Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Letter to My Sister: Making the Transition to Motherhood

A very dear friend of mine lodged herself firmly in my heart forever very early on in our friendship when she wrote me a text that read: ‘Jackson just did an explosion in his nappy and there is baby poo ALL over the sofa and I have just got back from the store with a bottle of vodka to clean it up. But now I am not sure whether to go with the original plan or just sit on the floor and drink the vodka.’ It was such a relief and so refreshing for someone to be so honest that I knew we’d always be friends - and I also knew what level of honesty I needed in my friendships too.

I have been really very lucky in my life with my family and friends. I am blessed with a handful of very honest, authentic relationships where I can really bring myself. Within these connections, my success and happiness is genuinely celebrated and my low points are truly acknowledged and understood. I really couldn’t ask for more wonderful people to share my journey with (you know who you are!)

But motherhood didn’t start out that way for me. Of course, my husband and my family were there for me but so few of my friends were making the same transition and I really struggled to find like-minded people to share my experiences with. The truth is I spent a lot of time drinking tea with my mum and napping with Bo – I was exhausted, had no idea how traumatized I was by giving birth the way it had happened and I’m pretty sure I was suffering from some kind of post-natal depression. But you can’t know that until you are out of it. So I just sat in the fog.

Then, slowly but surely, I began to find my way – I was drawn gently out of those early days by the invisible force that has always helped me find my feet and I began to find the people who would become so important to me. And I now feel very strongly about finding ways to support people when they make the transition to motherhood – and in the years beyond that are made up of so many moments. Motherhood is meant to be dreamy and fulfilling but, often, it can be just plain terrifying and exhausting. And I wish, as a society, we knew how to talk about things properly so that new mums wouldn’t have to pretend to be doing ok. But we don’t – and our midwives and health visitors don’t have time because they are working in a system that isn’t coping.

And the real problem is, we generally don’t share honestly with each other as mums, especially in those early days when we assume everyone else is so sorted, organized and on top of things. I remember my first NCT coffee meeting (it was also my last) when everyone went around the table comparing how long their babies were sleeping. Bo had only ever slept for about an hour straight – she just was not an easy baby – and I was too ashamed to admit it and just felt like a failure and went for another cup of tea with my mum. (Thankfully I have a seriously amazing mum.)

What I think we all need – and this goes for new parents especially – is people around us who are honest with us and who accept us wherever we are in ourselves. What we don’t need is comparison, advice or tips or ‘this is what we did’ because, when we are finding our feet, we need to feel there is a loving, secure safety net around us – just the way that a toddler needs a gentle, quiet presence to help him feel safe as he learns to walk rather than someone telling him how to do it or pointing out where he’s going wrong.  We need acceptance – that is, if we need to laugh, we need someone who can go there with us and if we need to cry, we need someone who lets us cry. If we are lost, we need to feel supported to find our way and our own wisdom – and this can take time. Honest sharing with supportive, loving people helps remove the blocks to this wisdom.

A Letter to My Sister

So here are the things I will want to share with my sister when she makes the rocky transition to motherhood. The true silver lining of my early experience of isolation and depression is that, hopefully, others, and especially my little sister who I love so dearly, won’t have to experience it too.

(Auntie Lizzie with newly arrived Bo)

Dear Lizzie, my precious sister

Here are a few things I would like to share with you when you start on your journey to becoming a mum.

1.     Don’t believe anyone who says they have it all under control – seriously, everyone has at least one area in which they struggle. This will help you find your own way, rather than getting stuck in comparing yourself with others.

2.     Be honest with other mums and people around you. Most times, people respond with relief that you are willing to share and so often they will say ‘thank God you said that, I have been feeling that too but didn’t think I could say it out loud’

3.     Go easy on yourself. This is the biggest transition you will ever make in your life and it takes time to adjust – your body is new, your emotions are new and your purpose in life is changed. You have been bumped out of the central position in your life and it takes time to settle into that. The key is to remember that EVERYTHING is a phase. 'This too shall pass' needs to be your mantra... Because it always does.

4.     Try to stay centred by continuing with your spiritual practices. You need to look after yourself right from the start – and start working out what that means for you and putting it into action.

5.     Ask for help A LOT. If you find resistance to this, seriously get over yourself (and call me!)

6.      Let yourself be loved by the trees, the sky, the earth, the stars, the sun and the moon and whenever you feel things are getting sticky, go outside and you will remember how they see you. And you will feel refreshed and ready to start all over again. (And a walk in the fresh air sorts out most baby issues too!)

7.     Spend time with people who will do the washing up for you, put the laundry on, make you a cup of tea and share honestly with you. Your true friends will respect your choices as a parent and make you feel expanded and happy rather than anxious and unsure.

8.     Trust your instincts, which become so strong when you become a mother. All you need to do is connect with your own wisdom and you’ll find your way. Be open to what you need to hear and learn in order to support yourself on this journey.

9.     Embrace the practicalities of life. Do the laundry, washing up and hoovering with as much presence and mindfulness as possible. (Singing helps.) You will slowly realize that there is nothing else to do but what you are doing right now. (Although you must also let out your frustration when it becomes too much.)

