Mummy drinks because I cry

Most people I know say that they can’t pinpoint when their drinking tipped over from ‘heavy’ to ‘problematic’.

I can.  It was after my first child was born.  When she was about three months old, her Dad took her out for a long afternoon so I could have some quiet time to myself; the first I’d had since she was born.  I pottered around in the sunshine, did some laundry, picked up a book for a while.  And drank two beers.  I don’t really like beer, but it was there and it seemed more suitable for daytime.  I didn’t drink any more that day – and I was pretty much sober again by the time LH brought the baby home – but it was the first time that I made a particular connection: this is me-time.  Me-time is now a rare and precious commodity.  I should make it count!  How can I make it count?  With alcohol.

This is a really ugly topic, because the last thing anyone wants to do is to admit to drinking in charge of small children.  It would be nice to think that the sight of a sweet, helpless little face is enough for a drinking woman to turn her life around.  But it doesn’t work that way.  But I believe that it is far, far more common than is known.  If you’re already someone who is prone to using alcohol to escape, to liven things up, to wind down, to feel more interesting, to pass the time, to get more energy and motivation, or any of the other myriad reasons people give to drink, then having a baby is going to put you right into the danger zone.

The AA acronym HALT?  Don’t let yourself get Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired?  That pretty much describes early motherhood.  It is a constant state of being hungry, angry, lonely and tired.  

Meals are snatched when and where possible, and if you’re breastfeeding you are always hungry.  

Everything is suddenly so hard and so confronting that it’s hard not to be angry.  Where did my body go?  Where did my life go?  Why the actual fuck am I the only person in this household capable of washing out a bottle?  IT IS 2AM GO TO SLEEP ALREADY.  

Unless you live in the sort of enlightened society that priorities community and shared female labour above an atomised structure of individual nuclear households – and let’s face it, you don’t – then motherhood, early motherhood, is lonely.  You’re tied to the house by a tiny screaming infant.  Your partner has blithely returned to work after a restful couple of weeks of being at home changing the occasional nappy to the soundtrack of his own mother’s applause (“Oh, isn’t he good?  In my day you wouldn’t catch the Dads doing that.  We just had to get on with things.  You modern women, you don’t know you’re born”), your old friends are still pursuing their old lives with their old intact waistlines, and there’s you.  At home.  With a non-verbal dribble machine.

In my case, I also didn’t have a car, and my access to public transport was very limited.  I could go three or four days without interacting with another adult except for LH at the end of his work day.  I would catch a bus to the nearest village in the morning, stand around in a park pushing my too-small-really baby in a swing, and then push her home in the stroller, having talked to nobody in the interim.

Tired. Well. Anyone who’s had a child knows that the bone-deep exhaustion that comes with babyhood, and the lack of respite on the horizon, is almost indescribable. Sleep deprivation is a torture technique. It has a serious impact on mental health. And it’s near-impossible to avoid with young children.

But it goes beyond HALT. Motherhood, and I think I do mean motherhood here, because even the most hands-on primary- carer fathers I know tend to have very supportive, hardworking, actively parenting partners. Also they’re not keeping another human alive with their boobs – pretty much rips up all of your identity, your self care rituals, your life, and replaces it with a new one. And of course usually you asked for it, so you can’t complain because you love your baby, right?

By the time my eldest was a toddler, I was pouring myself a glass of wine at lunchtime, and then breaking my own TV rules by letting her stare at Sesame Street for an hour so I could read.  I was desperate for some alone time, some freedom, some anything at all that wasn’t the sheer mundanity of toddler-care. But when you have a young child, you’re very restricted as to how to seek that out. You can’t go to a gym (unless it has a crèche, but neither of my children tolerated that sort of occasional care), nice shops, anywhere at all in the evenings. Self-care is hard; drawing myself a bath seems to this day to act as a mysterious bat-signal to my children, who wait until the moment I sink into the bubbles to develop a tummy bug, a desire for toilet training, a sudden fear of their own thumb (really) or a realisation that actually they wish they had eaten their dinners after all.

So there you are, having lost your career, your friends, your life rituals (coffee with P on a Friday, popping out at lunchtime Thursday to pick up the best seafood, yoga before work three times a week) and told that everything meaningful is now at home. And you’ve already been laying the patterns down to associate drinking with reward, relaxation, excitement: things that you now have no other way of accessing. And you don’t want to make a fuss, after all.

One of my favourite books is Drunk Mum by Jowita Brydlowska, who writes heartbreakingly about just this. Finding breast feeding to be the most sacred connection she had ever experienced, and secretly feeding her son formula because she was drinking. Being overwhelmed with love and the sense of responsibility of being in charge of such a small being, and also drinking to black out so that she wasn’t safe in charge of him. To an outsider, it seems like utter madness that this charge that one is entrusted with makes one drink more. To a drinker, or at least to me, it doesn’t.


Surveys have shown that the better educated a woman is, the more likely she is to drink.  Other studies make the same link between education and PND.  You don’t need to have PND to become a drinker, but both things stem from the same sense of anguished loss, I think.  How is this my life?  How is this thing, this joy, this blessing, also the thing that has destroyed me?


