If I'd have asked you what your version of motherhood would be like before your children arrived, what would you have come up with?
Coffee dates with Baby sleeping happily in your arms?
White onesies pinned carefully on the clothesline?
Heart-bursting love as you enjoyed music class together, or dipped your toes in the waves at the beach?
Sure, being a mum can include all those things. There is ecstasy so intense you feel you might faint, love so hard that your heart feels ready to burst out of your chest and moments so sweet you could melt.
The highs are dizzying, but what about the parts between them?
We know that preparing for birth, this dividing line in our lives, is important. As a woman's baby leaves her body, the BC (Before Children) era ends, and she steps from the social position of "Woman Who Is Pregnant" to "Mother".
It makes total sense to prepare mentally and physically for an event as profoundly life-changing as birth.
You may have read books on the subject, written love letters to the baby you will soon meet, or binge-watched "One Born Every Minute".
Between decorating the nursery and choosing a pram, did you to stop to think about what it would feel like to have a real-life baby in your care? One who is your responsibility for years, that you can't take back to the store and return? One that still needs to be fed, changed and comforted even when you're running on three hours of broken sleep and have diarrhoea?
As a doula, health clinician, colleague, relative, friend and mother, I have spent time in deep conversation with plenty of mums. I can tell you that if the "how will I feel in between the highlights of mum-life?" question didn't really cross your mind, you're in good company.
I have called these the "unspoken emotions of modern motherhood" for two reasons.
The first is although an almost universal experience, these feelings and emotions may not be something you feel able to talk about openly.
They're not things you'd fancy chatting about with other mums at the park, or discussing with your cousin's wife's sister at a family reunion.
You might feel weird about raising these feelings (and the things that trigger them) with your partner, in case they thought you wanted out.
And it's likely you'd feel pretty uncomfortable posting about this stuff to your socials alongside the photos of your family picnic, because who out there chooses to make it look like they're not coping?
The second is that these aren't feelings that are automatically part and parcel of being a mother; they exist as a product of the set of circumstances and systems we find ourselves in as women raising kids in the modern western world.
These feelings are bigger than us pacing the hallway in the middle of the night with a crying baby, googling "how long without sleep can you go before you die?"
Motherhood, like all areas of life, has changed a lot in the past few centuries, and even the last couple of decades. I'm no expert historian, but I can guarantee you don't need a degree in archaeology or a love for "Antiques Roadshow" to understand the pressures modern mothers are under.
There's the preconception "get healthy" fertility-boosting plan, a list of 20 million things to avoid while pregnant, a tidal wave of people wanting to offer their birth horror stories and a maternity system that leaves women stone cold after they discharge from the birth suite. Did I mention how important it is to avoid stress while you incubate a delicate, impressionable baby?
Most modern mothers want to breastfeed, but getting support to make it happen is hit and miss. The mantra "food is for fun until they're one" is pretty tricky to live up to when lactation support is heinously underfunded and paid maternity leave is inadequate, and in some countries, absent altogether. Did I mention how breast is best?
Then there is making sure our kids are stimulated, but not overstimulated, active but not hyperactive, securely attached but not spoiled. Mothers need to ensure we are there for our kids 24/7 but don't "lose ourselves" in the process, or become dependent on others in any way, because that would be bad role modeling too.
Enter: the apocalypse. Inequality everywhere you look. Coronavirus. Financial ruin. Climate change.
Your kids need you to be strong, so chin up.
If these lines were meant to help us see the silver lining to our exhaustion and emotional overload, I can tell you they only made me feel worse.
Suffering alone isn't fun, so I went searching for answers. Turns out I wasn't the only mum who was feeling the emotional squeeze of holding it together.
Initially I took comfort in learning that it wasn't just me, but seeing other people struggling along with me could only be comforting for so long.
This book is my attempt to do something about the unrecognised, unseen and unspoken emotional elements of motherhood that are not yet out in the public arena.
To help women feel not only less alone in their struggle, but also less crazy.
To know that they're not inherently faulty for feeling the way they do, but normal, exceptionally resilient human beings.
To help us harness the power that is bubbling within mothers as a collective to make the big-picture changes that will improve our lot, and give it our best shot to positively affect the world in which our children will raise theirs.
The aim of this book is to show you how it came to be that so many modern mothers are feeling so damn lousy, and how we can reclaim our status as brilliant women, rather than broken ones.
As you turn these pages, you will be unmasking the unspoken emotions mothers face day in, day out, and the modern day, pressure-cooker context of culturally constructed motherhood we feel them within.
In naming these emotions and exposing their origins we can reject the idea that we're individually "not good enough" as mothers.
Despite some of these unspoken emotions being flags for maternal mental ill-health, it is my belief that in many instances, women are not sick at all, but responding appropriately to the complete dearth of care and respect our society has for mothers.
By recognising that women and mothers have been pushed and prodded and boxed into ways of thinking, acting and being over many generations, we can avoid unconsciously passing even more intergenerational shit-ness to our kids.
By becoming aware of and gradually dealing with our own inner stuff, we can take miniscule and major steps to explode the outer-world shackles that keep us feeling faulty, inferior, and altogether "not enough".
This might sound a little woo-woo, overly optimistic or even ridiculous. Surely, if we just work a little harder on "getting the balance right" these feelings won't plague us so much and our family will achieve magazine cover levels of white-linen-shirted happiness, right?
I wish I could tell you otherwise, but it doesn't work like that.
It also might sound straight-up scary to consider that how we feel is impacted by more than what we personally do, almost like giving in to a life sentence of accepting that our lives will be hard, exhausting or dissatisfying.
Thankfully, I can assure you that waking up to what is really going on around us will, in the long run, lighten our burden rather than loading us up further.
Mothering (the actual practice of raising our children) can be beautiful, but it also brings up a whole lot of stuff that would be far easier (and more pleasant) to ignore. Often, we don't know it's there at all, until we hear our mother's words come out of our mouths, or catch sight of ourselves in the mirror and wonder "who is this woman who just yelled at her kids/kicked the cat/cries in the shower where no one can see?"
In this book, I will often, but not always, speak in the language that is relevant to my experience of family, with myself as biological mother, my husband as biological father, and our daughter. It is my hope that your family and identity take whatever form feels right and true for you, and that you can see parallels with your own experience as I tell my story and those of the vast array of people and caregiving configurations around me. All parents, and indeed all people, are welcome here.
Mama, if I've learned anything from my experience of motherhood so far, it is that I am not broken, and neither are you. I am excited to have you join me on this journey of learning, and unlearning, what it is to live fully as mothers.
If you're reading this while you're pregnant, please don't put it back on the shelf for later. This book is full of the gold nuggets that will make your days feel brighter and your nights a whole lot less heavy. You are one of the lucky ones who know from the start that all feelings are welcome (which is fortunate, because there are plenty of them) and serve a purpose other than just steamrolling you. It is an honour to walk this path to parenthood with you.
Sometimes mothering is a delight.
Sometimes it feels like we're drowning.
Sometimes it feels like both at once.
Let's dive in.
Anna's book, Mama, You're Not Broken: Unmasking the Unspoken Emotions of Modern Motherhood, can be ordered worldwide from Anna's website using the code POSTNATAL for 10% discount.