Sending My Inner Perfectionist Packing

I have always been an insanely organised person. I mean, bordering on OCD. My desk at work is a thing of true beauty. My paperwork housed neatly in colour coded, alphabetised folders, my stationary perfectly arranged in boxes, trays and any kind of divider-y thing one can get their hands on at Howard’s Storage World. Ah…it makes me happy just thinking about the order of it all. At home it’s no different. All surfaces are habitually kept free of all mess or clutter. Something my husband very quickly learned of, and found irritating, when we first moved in together. And planning. Oh my, is there anything more enjoyable or satisfying than planning something…anything?

So, when I found out that my husband and I were expecting our first child after a very long and emotional 18 months of trying to conceive (something that my inner control freak found particularly difficult to deal with), I began to approach pregnancy in my typically vigilant way. Within a week of learning we were pregnant I had made a detailed list of everything that would need to be purchased and accomplished during the 9 months leading up to our little one’s arrival. The nursery was painted and decorated, the baby clothes washed, ironed and arranged and the house baby-proofed with weeks and weeks to spare. I had attended breastfeeding classes, Calm Birth courses and Mothercraft seminars all in the hope of being as prepared for motherhood as I possibly could be. Unfortunately, the one thing I failed to realise on my perfectly programmed pregnancy journey was that there is nothing in this world that can truly prepare you for becoming a parent.

Routines? Forget it. Newborns don’t follow them. Expectations? Please. Babies have a remarkable ability to exceed them and fail to meet them at the exact same time. Oh, and the perfectionist within? You better send her packing now because there is absolutely no way to be a perfect mother.

I’m sure anyone who has had a baby will agree with me when I say that becoming a parent requires a huge amount of adjustment. For me, the biggest and most difficult of these adjustments has been forcing myself to let go of the control and competence that I had become so used to enjoying. Before becoming a mother I was happily and proudly in charge of every aspect of my life. I made the decisions, I called the shots. I was also used to being a competent teacher, a good friend and wife and a person who could succeed at the things that she put her mind to.

And then came the happiest day of my life: the 11th of March 2013. The day my husband and I welcomed our perfect little princess. From the very second she was placed on my chest and I felt her warm body against mine and looked into her big blue eyes everything faded away. The ridiculously long and painful labour I had just endured and our heart wrenching struggle with infertility no longer mattered one little bit. We were complete. We were finally the family we had longed to be.

But the indescribable joy that came with motherhood was, for me, mixed with occasional feelings of fear and sadness. I was fearful because in those first few months I truly felt as though I was just keeping my head above water. I had no idea if I was doing the right thing and was unsure if I was turning out to be the ‘good’ mother that I so desperately wanted to be. My baby wasn’t sleeping for longer than 30 mins at a time. Ever. And feeding was problematic at the best of times. My mum moved in with us in the early days and I can’t even begin to describe how much of a help she was. But it was strange to once again feel dependant on her  at 27 years of age. It’s hard to feel like you’re succeeding when nothing is going at all like you planed. I was sad because all of the things that I loved about my old life had seemed to have disappeared. Catching up with friends for a coffee felt too difficult, I missed the intellectual stimulation that my job provided and managing some alone time with my man was impossible. I loved my daughter with every single inch of my heart but I also wondered when I would feel like myself again.

Then I made the conscious decision to let go. To go with the flow. I stopped trying to make motherhood into something I thought it should be and began to enjoy it for what it was. I stopped wishing for my old life and began to embrace all of the wonderful parts of my new one. I said goodbye to my inner perfectionist control freak and tried to adopt the mantra “what will be will be”.

When my daughter was about 6 weeks old and we were in the thick of severe sleep deprivation, we paid for a Mothercraft nurse to come to the house and give us some advice with feeding and sleeping. Something she said has really stuck with me: “Leah, it’s always the organised ones who are hit the hardest”.

Motherhood is hard. There is no doubt about it. I am sure that it is the most challenging and rewarding thing I will ever do. But looking back I now wish that someone would had have told me to just chill out a bit. To enjoy the ride and relax. If anyone ever asks for my advice regarding motherhood, that’s what it will be.

Now, excuse me – I had planned on writing another paragraph but there’s a baby I know who has a different plan.

L. x


7 thoughts on “Sending My Inner Perfectionist Packing

  1. Thanks, Leah. Even though I’m just a Dad, this rings true. It was a massive change for me, too, although I suspect the shift wasn’t as dramatic because I was terribly disorganised to start with! I reckon you’re very brave to be so frank about the range of emotions parenthood throws up, especially in the early days.

  2. Good morning Leah…..its Denise (Jann’s friend)…firstly what wonderfully wise advice you are giving the new mums and dads out there…. “letting go” and “go with the flow” sums it up… ……..and now that you have done it I am sure it seems such a simple solution however in the early days of sleep deprivation and being the new girl in the “office” it was an emotional Mt Everest to well done. …. parenting is very hard work for ALL us parents however we do reap the rewards

    I LOVED your letter to your mother ..a beautiful poignant tribute….. I am sure it brought tears to her eyes..

    So keep up the writing… it is cathartic and you are being an inspiration to other new mums and dads by being honest and speaking of your true feelings…… keep blogging!!!!!

    best wishes

  3. Great post Leah. I felt the same way about so many of those things. We ended up with a week at Tresillian and nearly everyone I met there during that week was either a teacher or had twins!!

  4. Leah, you have reminded me so much of myself and of the many wonderfully confusing days of early parenthood. Being the father of four of the most perfect girls, and I read how perfect E is, I too am reminded of the very difficult days we spent trying to understand what our first daughter was doing and when stressed what to do to anticipate how to cope next. Wrong. No endless resd of the various child care books we had prepared us fully for the shocks and highs we faced during the early yesrs. But no matter what the situation was, no matter how serious we thought the symptoms were, we just loved letting it flow and enjoyed the moments we had with each daughter. And as we accumulated more we learnt to relax more and enjoy them together or by themselves.
    I really enjoyed your words to, so encouraging for all new parents.

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