Research has revealed what working mums already know, they’re significantly more stressed than other people.
It’s 4:30am when I wake up.
I lift my sleeping toddler’s arm from around my neck, pausing for a second to breathe in his sleepy scent. At some point last night he came into bed with my husband and I.
He’s two-and-a-half, but when he’s sleeping in the early morning darkness I swear I can still catch a whiff of that heady newborn smell coming off his sweaty little hairline. The longing to climb back into bed with him and nuzzle my face into his neck is almost physical, but I drag myself into the shower and get ready for work.
I’m on the bus by 5:30am, checking emails and responding to pitches and writing myself reminders in the Notes app on my phone because if I don’t, I know I’ll forget something crucial I need to do in the office.
I’m at my desk by 7:00am, and I’m immersed in my work, in chatting with my colleagues, in the double-shot of guilt and pleasure that is drinking a hot cup of coffee and realising I can only enjoy it because I’m away from my kid.
That’s when I read an article, written by my brilliant friend Natalie, about the fact that the stress of working mothers has finally been quantified; we’re 18% more stressed than anyone else.
She writes that researchers from Manchester and Essex Universities looked at 11 indicators of chronic stress, including blood pressure and hormones, and found that working mothers of two recorded 40% higher on these indicators.
Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.
I nod as I read – the truth of her words settling into my tired bones.
Yes, it is stressful juggling all the balls. It is infinitely exhausting to shoulder the mental load, which for a multitude of reasons outlined in the piece, so often falls to the woman in a partnership.
But more than all that, it is heartbreaking – in both the sense that we must tear our hearts in two, and in the sense that the results are emotionally fraught.
It is heartbreaking to love two sides of yourself so much, but to know that when they bleed into one another, both inevitably suffer.
What working mothers feel, right alongside that stress, is grief. We grieve for the parts of ourselves we don’t feel like we can give adequate attention to. We grieve for the loss of that feeling of satisfaction that comes from being able to dedicate 100% to something. And we settle instead for giving as much as we can – more than we can, in fact – even in the knowledge that it is still never enough.
I love my job – not just because it allows me to be creative and surround myself with people I genuinely like and admire, but because I can flex the parts of myself that atrophy when I’m back at home in mothering mode.
I’m passionate about my work, but the days of being able to lose myself completely in that passion are long gone. From the minute I sit at my desk a timer begins to count down in my head. If I’m not finished what I need to get through by the time 3pm rolls around, I can’t leave on time and I can’t pick my son up on time. My husband will be working late, to make up the hour he lost doing the childcare drop-off in the morning, which means that sometimes, inevitably, I leave and there’s still work to do that spills over into my time at home.
Which is when my great love, my bounding little boy, will look at me with wounded eyes and ask me to “stop on the pooter Mummy,” as he tries to close it shut so I can come and play cars with him, or look at his pet Christmas beetle who is ‘sleeping’ (long may his soul rest), or just let him sit in my lap and snuggle up against me.
And so I rush through work, and then I rush through mothering, and soon my son is asleep and I miss him all over again.
Which is why, when he creeps back under the covers with me in the dead of night, I don’t take him back into his bed like I should. I don’t drift back off to sleep immediately.
I wrap myself around him and pray that somehow his warm skin will soak up all the love pouring out of me and that he will somehow wake up with the knowledge that at some point overnight, even for a few minutes, I gave him everything I had.
And I hope that it’s enough.
This article first appeared on Whimn.com.au and was republished with permission.