10. Connect to the Big Source in whatever way works for you – prayer, meditation, asking for help in any form. Otherwise you simply won’t have enough energy.

I am including this in my blog in case anyone reads it and feels it might be comforting for a new mum or dad they know.

May we all feel truly heard, loved and understood on our journey, wherever it takes us, children or no children, during the highs and the lows.

Love from Hollie


  1. Beautiful. And, okay i want to add, it all changes. It changes when you do want it to (they start sleeping better, they agree finally to eat something other than weetabix) and when you don't too! (like when your previously good sleeper starts waking in the night). Perfect demonstration of the buddhist idea that you can't hold onto anything, good OR bad. This too will pass, and this, and this!!

  2. Also (god sorry to go on...) I think the idea of things being 'under control' at all is just... not actually what happens. What happens with people who think they are going to be able to get it 'under control' is that, they have to have tons of regimes and timetables and all that stuff. I keep Kester to a routine because it's a nightmare without - but you can't control it. Some days he's not tired, some days he's weirdly so. You have to follow rather than lead in that respect and that is hard, especially for people who have had long working lives who are used to be able to ring, email, start to take control of a situation. A baby is just awake when they're awake, and there's nothing you can do to actually 'make' them sleep. god what a lesson it has been.... :-)

  3. yes, emma, exactly... (to all!) there is just so much to say it's hard to know where to start! but i want to start conversations so it's great you have so much to say... This too shall pass is my big thing and I am going to add it in as it is so important. The way I have come to say it is 'everything is a phase' - it has got me through many stages but took me ages to work it out!

  4. I had not heard Lizzie was expecting and am delighted with the news. She has such a beautiful energy.

    Hollie, your #8 is the best of the lot -- not that it was not all good but #8 is the key. If you really trust your instincts fully a lot of the stress and strain leaves -- because your instincts are always there; always giving you guidance but so many of us have been trained to second guess, to go to our rational mind rather than our inner wisdom which is so much more informed and so much more accurate. My children were older when I began but by the time they went off to college I just trusted my instincts and was able to enjoy their blossoming and not worry. My instincts told me they would be fine and by really, truly trusting I was able to relax and enjoy that new stage of life. It also makes for much closer Mom/daughter relationships when Mom has given up the idea that she has to even attempt to control the uncontrollable.

    My marriage was already rocky when I had my eldest and in severe trouble by the time the 2nd one arrived. On the way to the hospital I almost pulled over to the side of the road (it was a scheduled c-section so I was not in labor that time) and told him to "get out." I had really bad postpartum depression that time.

    Babies are full of beautiful energy. Hold your baby and absorb that energy. Know that your baby just has a brand new body but is not a brand new soul. Your baby has guidance just as accurate and sure as your own. Don't teach your baby away from listening to the guidance we are born with - society does this and a friend of mine who wrote a brilliant paper about our emotional guidance ( - if you want some heavy readying with 10 pages of scientific citations) has gone so far as to claim that teaching people to follow something other than their own guidance is the reason we have so many with illnesses described in the DSM. I tend to agree with her. I have an abbreviated and less scientific version of her paper on my blog.

    Learn not to give a rip about other peoples opinions. They are really not about you anyway. If you friend is in a frightful mood your friend may well find something to fuss about regarding your clothing, personality or habits. But, that same friend, if in a state of appreciation, would find things about you to appreciate. Decide for yourself who you are. Most people see themselves through other peoples eyes and that is why they worry about others opinions. Everyone is good at the core of who they are and if we are true to that, authentically ourselves, we will be kindness, love, compassion, we will see the potential in others rather than their temporary stumbles. See yourself through your own eyes. What does Robert say? It is one of my favorites - something like "Belief the truth about yourself no matter how wonderful it is" - It is truly wonderful. Feel it. Believe it. Enjoy the journey. Blissings to you both.

  5. Hi, to be clear, Lizzie is not expecting!! This is a letter I am 'saving' for her!

  6. Loving your posts Hollie - what a gift your wisdom is to the world...keep blogging!

    I'm a mum of two (7 and 3). The advice given to me that helped me feel a lot better each and every day is this.... Make time for yourself in the morning to start your day by showering, getting dressed out of the track pants or pajamas and choose to wear clothes as you would if you were heading out for the day. When I made the effort to do this, I felt a completely different person compared with the days I ignored the advice, and stayed in my sloppy but comfortable house clothes. The best mother you can be, is the only one YOU know how to be. Stay true to yourself and follow your intution.

    Hollie I can see a book comming out of all this. It would be such a gift to give a new mum a compilation of advice sourced from people all over the world but woven in a web of spirituatlity and love. Are there any books like this on the market???

    Thanks again for the blog - hope you have a beautiful day.

  7. Wish I'd had a sister to give me such wise words! Especially about asking for help - it's such a huge transition that we need all the support we can get. If I'd been more honest when I felt I was struggling rather than trying to put on a brave face, I wouldn't have felt so lonely. Good luck with the blog Hollie.