parent opinion

"You were wanted, it just wasn’t meant to be." Madeleine West on the motherhood regret we don't talk about.

For many of us, when we imagine our future selves, that image often involves kids. 

Procreation is a key component of being human after all. Being any organism in fact. To breed or NOT to breed is rightly a question as old as mankind itself. Cos if we didn’t, none of us would be here, right?! 

But increasingly, many of us are finally recognising that parenthood is and should be a question, not a given, and certainly not an assumption. 

Listen to Madeleine West on Restart speaking about her life with six kids and how motherhood changed her.


It’s an occurrence we still have plenty of questions about, and too few answers. Because it’s so ‘common’, everyone has an opinion on what it means to parent. 

We all know parents, have parents, are parents, or are all three. 

Having kids, deciding not to, or discovering you can’t, can be a seismic restart in itself. 

It’s only made more daunting by the fact that though it is YOUR body going through the motions, whether it’s avoiding the whole process, yearning to yet finding your body can’t, or actively making tiny fingers, toes and eyebrows, everyone has an opinion on it they feel they have the right to voice. 

Everyone thinks they know best because, simply put, we’ve all been through it by the simple act of being born.  

As a young woman, parenthood was never really on my to-do list... yet I ended up a mother of six. Go figure! 

Now, I cannot imagine my life without them, but life looks very different from how it did BC (before children). 

I still remember her - that young dreamer of dreams, though what she did with all her spare time I cannot fathom. 

The dreams are still there. I’m still striving to bring them to life, I just find that all too frequently they have to wait till after school pick-up, and soccer, and dinner. And the laundry. And the dress-up day costume no one told me about that is suddenly due TOMORROW. And multiple bedtime stories, and the cheeky half-block of chocolate I inhale whilst folding said laundry once the last one nods off. And then, well, by then there’s a good chance I’ve nodded off too.  

I won’t say children change your life, but they do change the manner in which you live it. 

Getting from A to B now requires a detour past G, Q and back to D to get there. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Many parents, women particularly, mourn the loss of self wrought by parenthood. ‘I’ becomes ‘we’ when we couple up, but along comes bub and suddenly it’s all about THEM

We love our babies but boy it hurts to sacrifice your identity on the altar of being ‘Mum’.

We don’t want accolades but a little acknowledgement would not go astray (nor would offers of wine… or unstacking the dishwasher).

We embark on life with such passion, such ambition. 

Our workplace comes to be a key signifier of who we are. When we set it aside to play domestic goddess/god it's all too easy to feel invisible. 

When we try to fulfil the promise of ‘doing it all, having it all’, it’s easy to feel like a jack of all trades, master of none. 

What’s the point of having it all if the guilt you feel at home, at work, and everywhere in between leaves you feeling like you achieve nothing? 

I’ve always made a point of explaining to my kids that I’m their mum and that’s my greatest joy. But I’m also Madeleine - the actor, the author, the activist, the friend, the would-be-politician, and the giver of good hugs.

I need to give a bit of time and energy to all those Madeleines to be the best Madeleine I can be, and hence the best mum I can be.

I hope they can see that. But I know for certain they see me. I am far from invisible in their lives. It’s taboo to say so, but it is jolting, terrifying, when your whole life is swallowed by being a parent. 

There is a ‘u’ in mum; she’s in there somewhere. 

It can feel scary to dig her out and once again let her shine! But I do believe in doing so we bequeath upon our children the greatest gift: a blueprint for how to live a healthy, rich, abundant life. 

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can speak of my experience. 

Over the years many people have asked when is the ‘right time’ to have kids. I always say there is no ‘right time’, just the time you discover you are and decide let's do it.  

What’s seldom discussed, and only then when shrouded in shame and sorrow, is when you discover you are in the family way, and for whatever reason decide you simply can’t, or suddenly find you are not anymore. 

That’s the situation I found myself facing in the dying days of last year. It was complicated.

ADVERTISEMENT

There were complications. It was multiples. It didn’t work out. I had so many questions and no one to ask. Kept quiet by yet another silent epidemic suffered by women. 

My friendship groups mostly divide into those with grown kids who rolled their eyes at the very thought, and some whose months are dominated by watching their biological clock tick with increasing desperation. 

The guilt was suffocating, still is.

As a mum of twins already, I have the manifestation of those two little heartbeats dancing around before my eyes every day.

If I’m honest, from the moment I saw those two blue lines I was contemplating names, whether I could squeeze more seats in the car, ruminating on eye colour, careers, playdates, schools… it was a knee jerk reaction which made the experience all the more painful because it wasn’t to be.

And because I never told anyone. If a tree falls in a wood and no one sees it, did it ever fall at all? 

If a baby is lost before anyone but the parents know, did it really exist? How do you mourn a negative? 

Well, I’m telling the world now: You did exist. You were wanted. It just wasn’t right. 

Not much in this wicked world ever is. 

Parenting goes so far beyond mere biology, we are all of us role models in our own way. The choices we make won’t always be right and might bring necessary pain. 

We shouldn’t live for the young people in our lives. It places too much expectation on them when they are doing their best to live for themselves. All we can do is live our own lives to the best of our ability. 

Live large, laugh loud, love hard. It might just inspire them to do the same. 

To my darling six-pack, my catastrophe of children: Your mum loves you more than words can say. Don’t be afraid of the choices you make, because It’s never too late to change everything.

For more from Madeleine West, listen to Restart, a Mamamia podcast looking into why more and more women are pressing refresh on their lives, and how the hell they’ve done it. From divorce to health, to appearance, to career, to sex. Restart, it’s never too late to change everything.

Feature Image: Instagram / @madmadswest