Anne Calver thought she would be the perfect mum - until she became a mum!
When reality set in, she was surprised by how hard she found the adjustment, not only in being responsible for another human being, but knowing who she was and where her identity lay.
As the mother of two children, she wants to share her experiences with other mums and has written Baby Change to support and encourage them.
Anne speaks to Christian Today about the challenges of being a mother, but also the incredible joy, and where God is in it all.
CT: What was the biggest change for you in terms of how you were living your life before you were a mother, and after?
Anne: I would say the biggest change - or challenge - for me was that I felt a loss of freedom, and that is partly character dependent. I had been working freelance for Youth for Christ and national ministries and quite a lot of my work was flexible in nature. I wasn't necessarily pinned into a 9 to 5. But after I had a baby, I suddenly found that I needed to have much more routine and structure, and I had to rediscover freedom.
CT: What did that look like - rediscovering freedom?
Anne: When you have a baby, you've suddenly got another person to look after and they need to become your priority, so your life has to move to the back seat and they essentially move to the front seat. There would be moments when my kids were tiny, when maybe I would want to chill out on the sofa and have a bit of a break, but they would be saying, "Mummy, I want to go out!"
In addition to that, we can think, oh, we'll just have a child and they'll fit into our way of living, but they have their own little personality and we adapt to who they are. Your kids might be extroverts when you're an introvert, that's the reality of being a parent!
If you have a child who is really placid and easy going, they don't really cry, and they sleep when you want them to and eat what you want them to, then you may have fewer challenges in those early days. But my first child, my daughter, was a strong character - she came out of the womb with shiny, alert eyes and I'm sure she turned her head to look at us straight away!
CT: Was there anything about becoming a mum that surprised you about yourself, in terms of your own character and who you were? Was there something that you expected, perhaps in terms of your ability or how you would adapt, that was different when the reality actually hit?
Anne: Definitely, and I think that's probably one of the biggest challenges. I thought maybe I'd be a pretty perfect mum (ha, ha). I thought I was pretty sorted in terms of my character, that I didn't have too many issues and that I was quite strong!
One of the biggest things that hit me after I gave birth was realising that I could be quite selfish, and how much of my life hinged on what I wanted to achieve, and what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it. And I think the 'I' and the 'me' part of my life was now just staring me in the face.
I realised that parenting is the biggest call to selflessness that I've ever had, and of course, selflessness is the way of the Cross. Jesus gave up everything for me, His whole life, and that's the same way I'm called to walk. Giving up and laying down what I want is a good thing - not so that we're taken advantage of as I don't think that's godly, but I've been blessed with the gift of children coupled with a call to deny myself, take up my cross and follow the King.
I think God really honours the sacrifices that parents make when they're raising children. At first I had a bit of the mindset of: I'm going to have the child, I'm going to have the job, I'm going to have it all! I think we're probably sold that lie through the media; that we can do whatever we want, be whatever we want, look amazing, and have it all together. But if we believe that, we end up feeling 'less than' God says we are.
I think there are seasons for things. And yes, some people are brilliant at balancing all of it at once, but I think there are seasons when God says, ok, I'm putting this in your hands for now; give it your all. And then later on, He'll put something else in your hands. There are these precious varying seasons that come and go, they don't last forever.
CT: You've just touched on the pressure that comes through the media. Do you feel any kind of pressure in the church to be a perfect mother raising perfect, godly children?
Anne: I think there could be an old model of duty that we can accidentally slip into where we think that we've got to do certain things in order to look good to the rest of the world. And that's a lie of the enemy! It's in our weakness that He makes us strong and it's ok to be broken and vulnerable, and to struggle. I really wanted mums to know that when I was writing my book, that if you are not feeling brilliant, that's ok.
My own journey has definitely been one of realising that when you have a baby there's this moment of thinking: where's has my life gone? But looking back over those very early years, I think God was showing me that my relationship with Him was the most thing. My intimacy with Him and my dependency on Him grew more then, than in any other time in ministry. Being a mum is ministry, ministry that transformed my life for the better. I realised that what we put value on humanly is really different to what God puts value on.
CT: You talk in your book about how when you had children, you didn't even have the strength to get through an episode of Peppa Pig, let alone pick up your Bible and study it! Going back to expectations, how hard is it to maintain your spiritual life and your walk with God when you have a child needing you 24/7? How do you fit God in on a practical level?
Anne: It's really difficult! But what I learnt was to give myself permission to be ok with not being in my Bible in the same way I was before. I think that we can put so much pressure on ourselves and actually God loves us no matter what; He still loves us. That realisation was so important for me, that I didn't need to strive to meet with Him, and I didn't need to make a time or set a time because the baby dictates the time a lot in those early years!