When your options for doing something selfish are so limited, is it a surprise that women choose the one they can do at home, at night, in secret?



21 thoughts on “Mummy drinks because I cry

  1. Hi – Here because Lilly mentioned you. Glad to find you blog – you’re on my list now!

    I looked long and hard for the day I became an alcoholic – to no avail – well what happened was I said “Well it was when I was in NYC on 9/11”. Well no actually it was when I had that really stressful job, jetting across the Atlantic every other week”… well no actually it was when my son was born… well no actually… and so it went on.

    Maybe the real day I can pick is a sunny day when I was 17. I went to my local pub on my own to have a drink at lunchtime. I remember clearly sitting there thinking there was something wrong about that – drinking on my own in the middle of the day for no reason but to drink. Before I was even legal to drink and I was already on first name terms with the staff there… hmm… not good.

    HALT – love that. I try and use it myself. When disturbed why is it – that is my first check list. I probably therefore eat far too much – too often my instant thought it “Hungry? Well yes” and off to the fridge for a chocolate bar I go.

    • Hmm, that’s interesting, that you can perhaps trace it back so far. When I look back, I have not-dissimilar memories. A strong one is when I was in my early twenties, with time to kill between the end of work and a choir rehearsal, and going to a local pub. I found a cosy corner, read my book, and drank red wine. Three glasses later I realised I’d missed half of the rehearsal. It was a very absorbing book, but still. Perhaps I’ve always had a problem and it took motherhood (and my thirties) to show that up in sharp relief.

  2. You write so honestly about motherhood. Thank you for this. Although I’m childless, I have a friend who has a baby whom I love dearly and have flown across the pond to take care of. I can honestly say that I have no idea how moms do it. Just a week with this child, who is sweet and very well behaved, was enough to make me want to drink again. And my friend mentioned how she would occasionally have some Bailey’s in her coffee during the afternoon. My friend is also well-educated and has never appeared to have a drinking problem, but I can see how easy it would be to develop.

    Keep writing my dear. Your prose is excellent and I have added you to my reading list. Also made it your way because of Lilly…fabulous how these sober bloggers support each other 🙂

  3. Hi, Thanks for this great post. I can completely relate to the motherhood and drinking! For me drinking seemed to have made things much easier, not as an outlet per say, but it took the halt away! With a few drinks in me I didn’t feel hungry or angry or lonely or tired. It seemed to be the perfect cure! But of course it wasn’t. My world spiraled quickly, as I was already a heavy drinker before kids and having kids did not stop me either. And that’s what I have to remember, I am an alcoholic that’s why I drink, I have an addiction. It makes no sense to a normal person why a mother would drink while talking care of precious little kids. But to me it made perfect sense because my life revolved around alcohol. I was willing to give up sleep, food, time, anything, but drinking?! Heck no!

    Today, being sober for a while, I can see how crazy that thinking was. And I can see that I am a much better person and a much better mom now. It is a true gift. It’s not always easy, but it’s much easier without a hangover every morning.

    Keep trudging forward. Sending many hugs!

  4. Hey After Alcohol Just popping in to say ‘Hi!’ too 🙂 Really good post and I can relate to all of it. Not proud to admit that my ceasing breastfeeding with my kids was partly hastened by the desire to get ‘me = alcohol drinking time’ back. I also struggle to get a bath in peace even now!

  5. This is a great post…so much truth here! It took becoming a mother for me to realize that I had a serious problem, even though I have had a problem pretty much since my first drink. So many people told me that I wouldn’t even WANT to drink after the baby was born because I’d be so happy/ busy…utter bullshit! It is so nice to know we are never, ever alone.

  6. Hi there, I also saw Lilly’s blog post! I’m a newbie here too, am into my seventh week of sobriety. Read through a lot of your blog today, and I can relate to much of what you say… like you, I have tried moderating my drinking many many times before deciding that was it, moderation wasn’t for me, time to quit. Your frustration at changes not coming quicker also really resonated with me: right, I’ve quit drinking, why isn’t every other problem getting sorted out now? As for this post, I have no idea when my drinking tipped over into “problematic”. When I look back now, I think the signs were there long before I noticed them. Motherhood changed the way I drank – more often alone at home in the evening – but I don’t believe it tipped me over. I think I was in trouble much earlier – if anything the pregnancy & breastfeeding *slowed* my progression down the slippery slope. Having said all that, my self identity and self esteem have certainly taken a battering through my thirties and motherhood, and throughout those years I always turned to the same pick-me-up… How are you getting on with the Six Week Plan? Where are you now? About 3 weeks? Well done you! And hang in there. MTM. xxx

    • Hi MTM. I’m not quite three weeks in, although it feels like forever (not in a bad, white-knuckle way. In a ‘that seems like ancient history’ way). I, er, should pick up the 6 week plan book again, it kind of got overtaken by the sobersphere and Belle’s 100 day challenge. Seven weeks is great! Is it getting easier now?

