Being a mum: 'The toughest, most rewarding job I'll ever have'

Close up of mother and a child holding hands

"Before you are a mum the world revolves around you. Now my whole world is about them," says Amylia Wallis, of Lowestoft. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Motherhood...Naomi Gornall (working mum to two girls) talks to five Suffolk women about being a mother in the busy, information-rich age of choice and social media, and wonders whether things were easier a generation ago

Mothers of today’s generation have an abundance of choices at their fingertips.
Whether it’s deciding on the right coffee shop or choosing which buggy is most transportable, we’ve never had it so good. So does that mean that motherhood is a whole lot easier now than in our own mum's day?

With two daughters and a part-time job to juggle, I find life can get very busy. I fill our weekends with activities, my diary consists of play dates, after-school clubs and appointments. When we face issues about anything from tantrums to fussy eating, I instantly trawl the internet to search for solutions. We live in a tech-addicted, attention-demanding, world and that can sometimes feel like you are on a constant wheel of adrenaline.

Although I love the access to information and the choices that we have at a click of a button, I do wonder whether the simplicity of life in the previous generation made motherhood a bit easier to navigate. My mother, Penny Cassidy, remembers things were very different when she gave birth to my sister, 45 years ago.

“I was given Dr Spock’s book and that was all you had," she says. "It said things like put the child to bed and let them cry for 20 minutes, which feels like a lifetime. I found it very hard. We never had computers or phones. I had trouble breastfeeding and was told by the doctor to just carry on. Nowadays there is so much more help available.” Penny, mum to three and grandmother of four, recalls that there were no groups at that time for parents and babies, and she found life as a young mum very isolating.

Naomi Gornall with her daughters Anna (left) and Maria, and her mum, Penny Cassidy. 

Naomi Gornall with her daughters Anna (left) and Maria, and her mum, Penny Cassidy. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

“I definitely prefer being a grandparent," she says, with a wistful smile. “I’m more conscious of having fun with them rather than disciplining them. It is such a different world now. There is so much more freedom in lots of ways.” We may be spoiled for choice in this day and age, but too much of it can become a burden, life coach Lora Clark claims.

“We have a faster pace of life now. I see mums who are overwhelmed and trying to juggle everything," she says. “Social media has had a huge impact with the comparison element. Some mums have this perception of what motherhood will be like and that can be so filtered. It can really affect their self-esteem and confidence.”

Life coach and mother Lora Clark

Life coach and mother Lora Clark says sees mums who are overwhelmed. “Social media has had a huge impact with the comparison element." - Credit: Lora Clark

Lora, who has a two-year-old daughter and lives in Ipswich, experienced a difficult pregnancy and labour. Months later she found she had post-natal anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Counselling helped her through this experience and made her realise that she wanted to help others going through difficult times. She became a life mindset and self-care coach and launched her business, Life With Lora Clark, during the first lockdown in 2020. “I help mums who have lost their identity and are in that mindset of not being ok. It’s so easy to see yourself as just a mum. You forget who you are. It’s ok to be yourself and do the things you did before.”

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Photographer and mum of three Amylia Wallis, from Lowestoft, has got a whole perspective on parenting, as her first born son, Anthony, is 17 years old, and her youngest boy, Ollie is three. “I was 22 when I had my eldest son," she says. "I had to learn it on the go and was very much baby led. Things were a lot more laid back 17 years ago. There is so much more worry now. We have social media and are bombarded with information.”

Photographer and mum of three Amylia Wallis, from Lowestoft, with Anthony, (left) Ollie and Rhys.

Photographer and mum of three Amylia Wallis, from Lowestoft, with Anthony, (L-R) Ollie and Rhys. - Credit: Courtesy Amylia Wallis

The former scuba diving instructor, originally from Canada, set up her photography business recently, and explains it is her love of motherhood that helps drive it. “It’s taken a long time to feel comfortable in motherhood for me. I was really career orientated. It took me a number of years to love it. Now, I still want to work but I want to be around as much as possible for the kids.”

One of the major changes to the motherhood experience in recent years has been the pandemic. Restrictions have caused heartache for many expectant and new mothers in recent years. Some have not been able to have their partners at the birth, relations have not been able to visit as normal, and baby groups have been cancelled. Aisleen Bird, from Stowupland, is mum to Alannah, three, and Willow, aged six months.

“My first pregnancy seemed easier," she says. "I went to fitness classes and met other expectant mothers in person. With Willow, there was nothing face to face - it was all online. I had telephone consultations rather than going in. If that was my first pregnancy, I would have found it a really difficult experience. I definitely felt like an inconvenience this time around.”

Tom, Alannah, Aisleen and Willow Bird

Tom, Alannah, Aisleen and Willow Bird. Aisleen says restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic made pregnancy more isolating as consultations were online. - Credit: Courtesy Aisleen Bird

The isolation element of being at home on maternity leave has also been tough and Aisleen was referred to the NHS’s Social Prescribing Service, where a ‘community connector’ finds baby groups for you in the area and attends with you if you are a bit nervous about things like breastfeeding in public. “I haven't done much at all with Willow," she says. "I have been isolating a bit more and feeling nervous about going out with her.”

However, for some mums, the restrictions have been a positive, as they have enjoyed staying within their bubble and being cut off from the outside world. Aimèe Howlett-Mitchell, from Burstall, gave birth to Stanley in 2020. “I handed in my notice for my job and the next week Covid hit. The week after that I found out I was pregnant with my first baby. I had to completely isolate for the whole of the first lockdown. My husband and my mum decided to isolate with me. We enjoyed that time in our own little bubble. I felt quite guilty because I was so happy.”

Aimèe Howlett-Mitchell, from Burstall, mother of Stanley, with her mum, Sue.

Aimèe Howlett-Mitchell, from Burstall, mother of Stanley, with her mum, Sue. - - Credit: Aimèe Howlett-Mitchell

Around the same time as the lockdown, Aimèe and her mum, Sue Howlett, set up a business together called LadyBirdsStitches. They work side by side in Sue’s studio, producing handmade, eco, reusable products such as bamboo wipes and bread bags. 
Sue, who has three daughters and three grandchildren, believes that mothering now is different to her experience. “I didn’t work when I was bringing up my children," she says. "Nowadays there is more pressure as they need to work with bigger mortgages. There is a lot on the internet that would scare me if I was a young mum now. In my day you would do what your doctor said.”

One common theme of motherhood, whether it has been 50 years or 50 days of parenting, is that everyone’s story is different. For me, it remains the toughest yet most rewarding job I’ll ever have.

Why is motherhood the best job? 
Aisleen: "Before having children, you don't realise how amazing it is when they learn to talk, or you can make them laugh."

Aimèe: "The best thing about motherhood is seeing him every day. I still can’t believe he's is mine. He rolled over to me the other day and gave me a kiss and I thought my heart would explode."

Sue: "I love being a mum. I love the togetherness of having children. I used to love reading my children books. The worst part was when they left home." 

Amylia: "Having children makes you 100 per cent unselfish. Before you are a mum the world revolves around you. Now my whole world is about them."

Penny: "The best thing about being a mother is my children all got through the obstacle course of growing up and have come out alright."