What I did start to do, though, because I love Jesus, was to grab moments with Him, whether it was when I was washing bottles at the sink or when I was feeding in the middle of the night. I would use those moments when I was alone and when things were quieter to talk to Jesus. I would be pushing the buggy out in the street and deliberately leave my phone at home, and look heavenwards and just think, ok God, I love You, I'm still here, I worship You, I still want to know You, help me!
Sometimes driving in the car was an amazing time, when they'd be buckled in the backseat and asleep or calm, and I could play worship music and sing my heart out.
Bible reading was harder, which is partly why I wrote Baby Change. The book gives new mums bitesize Biblicalchunks because, really, when you're a new mum, your brain is frazzled, you're tired, but we still need to feed of His Spirit inspired living Word.
CT: Did becoming a mum have an impact on your identity or sense of self as a person?
Anne: I found that aspect really difficult because when you have a role and a position in a company or in your workplace, you're seen in a certain way. That can especially be the case in this Christian puddle that we're in! So to suddenly feel separated from the person I was before, my role and my identity, was a massive thing. I was just sitting there thinking, who am I now, who am I without that? Having to put down one identity to embrace a new one, I found myself questioning who I was before and asking, who am I now as a mum?
That was the biggest thing that drove me into God and to asking Him: God, who do you say that I am, in this season? Because I feel like I don't know who I am and I feel like I've lost everything that I was, and I don't think I'm going to go back to who I was before. So who do you say I am now?
I had to learn to accept that when everything is stripped back, I am a daughter of Jesus and I don't need to be anything more than that. Because eventually when we get old or whatever; there will be a season where everything is stripped back again and we need to be secure in our identity as sons and daughters.
That was a real wrestle; it wasn't an overnight thing. I had to come to Him again and again and ask: do You love me, do You love me? But what about how I handled that thing?
I remember feeling pretty useless and guilt being a massive thing because I got confronted with some of my weaknesses. After feeling like I was in a position of strength, I moved to a position of seeing some of my weaknesses and suddenly this new friend, Guilt, came into play. I had never felt guilt like this before and I really sought the Lord asking Him to cut me free from guilt and fill me with love and truth.
CT: Do you feel like as your children get older, your journey with motherhood continues to change?
Anne: Yes, definitely, it massively changes. Having a family is the best thing that I've ever done and if you seek the Lord in it, you become more like Him through the process of it, because children knock bits off you and challenge you and confront some of the things in you. It makes you look at yourself and go, right, I don't like how I responded to them just now, I want to be transformed more into the likeness of Jesus, so God please keep moulding me in Your hand!
But there's so much joy in all the seasons as they grow. Some people are just amazing in the baby phase; others are incredible with toddlers or teenagers. Personally, I'm loving right now. They're a little bit older and the conversation is incredible.
CT: Your journey to even become a mum had a lot of struggles. You were told by doctors that you couldn't have children, then you became pregnant but lost a baby, and then later on, you nearly lost your son Daniel. Has all of that had an impact on how you've experienced motherhood through the years?
Anne: I think it's definitely had an impact. Being told that we wouldn't have any children at all and then having two miracles has made me grateful to God. And I do see them as miracles, so there's a lot of thankfulness around both of them that's never really left me.
The other thing is the joy. There was a lot of joy in our home because of the way that God had come through. When I had Daniel, he had a five per cent chance of survival, so the fact that he made it into the world and the journey we took at that time, the amount of prayer that was going on, I've never experienced joy like it in my life. It just flooded my whole being, and bubbled up and over into my life for years afterwards. The joy was so overwhelming that I felt like it surely must be the kind of joy that is reserved for Heaven! And it just made me more excited to know that we get to experience more of that in Heaven!
CT: If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, back when you were expecting, what's the one thing you would say?
Anne: The reason I wrote Baby Change was because I didn't feel like there was anything to encourage us as mums or help us to think about parenting emotionally and mentally, and be really honest about the challenges. I felt personally quite isolated at times and just wanted to be encouraged through some of the feelings and thought patterns that were going on.
Being parents is the most life-changing and incredible thing so I just hope this book encourages any one who is thinking of starting a family, who is pregnant or who is in the early years of parenting; that it blesses them, that they can meet Jesus in the midst of it all. There are seasons for everything and seasons change; if it's difficult know that it won't be permanent and Jesus is right there by your side.
Baby Change is out now from SPCK priced £9.99.