I wasn’t angry until I became a mother

In this essay, Annie Ridout explores her motherhood anger. Some of it stemming from tiredness and some of it, from the fierce protectiveness that arrived with her first baby…

(Originally published in June 2021)

I’m told that I was an easy baby. I slept at night, and I had my naps. When I was awake, I sat and sucked my thumb. I didn’t really moan or cry or make demands. Sandwiched between an older sister and younger brother, I rarely had the limelight. But I was fine with that; it suited me.

As a teenager, I rebelled but I was still quiet. I pushed boundaries and broke rules and went against what my parents had said, but I wasn’t bolshy. Just experimental. I began to find life, people and the world exciting. I went to festivals and raves. I went travelling. I left home.

In my 20s, I was shy but sociable. I started university, I made friends, I continued to party. I sometimes felt awkward or uncomfortable but never angry. I had relationships that went wrong – with friends, lovers, losers. But I dealt with it in my usual quiet way.

When I got together with my husband, we had a trip to the countryside one weekend. As we sat drinking coffee in a hilltop cafe, looking out at the meadows below, we had a conversation about anger. “I never get angry,” he said. “I never get angry either,” I said.

At the time, it was the truth.

And then, on the eve of my 29th birthday, I went into labour with my first baby. And her entry into the world triggered two things. It triggered a love that I’d never known before; the most pure, magical, wondrous, unconditional love. But also a fierceness. I turned into a lioness.

When my baby was little, if people treated me – or her – in a way that I found to be inappropriate or unkind, I told them. Not always, but often. I had found my voice. I was no longer passive and quiet. I would no longer keep my lips sealed so as not to offend. Now, I said what I thought.

If a car drove through a red light or veered too close to the pavement, I shouted loudly at the driver. If someone was treated rudely in a shop or queue, I’d stand up for them. If I saw people putting me, or others, in any kind of danger, I let it be known that this was unacceptable behaviour.

Motherhood has filled me with love and it has filled me with fury. It has taught me about the fragility of life because if you’ve ever held a newborn baby you’ll know how utterly helpless that child is; entirely dependent on their adult to keep them safe. It’s big, that job. Beautiful, but big.

Throw in a sibling or two and the love grows and expands in a way that some might not expect. There’s definitely enough to go around. But so does the fury. And at this point, I realise that some of the anger stems from tiredness.

When I’m tired, I’m less tolerant.

When I’m exhausted, I can’t put up with other people’s shit.
(By ‘shit’, I mean rudeness or unkindness).

When I’m desert-thirsty for sleep but it just can’t be quenched because I share my bed with a suckling babe, I lose my patience. Not with the baby; never with the baby – but with anyone who crosses me. Who makes a snide comment. Who criticises me or my children. They fucking get it.

They light my fire and I explode with hot flames of fury. With all the exhaustion and tiredness and injustice. And the sense that a mother’s work is never done. And the fact that I can’t balance work and family because family needs so much. And the responsibility that is simultaneously everything that I want and yet so very overwhelming.

They get all of that.

They show me that my anger was always there but it needed to be triggered by passion. It needed to be set alight by the match of motherhood. And from there, it can be contained if the conditions allow but present danger or rudeness when the conditions are uncertain and I will combust.

And you will get burned.

So yeah, I didn’t used to be angry. And mostly, I’m not angry now. But my lioness is sleeping inside me and if I’m crossed or I sense that someone is hurting my kids or me or if it’s one of those days when I’m bone-tired and there isn’t a chance to sleep until I’ve settled three kids? She pounces.