      Yes, I think the pregnancies etc slowed me down as well. But it changed the way I drink, and in doing so it replaced the old triggers (socialising/pubs) which are easier to avoid, with new ones (the kids are whining/it’s been a long day) which are not.

      I don’t know., It’s a tricky thing to tease out, the point at which something becomes problematic. I’ve always said that it’s not the quantities, it’s the behaviours around the quantities. I started hiding alcohol only a couple of years ago, and that’s a Sign. But on the other hand, I probably drank more in my child-free twenties, but I didn’t bother hiding it because I just figured that was normal. I kept a personal blog for a year or two around 27ish, and I look back and think – goodness, I went out and drank a LOT, actually! I wrote about it happily, Girl About Town style, but in retrospect…

  7. This is *such* an excellent and honest post. While I am not a parent myself I know that you are far from alone in this and I always think that having kids must add this massive weight of mummy guilt to the whole thing. I mean, I feel enough shame and guilt around my addictive behaviours – children would surely magnify that to the nth degree. Early motherhood is also, as you said, the perfect storm. I am sure so many mothers could relate to this post.

    I had another thought about you and your husband. It sounds like he struggles with his drinking to a degree too. I’m just wondering what you would think if the situation was reversed and he opened up to you about it? Do you think you would pity him and admire him less or feel love and empathy and want to help him?

    • I’d of course feel love and empathy and want to help him. But I don’t want him to help me! I don’t want to need help. I’m not saying this is a logical reaction, obviously! I can hear myself being an idiot as I type. But there it is.

      • I just thought looking at it from the other perspective might help you see he probably won’t view it quite how you are fearing. I’m not trying to tell you what to do, honest I’m not, it’s totally up to you if and when you have that conversation. Just trying to provide some food for thought… I DO think our fears about other people’s reactions are often unfounded and more about all our own fears and shame though.

      • Oh, you are completely correct, no question about it. But I can’t let all of my flaws (pride, stubbornness, a tendency to eat my own weight in Creme eggs) go immediately, I’ll fall apart like a rusty old car that’s been through a car wash.

  8. You’ve done a wonderful job of articulating something with which I am intimately familiar. While I do not remember the exact day, I remember the moment I began to structurally abuse alcohol. It was a few weeks after my husband deployed for 6 months, leaving me to care for our newborn son. To get my son on the all-important “schedule” I began to structure our days very carefully – wake time, meal time, nap time, tummy time, walk time, bath time. At 7 p.m. exactly, directly after bath time, I would sit down in my yellow glider with a glass of wine and begin the last nursing session of the day. I thought my one glass of wine would not affect him, as it could not immediately get into my blood stream/milk stream/whatever stream, right? We would both finish our drinks and up to bed he would go. I, of course, would head back to the bottle for a second glass of wine. Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. And so began years of wine structuring my day, providing me with that all important “schedule.” Anything for control, yes? Thanks for your thoughtful and truthful post.

  9. with you on the motherhood/drinking interaction. as mothers and carers we find a little teeny niche for ourselves – in my case 9pm – 10.30pm – and that’s where the wine fitted in. ‘me’ time. hah. “I will be perfect mummy all day UNTIL 9pm.” until 9pm became 8pm became 6pm became 5.20pm woooaaaah there Silver….

    oh and the bath bat-signal – YES! two of mine fighting outside the bathroom door SECONDS after I’d lowered myself into the water last night! xx

  10. Holy Moly, you just spelled out for the EXACT reasons why I started drinking excessively, and I don’t think I ever spent much time on that particular question! My kids are older now (13, 11), but as I read this post I could visualize PERFECTLY when they were 4 and 2, and when I started seeing alcohol as a reward for a long day of tending to children. Thank you for writing this, and thank you Lily, for the suggestion to take a gander, I think I’ll be coming back!

  11. A perfectly enunciated look at the connection between motherhood and problematic drinking. Thank you! I really empathise with your history – it’s mine too in many ways. Caroline Knapp (I think) talks about how insidious the change in women’s drinking has become. There IS a big difference between drinking in the home and drinking at social events outside the home. I managed to convince myself that drinking expensive bottles of red wine at home was a sign of sophistication, that I was truly living the middle class dream. Yes, my mother would never have dreamt of openng wine at home, had little social life and had never been drunk in her life. But , that was the 1970s and she had no money. And my Dad drank at home. But that was bottles of straight vodka hidden in the airing cupboard and drunk in secret. Not like my drinking. Oh no, not at all.

    Mine is a nice professionally educated 40 something reward for the (frankly sometimes mundane) task of child- rearing. So that’s ok then. Except its not.

    I’ve come to your blog via Mumsnet. I think this is it. After some practice attempts I feel that the 100 day challenge is calling. I’ve spent most of today reading sober blogs – and your post about not really being present on holiday nailed it for me.

    • Haggis welcome! At the risk of being drearily evangelical, I cannot tell you how much happier I am now. All the time. Also do you know there is a thread on MN called Dry?

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