writer revealed there’s times selfish thoughts make her want to weep
- Kitty says so many women who longed to be mothers aren’t 100 per cent happy
My phone said it was 2am when I was woken — Max was disorientated and upset, his forehead blazing. I tried to calm him, but he was beyond comfort.
The syringe of Calpol was ready on the bedside, but he was having none of it. Fighting me with all his might (he’s surprisingly strong for a three-year-old), he spat out the medicine, headbutting me in the process. In pain, and sleep-deprived, I yelled at my sick boy. We stared at one another in shock, then both burst into tears.
At that moment, my bleary-eyed husband arrived from the spare room, to where he’d retreated earlier in the evening, and offered to take over. But, despite my outburst, Max only wanted his mother.
So I propped myself upright, holding my big, little boy like a baby, until his breathing became shallower and he fell asleep. Three days into my first experience of chicken pox and this was by far the worst night. Neither of us got much sleep.
Kitty Dimbleby (pictured with her son Max, three, and daughter Chloe, six) discussed the ups and downs of parenting, experienced by many mothers
The next day, my eyes dry with exhaustion, I was consumed by conflicting emotions: guilt for shouting, sympathy for my son, frustration at emails unanswered and articles unwritten. I felt smothered by his physical needs and was bored of being trapped in the house.
Is it terrible to admit that? It feels terrible, but I know that I am not alone in thinking it, although few actually say it.
Compounding my guilt is the knowledge that I fought for this. I am extremely fortunate to be a mother. Both Max and his older sister, Chloe, who’s six, are IVF babies — longed-for and planned.
Being unable to conceive naturally when I desperately wanted a child was one of the hardest things I’ve been through. Every month, the disappointment stole the joy out of life.
Suddenly, I saw babies everywhere and the pregnancy announcements came thick and fast. One weekend, my two closest friends and sister-in-law told me they were expecting. I felt nothing but jealousy at their happy news.
IVF, when we got there, was no easy option — from injecting yourself daily to the indignity of internal ultrasounds, hormonal imbalance and the agony of waiting to see if it had worked. The desperate hope was painful throughout.
I think now of those promises I made that if I became a mum, I would be the best, most patient one imaginable.
I wouldn’t shout, I would never forget how lucky I was, I would be the perfect parent to my miracle babies . . . if only that little line on the pregnancy test would turn blue.
Kitty (pictured) revealed she often feels like she’s getting motherhood wrong, she says the experience is exhausting and can be lonely even in marriage
I’ve broken every one. Motherhood is incredible, but utterly overwhelming — no matter how longed-for the children are. There’s no way of knowing you’re getting it right and, so often, I feel I’m getting it wrong.
It’s hard, it’s exhausting and (even in a happy marriage) it can be lonely. I feel worn down by the relentlessness of it all. And I know so many women who feel the same: yes, even other IVF mums. Some parents spend tens of thousands of pounds to fulfil their dreams of having children.
I was lucky to have got my first round of IVF free on the NHS. For the second baby, we paid £1,000 for embryo implantation. We were so fortunate and I know I would have spent everything we had to become a mum. Like all couples pre-children, we probably had a somewhat rose-tinted view of parenthood. It’s inevitable — you don’t know until you know.
When you see the screaming toddler in the supermarket and his harassed-looking mum, you think, somehow, you will be different. That your child will behave better, you’ll be calmer and more appreciative — after all, you wanted this more than anything.
When we first heard the magical ‘whump whump’ of our baby’s heartbeat on the scan, like all expectant parents we had optimistic good intentions of how we would parent, how we would feel.
But things change after a few weeks, months, years of sleepless nights. Of petty frustrations and little disappointments. Of real, messy, complicated life. Parenthood is a great leveller.
Kitty (pictured with her children) says there are days when she doesn’t recognise herself, as she puts the kids first instead of self-indulgent grooming such as manis and pedicures
And, while my heart swells with endless gratitude for my beloved, longed-for children, I want to be absolutely honest about the grind of parenting — even when your IVF dream has come true.
There’s a bittersweet meme doing the social media rounds. It shows an elderly woman, face lined and hair grey, with the caption: ‘Parenting isn’t stressful at all — Jessica, aged 27.’ The joke being, of course, that the stress of it puts years on you.
It’s funny because it’s so painfully accurate. These days, I look in the mirror and there are times when I don’t recognise myself — my old self-indulgent budget for mani-pedis, eyebrow grooming and a head of highlights is now allocated to gymnastics and ballet classes, swimming lesson and football. The kids come first.
But there are times when I think I look so tired, so old, I want to weep. And that makes me feel selfish and shallow — particularly as I would have traded anything to become a mother when I believed it wouldn’t be possible.
And my children are beautiful. Chloe is a bright, beautiful sprite of a child, full of enthusiasm and passion for life. She loves writing stories, creating little books that she illustrates. She is kind and makes me so proud.
She is also stubborn, just like me, and, sometimes, when she folds her arms and sets her jaw, it’s like looking in a mirror. Max, meanwhile, is like a puppy: a bundle of joy and energy. No one has ever loved me as much as my son does. When I collect him from nursery, he hugs me with his whole body. Flinging his arms around my neck, he lisps: ‘I love Mumma.’
He is full-on and demanding, but so sunny-natured that he gets away with the cheekiest of behaviour.
They are my world, and being their mother is without a doubt the best and most important thing I’ve ever done. I know how lucky I am. I have friends with children who have serious educational needs or life-afflicting physical disability.
I know a mum who recently battled cancer who tried to fit her chemotherapy sessions around ballet lessons to keep things as normal as possible for her daughter.
