I was recently asked to write a post on the topic of ‘Mum Shame’ for the wonderful website Story of Mum. This is that post.
What, as a mother, am I ashamed of? Well there’s quite a lot, as it happens.
I’m ashamed that my house looks like a cross between a toy factory explosion and the place where clutter goes to die. I’m ashamed that I always seem to be running late. I’m ashamed that I’m not as patient with my children as I feel I should be. I’m ashamed that sometimes I just wish they’d bugger off and leave me in peace for half an hour. To be honest I think most mothers (and probably a lot of fathers) would agree with at least one of these so I’m not unusual.
But the secret I feel deeply ashamed about, a white hot shame that sears me to the bone, is the fact that my children aren’t enough. I have two – a wonderfully kind, clever and articulate 3 year old girl who has a wicked sense of humour, and a sweet, funny and bright 14 month old boy. They bring joy to my life and I love them fiercely. I watch them play together and with other children and I marvel that my body brought forth two such amazing individuals. But they are not enough for me, I want more children.
My husband and I had always planned to have a large family – at least three, maybe four or perhaps (discussed in hushed tones when a little too much alcohol had been imbibed) even more. But circumstances change and at the age of 32 I have finally had to admit to myself that I can’t have any more. My body wouldn’t be able to cope with another pregnancy; my mental health is certainly not robust enough to go through the stresses of pregnancy and the newborn months again. Financial constraints are a big factor too.
But oh, how I yearn for more children. I suffer an almost physical pain when friends announce pregnancies or births, although I’m getting very good at masking the pain and giving smiling congratulations. Large families aren’t unusual where we live and I feel bitterly envious when I see a mother with her crowd of children while I just have my two, incredible and amazing though they are.
I know my feelings aren’t particularly unusual. But if I’m honest the real reason I feel such burning shame over this is the thought of how my children would feel if they ever realised that they aren’t enough for me. I am ashamed that I feel there are people missing from our family. I am ashamed that I could look at my exquisite, loving, wonderful children and feel that they are in any way inadequate. I am ashamed that I feel this way when there are so many women who struggle to have children at all.
This is my secret shame.