Alicia struggled with the emotions of a young mother, but consumed every bit of information out there: “Embracing all the changes make you feel better equipped”
“So many of us get caught up in choosing onesies or the colour of the baby room, but those things won’t help you after birth. Preparation will – that’s something a mother does for herself and benefits the baby too. I discovered the concept of ‘matrescence’, the transition from a woman to mother. For me, it felt like an identity crisis. I used to wear so many hats – ‘wife of’, ‘friend of’, ‘employee of’. All of a sudden, I was reduced to ‘mother of’, which was new, scary and at times uncomfortable. I couldn’t recognise my sporty, smart, supportive self anymore – she’d been replaced by an organic milk machine with greasy hair and painful hips. In the meantime, I’ve learned to embrace the change. The other versions of me haven’t died, they’re temporarily on hold.”
“Claude and I have always had a good time together in our own little bubble, one of frequent travel, demanding jobs and an infinite interest in personal development. We set high standards for ourselves, our work, health and investments in friends and family. For a long time, a child didn’t seem to fit into that story. Our outlook changed when we realised the value of our complementarity. Claude is my opposite: he’s more introverted and calm. He makes decisions based on emotions and the situation, while I’m very pragmatic – a rule is a rule. We were drawn to the idea of guiding someone through life with our mix of characteristics. By the time we got married four years ago, our desire to raise a child had grown so much we decided to try for a baby.
Surprising road to motherhood
‘Surprising’ is the best word to describe my road to motherhood. It just didn’t work – 3 years came and went without a pregnancy. I had issues with my period, which was extremely irregular. When various treatments failed, our doctor referred us to a fertility clinic. That step was a huge milestone. Weren’t we forcing things too much? Maybe this was a sign that parenthood wasn’t for us? We decided to cancel our appointment and stopped trying to get pregnant altogether. Instead, we booked a trip to the jungle in Mexico to spend time together, just the two of us. The confirmation of our plane tickets had just landed in my inbox, when I realised it had been exceptionally long since I’d last had my period.
It was a cold Saturday morning in November – I’ll never forget. I hadn’t said anything to Claude, who left for his weekly woodwork class. Once he was out the door, I hurried to the supermarket, where a student, hungover from the day before, yelled loudly into the microphone, ‘Where are the pregnancy tests stored?!’ I went home and immediately took the test. Two thin pink lines appeared on the stick. I’m super rational, so I passed by the pharmacy for a second one. I got a discount because it was the eighth test I bought there; I think the man felt sorry for me… Round two showed another positive result. That’s when I thought, ‘This is real.’
Master of knowledge
It was exciting yet scary, because it wasn’t official yet. I wasn’t flooded with emotions, but countless questions popped up in my head; I instantly wanted to bring up my to-do lists with next steps. In the midst of those question marks, I couldn’t wait to tell Claude – that moment had to be perfect. I sat down to write him a postcard in our baby’s name. It said something like, ‘We don’t know each other yet, but in a few months, I’ll be kicked out of my house and need a place to stay. I can’t do much and don’t have a sense of responsibility, but I’ve heard you’re someone who takes care of others remarkably well. Would you like me to come and live with you?’ Claude thought the card was about a dog – that’s how far we were from our dream to have a child. But the moment he realised was absolutely beautiful, one of pure happiness.
I approached pregnancy the same way I deal with everything else: I was eager to master the content and learn as much as possible. My fridge was covered with infographics showing babies’ faces: this is when they cry from pain, this is when they cry from hunger. Another one displayed the size of a baby’s stomach, indicating the evolution of how much they should eat and sleep, week by week. I took a very pragmatic, almost scientific approach to motherhood. That reassured me; I didn’t understand the emotional part very well because it felt so abstract to me, but at least I could prepare well in terms of content. At the start, instead of slowing down, I picked up the pace; I got more responsibilities at work and often spent five hours in the car. That’s when heavy cramps and pains kicked in. I’m so grateful for my doctor, who put me on a week of sick leave and referred me to a perinatal psychologist. She helped me to outsource tasks to Claude and become aware of what was happening to my body. It’s funny, because right after I left her office, I felt the baby kick for the very first time. He’d probably done it before, but I’d never really been ‘there’.
The pandemic turned out to be good for me, in the sense that I got to spend my days quietly behind my computer. I’d say that’s what made it a smooth pregnancy. Émile eventually came much too late. I had contractions for a few hours, but once they induced labor, he was there in 15 minutes and 5 pushes – a perfectly healthy baby. I didn’t feel an immediate connection with my son though. I felt responsible, knew I had to make sure he didn’t die, but sometimes it felt like we were two strangers in a car. There was a lack of depth, which was hard for me, because I felt like I had to sacrifice everything for a person I didn’t know yet.
I didn’t share my feelings out of fear of judgment. I had carefully studied parenthood beforehand, but you can never learn everything. I wanted to quickly get out of that beginner stage and move into a maturity phase, but it takes time. We were in the hospital when the pediatrician came to check on Émile and pointed out I’d put on his diaper the wrong way. Or the first time I went out with him, I realised I’d forgotten my mask and my phone. Now I know you take the baby last, but back then I had no logic or priorities. I ended up leaving Émile alone on a busy street, one week old, to go back inside and gather my stuff. Many little things that made me think, ‘Émile has lost the mummy lottery, I’m such a shitty one.’
