Michelle the Mother. I felt fine about that. I’d bought everything on my list, I’d read a few books, I’d even attended an additional antenatal course, just to really make sure I had it covered (I mean, One Born Every Minute wasn’t going to cover all bases, right?).
I felt professionally at the top of my game, I was running an extremely successful dating platform. I had great friends and a great family life (my husband and I had been together for five years at the time), so motherhood… well, that seemed like just another step in my life, the next chapter in my book.
When Finlay arrived, I felt as if I had been naive. I hadn’t appreciated how different everything would become. He was incredible, beautiful, fragile. I couldn’t believe I’d had any part in something so, perfect, all four kilograms of him. But I was scared, I felt like everything was changing and it was out of my control.
I’d gone from working a million miles an hour, around people constantly and all of a sudden I was at home all day on my own with this little dude. It was a difficult adjustment.
My husband would go to work every day and ‘leave’ me at home, sounds ridiculous to phrase it like that, but that’s how it felt at the time. I wasn’t really sure who Michelle the Mother was. The strongest feeling was that I’d really lost my identity.
I wasn’t really sure who I was anymore, and the very ‘together’ me felt dangerously close to falling apart.
I found it really difficult to relate to the portrayal of motherhood I was seeing across social media and in the books and forums. I didn’t recognise the tone of voice being used to address me, it was infantilising.
The strongest feeling was that I’d really lost my identity
I mean, I still felt like me deep down, and I didn’t want to lose that Michelle. But googling for advice at 2am led me into a world of forums, abbreviations which were mystifying (“DH”, “OH”), and no real way to communicate and meet with mothers who felt, well who I felt were on my wavelength.
There was a lot of judgement and opinion flying around, and I became so terrified of being criticised, I felt the equivalent of tongue tied (with a keyboard). Even more bizarrely, I seemed to become a lurker, wishing that another mother would ask the question I had, and then ducking when what felt like the inevitable judgement came flying.
Even if I did get a rapport with someone responding to my questions (it happened once), it wasn’t really the done thing to ask her about meeting up - I mean, that would just be, awkward.
I was lonely and that was a really difficult realisation. I don’t think feeling lonely is a particularly acceptable admission at the grand old age of thirty. I certainly didn’t feel comfortable about it, it felt like a dirty secret that I couldn’t verbalise. I mean, I had friends! I even had one friend who had a child. She was wonderful to me, and came to see me in hospital the day after Fin was born.
But her baby was older than mine, and I felt often like I was burdening her. She really had this motherhood thing down, and was so, in control of her identity as a mother, why didn’t I have that?
Everything and nothing could reduce me to tears at that time. I was extremely sensitive, and as any new mother will tell you, there is nothing quite like motherhood to make people feel emboldened to share their opinions with you. “He looks hungry!”, said an older lady in the queue at Starbucks one morning, “I think mummy needs to give him a little feed”.
I burst into tears, crying because how did she know my son better than me, crying because she was most likely right, crying because, I really really wanted to have a coffee.
I felt more lonely than I could ever have thought possible.
Feeling how I do today, it’s hard to remember feeling that way. I mean, I’d most likely have a quip in response, and anyone who knows me professionally would probably be amazed. But, at that very low, vulnerable moment, I felt more lonely than I could ever have thought possible.
Speaking to my own mother on the phone was a godsend, she’s one of the strongest, funniest women I know. But, when I hung up that phone, that feeling of isolation, of ‘what should I do now’, well, it hadn’t disappeared.
What I had also come to appreciate was, not all women are the same. There are so many different types of women, who all have different interests, values, points of view. Of course, not all mums are the same.
That artificial coming together because ‘you’re a mum, I’m a mum, we need to hang out’ can be awkward and forced, and make you feel lonely all over again! I was faking it, pretending to be someone I wasn’t, just to be able to spend time with someone and not be on my own.
What I really really needed was to find someone like-minded where I could be honest, and be myself, reclaim that part of my identity again. Through walking (a lot), going to classes, even driving across London to take Finlay to a baby spa (yes, that’s a real thing), I met other mothers.
But often it felt difficult to make sustained connections. You might chat for a while, but to move to the “should we see each other again” moment felt unknown territory.
Often, I would see groups of mothers, and I felt like I was back at school, constantly assessing the situation to see if I might ‘fit in’.
All I needed was to be able to find women like me who I could relate to.
I would share snippets with my friends, or my husband, but I didn’t really know how to articulate the feeling that I was lonely, and felt like I was faking it as a competent, together mother. Wherever I looked, I didn’t see anyone who seemed to be feeling the same way as me.
I suppose the turning point for me was six months in, I started to get into my flow a little more, regain my confidence. I’ve heard people describe it as a fog lifting, and yes, it was. I returned to work and I felt a little more connected to the Michelle I understood. And, I had made two wonderful friends who were mothers (thank you Emma and Meera, you saved me).
I now feel that motherhood is a chapter in my book, not the only one, but for sure the most exciting. Sometimes it’s challenging, confusing, even scary, but it’s amazing. One thing I know absolutely is that it becomes a lot less daunting when you can share that journey with other women who love and respect the woman you are.
All I needed was to be able to find women like me who I could relate to, women who happened to be mothers too. I needed that support. When I realised that I had the capacity to build a product to help me, and other women to find that network, well that was an epiphany.
I had been running a tech company which provided dating apps for five years. It seemed obvious to me that I could use the learnings I had from this experience, the algorithms, some of the features, and modify those to create a product which would help women connect with other like minded women (who happened to be mamas). To create a product which acknowledged motherhood as the best chapter in your book, but not the only chapter.
Peanut is an app to reflect modern motherhood. It offers a smart, mobile solution for mothers to chat, meet up with, and learn from one another. There’s intelligence in the product so that we learn about each user.
The more you engage with the product, the more its learn about you and your preferences and adapts accordingly. I remember someone saying to me “I am fed up of being treated like ‘every other mum’, not all mums are the same you know”.
I understood that so deeply, it was intuitive to build the antidote to that into the app. I really believe that amazing things happen when women come together and we just needed a product that helps us do that.
Peanut has been live in the US and the UK for a little over a year, and has over 300,000 women using it, this week we launch in Australia. I can’t wait for other women to have a better, easier, more connected experience of motherhood. Isn’t that something we all deserve? To feel like we’re on this beautiful, scary, funny journey together?
Because let’s face it, the more women in your life, the better it becomes.
This piece was first published on Mamamia in July 2018.