Power to the Mother: Ruth Poundwhite
Power to the Mother is a series of interviews on the transformative and empowering experience of motherhood.
On Power to the Mother today, I’ve been very excited to speak to Ruth Poundwhite, mother of one and creative business owner. I love Ruth’s podcast, Creatively Human, and really connect with the stories she tells as well as those of her interviewees. Ruth’s son Rowan is quite literally about to turn one, so this felt like a very special time for her to share her experiences with me. Here we talk about motherhood not being quite as expected, the drive to make changes post-baby, and learning to love yourself. I hope you enjoy Ruth’s answers as much as I did!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, and your family?
I’m Ruth, a writer, podcaster and online business owner. I live with my ecopoet husband Chris by the seaside in Kent. Our first baby, Rowan, was born in December 2017.
Would you share your birth story?
I found pregnancy difficult. I was extremely nauseous and had extreme food aversion for around 5 months. Every day I’d have to tell my husband what I thought I might be able to eat, and I’d have to not think about it or smell it beforehand or else I’d be sick. I know that these symptoms are fairly common, but I found them mentally so hard to deal with. I was so grateful to be pregnant, but I spent much of those early months in bed sick.
Thankfully, though, I did have a very positive birth experience. I chose to go on a hypnobirthing course beforehand (which I recognise is a huge privilege), and I used techniques such as affirmations, meditation and relaxation tracks on those mornings when I’d wake at 3am (thanks to pregnancy insomnia!) to prepare myself to stay calm when the big day came.
On my due date, my husband and I spent a dreamy day together. We went out for Christmas dinner, we put up the tree, and we went to see my dad’s band at a Christmas shopping event. I’d been feeling what I thought were “gas pains” the whole day, and it turns out I was in early labour. By the time I realised, I was starting to panic that I wouldn’t be able to cope. My husband reminded me of everything I’d been practicing with my hypnobirthing, and helped me put on my TENS machine.
When I phoned the Midwife Led Unit I was encouraged to stay home, but I had some bleeding so I went in. I listened to a singing bowl track in the car and really got in the “zone", and once I had some gas and air I was feeling surprisingly good. My midwife told me I was already 10cm dilated, which had all happened quite quickly and explained the bleeding. I started off in the pool, but there was meconium in my waters so I moved upstairs and, after a lot of pushing, ended up having an assisted delivery with the ventouse.
My baby was born at 4.48am the day after his due date, with the cord wrapped twice around his neck. My husband told me we had a boy, and the first thing I said was: “how can this be real?” Rowan is about to turn one, and I still ask myself that question almost daily.
Overall it was a very positive experience. Labour was short, I felt very in control the whole time and was very aware of my options and decisions thanks to a wonderful midwife who was very mindful of my hypnobirthing requests. My husband said he never realised how strong I was until that day, and I feel the same.
How did you find new motherhood? Were there any elements that were difficult or surprising for you?
New motherhood was the biggest shock of my life. I had no idea what it meant to be there for another person 100% of the time. I found it extremely difficult, and constantly wondered if I had made a huge mistake, which is hard to admit. I was not well mentally, and I want to share that because I know that not everyone feels that instant bond and rush of love for their baby. I didn’t, and I felt so guilty about that fact.
For anyone who may be feeling how I described: you are not alone and you are not a bad person. And it’s OK to ask for help. I’m able to say that now from the other side. I love my son and I feel that my life is so, so full. When I was stuck in those dark times (and they really were dark), I made sure everybody around me knew about it: my husband, my parents, my health visitor. None of them judged me, and they all helped me recover.
In the very unlikely event that my son should ever read this, I would like him to know that none of this was his fault. He is very, very loved.
What would you say to anyone who finds themselves not finding motherhood as expected?
You are not alone. And things will change.
There is a huge amount of expectation around motherhood: what we should feel, how we should act, how quickly we should recover and what we should be able to get done. This can lead to a lot of guilt and shaming of ourselves. But you are not a bad person. If you are following anyone on social media who makes you feel not good enough, mute or unfollow. Seek out people who have experienced what you are going through, talk to people about how you feel in real life (if you can), and try to focus on what you are doing for your baby rather than what you feel you are failing at - because you are doing a lot!
And if you are struggling, PANDAS is a fantastic resource: http://www.pandasfoundation.org.uk You can email or call them and a trained volunteer will let you know what help is available to you.
Since having Rowan, you have become so much more visible, on Instagram, through launching your podcast, with your business. What was it that drove you to start that shift?
Part of me is, of course, sad when I look back at those early days, because I feel I missed out on the newborn bliss that so many people describe. But the other part knows that going through this experience has ultimately been a good thing. I have become far less judgemental of other people, I have dug deeper than ever before, and I’ve come out the other side a far braver and truer version of myself. Everything I learnt along the way is something I can use to help Rowan through his own hardships, too.
Launching my new business and podcast, and becoming more honest and visible online, is all because of my son. It’s something I’ve been fighting for years, but now I have the biggest reason to be true to myself and do work that Rowan is proud of. I’ve learnt that in order to love my son the way he deserves, I need to fully love myself too. All this work is a result of learning to love myself.
How did you find that balance between work and mothering?
I’m sure any mother can relate: at times I feel like superwoman, and at others I feel like I’m failing in every area. A couple of months ago I cut down on my work hours to spend more time with Rowan, but quite honestly I don’t feel like I have enough time for anything. So it’s a case of dropping as much from my plate as possible, and asking for help (which I am fortunate to have).
Sleep is also a huge issue. At the time of writing, we’re in the thick of a tricky sleep spell that’s been going on for around 6 weeks. I am getting through, but some days I just can’t focus, and it can also affect my mood. So I’d like to build more “buffer time” into my work to make sure I have the time I need to take care of myself during these phases.
What are the moments that make you feel like a mother?
It’s those quiet moments when I feel like Rowan needs only me. When I feed him in the night, when I rock him to sleep, or when I comfort him after he hurts himself. It’s also the acute awareness I feel of the responsibility of protecting him and teaching him that he is loved, exactly as he is.
As I’m writing this he’s about to turn one, and I’ve also realised just how special it is that we get to start new family traditions. It’s pretty wonderful imagining what they will mean to him throughout his childhood and beyond, and that definitely makes me feel like a mother!
And finally, how do you create pockets of mindfulness in your day? What do you do?
I’m not as mindful as I’d like, especially thanks to the working motherhood juggle (and the sleep deprivation)! But as we approach Rowan’s first birthday I find myself soaking in the tiny details. Stroking his soft hair, nestling into the back of his neck, kissing his feet and admiring his chubby wrists. I also enjoy really watching him trying to balance his blocks or fit things together. When I’m not with him I journal. In fact, journalling and writing really helped me get through some of the harder times, too.