Brake vs. boost
I told Claude very early on, ‘I’m not the expert, we’re both beginners. Don’t look at me in the hopes that I have the answers, because we’re both searching.’ Society paints this deceptive picture that a woman always knows. I am good at organising meetings, guiding teams, managing projects – but staying at home with my little one… The only time I cried was when Claude went back to work. I was so scared of being alone with Émile all day. Very slowly, one mini milestone at a time, I started to feel more confident. When he slept 16 hours a day, I counted it as a victory. In a factual way, I calculated my successes and saw myself evolve from shitty or medium mum to an okay one. The day before he went to daycare was emotional. That’s when I realised there must be something more. Émile was five months old and it felt unnatural to leave him with someone else. It’s such a cliché – I vividly remember the women who said it, but back then, I didn’t get it. Today I do: Émile is my everything. He’s made me feel richer than ever before.
Instead of a brake, motherhood has meant a tremendous boost for me. While it’s a fact you have less time, I’ve never done as much since I had Émile. During my maternity leave, I took on an interior design assignment. There used to be 10,000 worries haunting me: ‘Am I good and credible enough?’ With my newborn in my arms, I didn’t overthink it and said ‘yes’. I just made it work. That’s also how &MomStories came to life, a blog I run with two other young mothers. Our objective is to improve the journey of mothers thanks to the information and stories from fellow mothers.
What I’ve noticed is that many women have learned that if they study or work hard and do their best, they’ll achieve results. But that’s not how it works with a child. If your baby suffers from an allergy or your partner can’t find their place, you shouldn’t work harder. If you do, you end up in a lonely, unhealthy spiral. Women can do so much, but they often get stuck due to societal expectations. Taking care of your own needs is a part of personal leadership. For most women, it’s a challenge, since we’ve been taught to behave like nice girls. The rules of the game are different for mothers though: you have to stand up for yourself and your body, or nobody else will.Running a company at home
I’m lucky to work for a company that supports parenthood. When I returned to work, I think I was the only one who expected my comeback to be fast and furious. Our professional culture focuses heavily on personal development too – I implement tools I use at work in my family life. And whenever I can, I listen to podcasts or read books about leadership. I have a life motto: ‘Seek to inspire and to be inspired.’ Claude and I talk about how we want to inspire Émile: ‘If our family was a business, what would our culture look like?’ For example, our family values include taking care of others and ourselves. Or first we work, then we tidy up and eat. Even though that order doesn’t always come naturally, we try to live by those values every day.
On Émile’s first birthday, Claude and I took the day off and brought him to daycare. He was going through a phase of not liking the place, so he threw himself on the floor and cried non-stop. We left him there and went for dirty martinis at 11 in the morning. Sure, there are people who think we should have spent the day with Émile. But I wanted to celebrate us – it was a milestone for Claude and I, one Émile wouldn’t remember anyway. I made a choice that was aligned with my long-term goal: build an inspiring family for my son. And if I want that, then I need to invest in my relationship now – I shouldn’t just expect it to be completely intact in 10 years time. Because I already reflect on how I’ll spend my time once I’m no longer a full-time mother, I try to avoid quick fixes that don’t contribute to my long-term goals. Émile wasn’t super content on his birthday, but I hope he’ll still live in a happy home a decade from now.
Preparation is (partly) possible
So many of us get caught up in choosing baby clothes and debating the colour of the nursery, but those things won’t help you after birth. Preparation will – that’s something a mother does for herself and benefits the baby too. I discovered the concept of ‘matrescence’, the transition from a woman to mother. It’s a bit like going through puberty again: your hormones are all over the place and while others expect you to be happy, you’re losing control of the way you look and feel. For me, it felt like an identity crisis. I used to wear so many hats – ‘wife of’, ‘friend of’, ‘employee of’. All of a sudden, I was reduced to ‘mother of’, which was new, scary and at times uncomfortable. I couldn’t recognise my sporty, smart, supportive self anymore – she’d been replaced by an organic milk machine with greasy hair and painful hips. If you’re in a similar situation: embrace the change. The other versions of you aren’t gone, they’ve been put on hold temporarily while you take care of your baby and yourself.
And then there’s the fourth trimester, a concept I couldn’t repeat enough times. Take ownership before birth: understand the changes that will happen to your body and prepare for them. Figure out how breastfeeding works; don’t wait until you’re tired and in too much pain to learn. The fourth trimester is a couple’s task, so your partner should know how to support you through it (there’s an exercise book I recommend).
The constant fatigue is the hardest to prepare for. If I could, I’d invent a sleep training that parents-to-be could try out before birth. Think of a crazy alarm that goes off 5 times a night and a stress test you have to take half awake afterwards. Colleagues without children have such a competitive advantage of being able to sleep for 8 hours in a row. Mothers go into meetings or give presentations on 3 hours of sleep, a runny nose and a sore throat. Honestly, my life isn’t sexy right now, but that’s a choice too. In order to manage work, I have early nights during the weekend to recover.
I know it’s a phase; life will look different in a few years, when Émile needs me less. Right now, I relish being his favourite person in the world. He’s my buddy. He’s not perfect, but that’s what makes him perfect. It’s the best feeling in the world, knowing that we belong together. I used to think I had that with my husband, because I’d found my person. But then Émile came into the picture and intensified that emotion. 17 months in, I’m able to say I’m a good mother to my son. He gets me, and I get him, at least 90 – or let’s say 80% of the time.”