Last week in a Sydney Morning Herald article, Australian gold medal sprinter Cathy Freeman said that motherhood is the hardest thing she’s ever done. “It’s way harder [than the Olympics], hand on heart. I don’t understand why it isn’t written in books. Not even my mother warned me.”

My own baby is only 11 months old, yet I absolutely agree with Freeman. Being a mum is full of challenges. It can be tough, and no book I read when pregnant told me the full story.

Books do warn you about the challenges, however they warn you about the wrong ones. They write about babies that don’t sleep, nappy changing, the highs and lows of breastfeeding and the pain of childbirth. Trust me, I’ve read my fair share of horror stories about motherhood.

But lately I’ve been thinking that the books left out the real challenge of motherhood. Becoming a Mum is more than raising a baby – it’s about raising a child.  The challenge for the mum is a total shift in perspective. Being a Mum is a call to be gentle, patient and self sacrificing; and these are hardly popular concepts in the modern world.  

Johann Arnold, in Why Children Matter, writes that “A true mother thinks day and night about the well-being of her children. She is the first to praise and comfort them and is also the first to protect them when she senses danger.” Before I had a baby, I could think a great deal about my hair, my clothes, my cup of coffee and my recommended eight hours sleep. The challenge now is to forget myself, and think about another who truly needs me.

I wish we talked more about the sheer joy of motherhood. Perhaps we’re too afraid to seem corny or trite. As cliché as it sounds, when my baby was a few weeks old I would sometimes catch my breath, amazed at how much I truly loved her.

No book could prepare me for the feeling of when I first held my daughter. All the pain of labour was completely forgotten. I’ve never won gold for Australia, but I’ll bet that holding my newborn felt even better than that.

Clare Horsfall is a Drama and English teacher and more recently, a new mum. On her personal blog, stillreadingbedtimestories.wordpress.com, she tackles literature, movies, food and the adventure of being a parent.