Kitty (pictured with Chloe) argues knowing other women are going through their own motherhood struggles doesn’t make this stage of life less tough
Women dealing with separation, crying behind closed doors, to try to protect their children from their pain.
Mums who have been single for a while — coping without (much) input from their children’s fathers.
Women who have been widowed and carry the full load of both parents while also grieving.
All of these women are my heroines and I’m in awe of them.
And, of course, there are thousands of women who would love to be dealing with any parenting issue at all — women struggling though infertility and miscarriage, those who have lost babies, or for whom motherhood has not happened, despite desperate longing. I was one of them once and never for a moment take my live, healthy babies for granted.
But that knowledge and awareness doesn’t take away the fact that this stage of life is tough for even the most blessed of parents.
By the end of each day I’m completely worn out: Max and his sister take everything I have to give, emotionally and physically, and often I feel I have nothing left for myself or my husband.
How many women, particularly those like me who were lucky when the lottery of IVF came up trumps, ask themselves the question: ‘I have so much, especially the one thing I wanted most of all, so why am I not 100 per cent happy?’
Kitty (pictured with her children) says parents feel both guilty when with their children and when away at work
In her novel, The Pursuit Of Love, British writer Nancy Mitford summed it up perfectly: ‘Alfred and I are happy, as happy as married people can be. We are in love . . . we have no money troubles and three delightful children. And yet when I consider my life, day by day, hour by hour, it seems to be composed of a series of pinpricks . . . the endless drudgery of housekeeping, the nerve-racking noise and boring, repetitive conversation of small children (boring in that it bores into one’s very brain), their absolute incapacity to amuse themselves, their sudden and terrifying illnesses . . .’
Exactly! So many complicated emotions are involved in being a parent (well, in being a mother, because in my experience, men find it easier to switch off).
We feel guilt when we’re away from our children and guilt when we’re with them and, therefore, not doing our day job properly.
I could never be a full time stay- at-home mother, but women who make that choice have my utmost admiration.
My precious, carved-out time alone with my laptop keeps me sane. I want to work because I love it, I need to earn the money and I also want my children to see me achieving something in my own right.
But, by trying to do everything, I can feel I’m failing at everything. My home is frequently a tip and I dread cooking another meal.
I think back to the fancy dinners I used to create when my husband and I were first married, when I had the energy, time and budget and we used to party every weekend — and I feel wistful for that old life. For lies-ins, passion and freedom. All the things that parents sacrifice for the next generation.
This is nothing new — every mother has felt it and, no matter how liberated we’ve become, it doesn’t really change.
In many ways, we have it easier than previous generations:
Kitty (pictured with Max and Chloe) believes technology and having a husband who enjoys helping out, makes parenting easier today than previous generations
I have a husband who thinks nothing of doing bath-time and reading stories, making meals and folding laundry. Working with me, because we’re a team.
We have iPads, Netflix and Amazon Prime: these things are lifesavers, and I can only imagine what parenting must have been like without them.
We have social media (a curse and a blessing) and — for all those Instamums doing it perfectly, with their flawless iced cupcakes for the school cake sale — I found my tribe: the ‘doing the best they can’ mums, honestly charting the ups and downs of parenting, which makes me feel less alone.
These sentiments are echoed by women I know. A quick WhatsApp message to a range of peers, from stay-at-home mums to full-time workers, brought an outpouring.
Harriet, a mother of two, told me: ‘I didn’t realise how something so wonderful would have such an impact on my relationship with my husband. You plough so much into parenting (often with different views on what works) that you forget your own relationship needs attention.’
Kate admits that, sometimes, when they whinge and whine, she doesn’t like her three boys that much. Then she feels incredibly guilty, especially as her eldest was very ill as a baby.
She admits: ‘I swore that if he was OK, I’d be the perfect mother but, of course, I’m not.’
Kitty (pictured) says despite the struggle, one day when the children have grown up parents will feel nostalgic for the time
Sam tells me that she feels constantly anxious: ‘I’m feel I’m not a good enough mum. I’m working to give my two kids a better life, but I’m always rushing, juggling. I never feel off-duty.’ Phillipa says she doesn’t remember who she was before the fog of tiredness took over. Georgia feels that she should be able to do everything, and then like a failure when she can’t.
Meanwhile, Sophia misses her peace of mind: ‘There is always something to worry about — their health, their development, mental wellbeing, the logistics that keep family life afloat. The ‘to do’ list is never-ending.’
This is mixed-up motherhood — with all its ups and downs. Sometimes, life seems like a relentless drip, drip, drip of runny noses and temperatures, coughs and viruses. Juggling the family schedule, the kids’ clubs and birthday parties, reading lists and spelling practice. Trying to sustain careers, a social life and a marriage.
So many plates spinning at once it’s inevitable that sometimes they come crashing down.
But, while we struggle, we also know that this stage of life is amazing and we’ll feel so nostalgic for it when we’re older and they’re grown. Right now, before they hit double figures and the bolshie teenage years, our children, conceived against all the odds, love us more than anything.
We are their whole world; they rely on us completely. We can solve their problems, we can make them feel better, to them we are superhuman, even though we don’t feel we are.
Every special occasion is made better through their eyes. Birthday cakes and Christmas trees become magical.
Life is filled with fun — laughing until your sides hurt, beaming with pride at their achievements. When dancing around the kitchen together to the sound track of their favourite film The Greatest Showman, I can find my eyes fill with unexpected tears.
Tears at the wonder of them so full of life and love. They were, are, so wanted.
The marvels of medicine made these little humans, they made it possible for me, and others like me, to be mothers and we are so grateful.
But, please, forgive us if that gratitude is sometimes lost, as we teeter on the cliff edge of guilt and love.
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