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"You'll long to send them to childcare": All the things no one told me about becoming a mum.

I am endlessly scraping, scrubbing and sweeping dried food off the floor. I clean the poo stains off my new dress. I used to have a job where I led and managed a team. But now I wash and I wash and I wash; sheets, towels, bottles, bottoms.

No one tells you about this before you become a mother. That it is exhausting.

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No one tells you that it is boring, mind-numbingly boring, being home with children. That it is relentless. That you’ll long to send them to childcare.

For another woman to hold your beautiful son, to comfort him when he’s sad, to feed him lunch and pat him to sleep. Because you feel like you are going insane.

This isn’t necessarily depression. It is reality. The reality of being at home with small children is work. Hard work. Emotionally and physically. No one will tell you that. They’ll say, ‘they are only young once’ and ‘it just goes so fast’.

But they are forgetting all that washing.

Before I became a mother, while waiting at a doctor’s surgery, I once watched a lovely little girl desperately trying to get the attention of her mother who was fixed on her phone. Later, I described this scene to others remarking on the outrageousness of this mother’s behaviour.

Now I know what it is actually like having a sick child – or worse, having a sick child and being sick yourself.

That awful sliding feeling of just wanting to crawl into bed but having to stay upright. Of checking temperatures and making sure no one gets dehydrated. Of explaining why they can’t go outside and run around. Of just wishing you could lie down and sleep as you try to cajole them into a nap.

Being a mother is putting your body second. All the time. It is your body being changed so fundamentally by carrying and feeding those babies. But you expected that (sort of).

What you didn’t expect was that you can’t be bothered doing anything about it, because you are so tired. Achingly, boringly tired. So tired you feel like you could sleep for the rest of your life and still not be rested.

I thought I knew what tired felt like before children.

It was the tired exhilaration of running ten kilometres. Or the tired, weariness of staying back late at work to get the project done. Or the exquisite tired of a new lover, when you can stay awake all night because just brushing against them is so thrillingly erotic.

I remember, the tired ache in your feet from dancing all night and stumbling into your home, with the walls and floors suddenly appearing in unexpected places and laughingly thinking ‘this might hurt tomorrow.’

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The tired of children is not like any of those things.

It is the tired jump to a cry in the night. It is permanently gummy eyes, because your body cannot believe you won’t just let it rest. The tired of not being able to ignore the bleats, sobs, clunks, coughs and whispers while their dad snores on.

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Still worse is the tired of sometimes not being able to sleep.

Of being consumed by the terrors of the night. Of childhood cancers, or drownings, of bullying and of car crashes. Of wars in far flung places that stop you from being able to watch the news. Of the photo of that little boy washed ashore on a strange beach wearing his tiny sandals, that still gives you a lump in your throat. Of those wide, hollow-eyed children in detention who look so sad it makes you sick.

But I also know that standing on the other side of this is the women desperate for a baby.

Those who find that each disappointment or loss has subtly changed them.

And then there are the unmentionables, the women who have a very ill child or whose child has died. Those who have walked through these very trials and now long, more than anything, to be tired and grumpy and bored with their babies. Their delicious smelling babies.

I once read a statistic that women who have never had children have higher levels of happiness than mothers.

But of course. If you don’t have children, of course, you are happier.

You can read all the novels you like, drink wine until 3am, attend swing dancing classes and shop in boutiques in large cities while casually drinking a hot coffee.

You can work hard in your job, staying back late or come in early. You can laugh and really listen to your friends, family and lovers. You can be present.

But since becoming a mother, I have found that I love in a profoundly life-changing way. When my own darling mama died, she said to me that she would love me across all space and time. And that is how I feel about my sons. I love them in a fierce, bright-eyed way that makes me embarrassed at times because of the intensity of own my feelings. I love them in this life and the next.

But right now, I’m just so tired.

Feature Image: Supplied.

Susannah Ritchie is a high school English teacher with two young sons and a lovely husband. She has a PhD exploring identity and belonging within our society.

This essay appears in Not Keeping Mum: Australian writers tell the truth about perinatal anxiety and depression in poetry, fiction & essay, Maya Linden (ed.), and has been republished with full permission. 100 per cent of the profits from book sales go to PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia.)

If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, contact PANDA. You can find their website here or call their helpline – 1300 726 306.

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