“I think for our generation, parenthood is a good lesson. We DO have a tendency to be a bit self-obsessed. We find it hard to grow up and stop listening to rave music. We still think we’re twenty-two.” Anniki Sommerville on motherhood…
Anniki Sommerville, 44, lives in Ealing, west London, with her husband and their three-year-old daughter Rae. She is super editor at Selfish Mother and the senior director of Flamingo.
“I always planned on having a family but something happened in my thirties where I basically spent a lot of time climbing the corporate ladder and thinking that was what I wanted out of life (money, status, lifestyle). But then once I got there, I realised it wasn’t what I wanted at all. I take my hat off to super career women but it’s bloody hard and requires an awful lot of sacrifice on the personal front.
It took ages to conceive. I’d read all those articles about women and declining fertility but somehow thought I was different and my eggs wouldn’t age. So the process of having my daughter was long and painful and something I don’t really like thinking about very much. I even ate orange fruit for a while as I thought it would make me more fertile. The lengths women will go to get pregnant is heartbreaking and we need to talk about it more. The thing is, we can’t have it all and it’s best not to wait till you’re in your late thirties to start trying.
I had read up on hypnobirthing and had the app and yet when it was actually time, I wasn’t really given the choice (because of my age and the fact I was overdue by a week). In the end I was medicated up to the eyeballs and had no idea who I was. I do remember her birth but just afterwards I was completely bonkers. I kept thinking we were at a the train station waiting for a train to arrive and then asking my mum to bring me some toast from the kitchen downstairs (again hadn’t registered I was in a hospital and thought I was back at home). I think it’s hard because you don’t want to scare the crap out of women about to have babies but I was on the other side where I basically thought I would hear George Harrison singing and have some sort of spiritual epiphany and it didn’t happen. I felt like I’d been in a car accident instead.
I’m not sure what we do about that in terms of preparing women – a bit more realistic optimism perhaps?
I didn’t want to know too much about childbirth in advance, but as I said I now know there is a secret code and mums don’t tend to spill the beans on birth until they’re in a room with other mums. Then it becomes a competition in terms of how AWFUL it was (with maybe one or two who had the George Harrison/spiritual epiphany experience but women tend to screen them out as they’re bloody annoying sometimes).
Motherhood is: heroic levels of compromise combined with unadulterated joy
I was so disorientated and tired in the early days that I had no idea. I think, on reflection, I was probably suffering from PND. At some point I walked up the street in my socks to my neighbour’s house. Luckily she’s a midwife and took one look at me and said – ‘You need a cup of tea,’ and whisked me into her house. I cried and told her I had no idea what I was doing. I was looking at her kids (who were about ten and nine years old) and thinking ‘Why can’t I have a grown up child that doesn’t cry all day and night?’
I used to weep when visitors left because I felt so alone. At least whilst they were around I could put on a mask of being okay. Sometimes I wished they’d take my daughter with them – I know that’s wicked but in those first four weeks that was the way it was (and I think a lot of women feel the same because of the hormones/huge change/lack of sleep).
It started to get easier around three-four months. I found a fantastic group of women who all met up at the local coffee shop. The women who ran it – Lucy – should basically get a medal for ‘services to new mums’. She reassured me and said that everything that was happening was normal. We’re good friends and she said she took one look at me and knew I needed a lot of help (at that stage I couldn’t even drink a coffee and hold a baby at the same time).
I wish I could find out whether things would be different a second time round but I fear I’m too old and the eggs have finally given up the ghost. I think (and hope) I’d be more relaxed.
I returned to work after a year. It was mixed. I was senior (a managing partner) and when I came back they’d restructured and my status had changed. There was a lot of grinning and trying to be positive. I think our relationship with work changes and the stuff you thought was really important just doesn’t cut it any more which is why so many women change jobs (also because their job just isn’t compatible with kids).
I take my hat off to women who can have a high-flying, corporate job and have children but I haven’t met one yet who seems to have got a magic solution. The fact is many jobs aren’t designed around having children. You constantly have to compromise something. Having said that, my work have been pretty good in offering flexibility. I just find it hard as I’m not seen to have the same ‘cut and thrust’ as before because I don’t want to be in the office all the time.
I wish I’d started trying for children younger. That is definitely my biggest regret as I’ve always wanted more than one child.
I think we need to GET REAL about the impact having a child has on your relationship. In movies you see a couple who are basically in love and then that love is deepened and made more meaningful by having a child. In reality you can really HATE your partner in the early days (bouts of misdirected rage) and you can also end up putting too much attention into your child and not enough into one another. I listen to couples in the park and all they do is talk to the child and never look at one another. The love that you had for one another is suddenly channelled into this little person. And they are supremely loveable but if you put nothing into your partner, no effort, no love, then yes it will suffer and I’ve been through that. I’m not sure what the solution is!
What surprises me most about parenting is just how angry I can get. I always thought of myself as fairly laid-back and easy going but I’ve found parenthood has truly brought out the best and the worst. I’ve thrown socks out the window, broken a toaster, and kicked walls – just out of sheer frustration. I’ve found one of the biggest challenges is keeping calm. I sometimes find myself shouting ‘CALM DOWN!’ in a really angry voice and realising that I’M THE ONE THAT NEEDS TO CALM DOWN.
There’s not point in being told most things – you just have to experience it for yourself. I guess I wouldn’t have listened. All the advice is a bit pants – like sleep when they sleep and find time for yourself. I guess the main thing is make peace with compromise. The holidays, the ‘me time’, the hot baths with a magazine – they’ll come back eventually but not in the early days. The early days are like going on stage with no script, no dress rehearsal and a bunch of actors that you’ve never met before.
If I could go back in time…
I would eat more cake when I was pregnant. I would put on another stone. I wouldn’t buy so many products thinking that they would solve my parenting problems. I definitely wouldn’t read the book that went on about swaddling as it was nonsense and didn’t work.
I’d tell expectant parents that birth is awful. Ha ha. No, you can’t say that. Everything is a phase and even birth is a phase too. Without getting all Oprah, it will be the best experience but expect to swear a lot and feel pushed to your limit. If you’ve been wondering what life is about then this is possibly quite close to answering that question… we may fret and try and unpick what it’s all about but ultimately bringing up a child and doing it as best you can is a pretty good life purpose and not to be sneered at.
We find it hard to grow up and stop listening to rave music
Time is the greatest challenge I face as a mother. There is so much I want to achieve and yet I feel like I need to have meaningful time with my daughter too. I don’t feel previous generations of parents put as much pressure on themselves. My mum often tells me – ‘You women have it harder than we did. We didn’t think as much all the time.’
What makes it all worthwhile? Love and the friends you make. Sometimes (in the early days), you get a sense of camaraderie which you only find when people are flung together in a crisis (I sometimes think it’s a bit like being in a bunker during war time but obviously the threat isn’t as dark and dangerous).
I think for our generation, parenthood is a good lesson. We DO have a tendency to be a bit self-obsessed. We find it hard to grow up and stop listening to rave music. We still think we’re twenty-two. It can happen other ways but parenting has forced me to face up to the fact that I’m ageing. It’s made me less self-absorbed (though I am still a typical Gen X in many ways and love a bit of navel-gazing).”