Becoming A Mother Saved Me From Myself

Parenting made me a better person.

Becoming a mother, positive pregnancy test shironosov | Canva

This is something I think about a lot, something close to my heart.

I didn’t know I wanted to be a mother until I met my husband when I was 17 and he was 18. A year after meeting, I remember saying to a close friend that I could see the future when I looked into his eyes. I think I was trying to define what love was, trying to figure out whether I was in love. But it was more than that really — it was me jumping ahead, picturing us in years to come, still together, with children. I’d imagine him as a dad and knew he would be great at it. I would imagine us as a family and it just felt so right.


When I was 18 my sister became a mother at just 21 years old. She took to it very naturally and I was smitten with my new nephew. Every time I held him I experienced a rush of love and wondered how much more intense it would feel to be holding my own child.

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However, during this time, as a human, I was a bit of a mess. Not exactly mother material. I’d been suffering from an eating disorder for a year or so and over the next few years, when I moved out of home and went to university, my eating habits got worse. My love for myself was zero. I drank too much and ate too little. I was pretty self-destructive, looking back.


It was like there was a darkness inside me I just couldn’t resist or escape from. I wanted to punish myself. 

I hated myself and couldn’t remember ever liking myself. As a student away from home, I took stupid risks with my safety. I didn’t take care of myself or my body at all. I couldn’t remember ever loving or feeling grateful for my body. I despised it and felt trapped in it.

depressed woman fizkes / Shutterstock

During my final year, I moved in with my boyfriend and caught the train to lectures each day. It felt right — the two of us setting up a home together. We had a ground-floor flat with a huge tree-lined back garden and every time I peeked out there I couldn’t help imagining children running around.


But then I would tell myself, don’t be stupid. You don’t even get periods every month. You’re a complete mess. You’re a disaster. You do not deserve to be a mother.

I took a year out and worked in a supermarket while I decided whether to pursue teacher training and during this year I finally got myself into therapy. It was the best thing I ever did for myself and I know that at the back of my mind, I made myself do it because I wanted to be a mother and I wanted to be the best I could be. Every week I went and spoke to this lovely kind-eyed woman about my self-destructive tendencies and bit by bit she helped me overcome my disordered eating once and for all.

That year, I also fell pregnant by accident.

It was a combination of my therapy and my need to be a mother that solved my eating problems. 

Every time I treated my body badly, my periods would stop. I would momentarily panic that I was pregnant and I’d start eating better again, wanting to nourish not starve my unborn baby. Then I’d get my period, feel like an awful failure and terrible human, and start starving myself again. This was the constant cycle of my student years.


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This time my period stopped and I actually was pregnant. I remember taking the test in the toilets at Asda where I worked. I held my head in my hands and cried with joy. I was scared too. It wasn’t planned. What would my boyfriend say? What would we do? Somehow I knew it would all be okay.

And it was. My boyfriend was shocked and then happy. We started telling people. It was an accident we said, but a happy one. We were in our early twenties, so not too young. We were together, we were happy. It would all be fine.

And then I had a miscarriage.

I can still remember how stupid I felt. First came the cramps. Then the blood. Then the intermittent hope that it would all be okay — that the bleeding would stop and the baby I was already in love with would be just fine. Then it got worse. I’ve never cried so much in my life.


We had to go to the hospital, first for a scan to determine the baby was gone. I stared at the mush on the screen and started to cry all over again. Then I had to have the operation to scrape everything out.

I was devastated. I’d wanted it so much.

My boyfriend was amazing — he said and did all the right things. I remember I asked him at one point, can we try again? And he said yes. I loved him for that and I still do. The pregnancy had been an accident. We were in low-paid jobs paying rent on a flat and neither of us knew what we wanted to do or be, but he still said yes.

Two months later I was pregnant again. I felt so differently about my body now. I treated it with the utmost respect. I ate regular meals, I ate healthily, I walked and exercised gently and I didn’t drink. I did everything right. I so wanted to be a mother.


On the 11th September 2002, I went into labour and my beautiful firstborn child was born at 12:49 a.m.

I was twenty-four years old. I finally loved my body. 

Having a child changed my life because it was the doorway to me finally loving myself, understanding myself, and seeing my body for the wonderful thing it actually was.

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Being a mother was the best thing that ever happened to me. I know that sounds a bit cheesy, but for me, it could not be more true. My daughter, and her three siblings who arrived later, helped me become a better person, a stable, well-rounded, and happy person. Becoming a mother forced me out of my introverted comfort zone. I had to go out to the park, to toddler groups and baby swimming classes, to play-dates, to birthday parties, because I wanted my daughter to socialize and have fun.

During the next few years, I thrived. I was never happier than when pushing my little family around in a double buggy, with one on the back or walking. I was so proud of them. So proud of us.

Of course, it has its ups and downs. Parenthood is never easy but somehow it all just felt sort of natural to us. One thing we were always determined to do was not repeat the mistakes our own parents had made with us. And so far, all these years later, we haven’t. We are still together — we got married when I was expecting our third child, though it was so early on nobody could see! Then we had our fourth child almost ten years ago.


These days sleepless nights and mucky fingers have been replaced with worrying about too much screen time and worrying when the teens or young adults are out at night. The girls have left home, have serious boyfriends, and are close to finishing their university courses and deciding what they want to do in life.

Every single day my husband and I are filled with pride. They are good people, our kids. We did a good job as I always knew we would.

Becoming a mother changed my life for the better because it made me want to be a better person for my children. It made me braver, more confident, and sociable. It made me more active, more daring, more adventurous. It made me hold my head up high and it still does, because even if I have bad days, if my old dark thoughts return to haunt me, and believe me they still do, I just think of my children. I know I can’t let myself down or hurt myself because that would just be hurting them.

It made me decide on a career in childcare — for years working as a childminder so I could stay home with my own as well and in later years I started my own business providing creative writing clubs and opportunities to young people. I wouldn’t be doing what I am today if I hadn’t had my children. And as for what sort of person I’d be without them? I can’t say for sure, but I’m certain it would not be such a happy or healthy one.


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Chantelle Atkins is a published author, mother of four, and co-director of Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and Chasing Driftwood Books. Chantelle writes for both the adult and young adult markets and has had multiple articles published by Author's Publish magazine.