There’s no other way to talk about this without starting by saying that I love my son. Very, very, very much. This waiver is essential because, without it, it’s too hard to acknowledge and admit the plethora of other feelings that go hand in hand with having a baby.
It’s quite the cocktail and it causes regular hangovers. Sure, like every bloody thing about being pregnant and having having a baby, you’ll hear chapter and verse of it‘s totally normal and it’ll pass, but that’s not super helpful. The emotional fall out is also different for everyone – another damn annoyance: every single person has their own baby playbook, from ease or otherwise of conception to pregnancy symptoms and beyond. It makes it hard to compare or find that much promised “normal”.
And so, with all sorts of rollercoaster and marathon metaphors rolling around my head, I set out to write about and process some of the emotional challenges that go alongside parenting. Then, I promptly remembered that I hate rollercoasters and thus choose not to ride them. I can’t choose to avoid these emotions, however, so I need to write about them as literally and as matter-of-factly as possible.
First, then, there’s the frustration and resentment. Yes, I find it hard that I can’t live my life like I used to. Bugger this idea that it’s okay to have a messier house or sick on your shirt. I hate these things and being told to lower my tolerance for unwashed dishes and greasy hair drives me insane. INSANE. I care about my environment being tidy and, although I’ve never been stylish or well-groomed, it at least means a lot to feel well-presented and, er, showered! Not being able to always have these things eats me up and leaves me feeling inadequate. Now, of course it’s true: your friends don’t care if there are no clean cups (the good friends come over and wash their own!) and most people are too busy making appropriate cute noises at baby to notice you’re not wearing makeup or jewellery, but I care and no amount of telling me not to will change that. When baby is crying or not settling, I feel frustration when I look around and see all the things I could be doing if only he’d go to sleep. It feels awful to admit that. I’ve got one job. One precious job that is incredibly special, and yet sometimes I want a break to do the most mundane things, so that when I come back to my job, the world around me is harmonious. Crazy? Maybe. But it is how I feel, and I am tired of feeling like that is something to be ashamed of.
But with that sentiment comes the guilt. Wanting my baby to be peaceful, to sleep, to eat well, and generally be okay are instinctive and easily qualifiable as normal. However, there’s a little but loud voice that keeps telling me that my motivations for wanting extended periods of peace are selfish, that I want an easy life first and a happy baby second. It’s madness. The two go hand in hand, but it seems impossible not to question my motivations and feel bad when I know they’re all wrong.
While a new mum is almost never alone, it can be lonely. When baby will only sleep in your arms and then wakes, feeds from you, and then needs comforting, it’s easy to feel pinned to the sofa. It’s easy to feel all on your own. I have a great husband, a steadfastly supportive family, and some wonderful friends, and yet I still can feel like there is nowhere to turn. Then, (until now, I guess), there are some people who I don’t want to face when I feel bad. There are people who I can only be around during an I feel like super mum phase. It comes down to trust and confidence, I guess. However, there is definitely a desire to hide these negative emotions and make out like I know exactly what I am doing when an hour earlier I tried to put a nappy on the wrong way and was walking around with toothpaste dripping onto my baby’s head while frantically trying to put the washing on and drink a cup of tea. All at the same time.
Feeling both bored and boring are common. There are only so many things you can do one handed and squeezed into the two hour window between feeds. I walk, go for coffee, write/type one handed, read, try and study German, but you can never give these things 100% of your attention. What’s more, and back to the guilt, I question if it is normal not to want to spend every waking moment starting at my precious ball of newness or playing with him. As a result, it often feels like there is nothing to talk about other than my darling boy. Now I love talking about him. He’s the best, truly. However, I get that most people really don’t care that he smiled twice in one hour yesterday or that he hasn’t pooped for four days. My chat just isn’t good for most people, and I am very aware of boring them silly.
Most of the things I have described are probably fairly understandable on some level. It’s the sadness that’s hardest to put into word. Even today, out walking, baby fast asleep and settled with the sun warming my face and a cup of coffee in my travel mug, I felt sad. Really, really sad. For absolutely no good reason. For no reason at all. I had no desire to appreciate the beauty around me or enjoy the mesmerising rise and fall of baby’s breathing. Little problems played over in my head, and I muttered along to myself about all the things that needed taking care of and wondering how I’d manage. Nursery rhymes were going around my head and driving me crazy. But mostly, I just stared blankly ahead and kept walking. On and on, staring into space.
So, yes, yes, that’s almost one thousand words of complaining about the best thing that’s happened to me. And that, I suppose, is the crux of the problem – understanding and coping with the fact that you feel bad during this wonderful, life altering time. For me, it’s okay. These feelings don’t last long. They come and go. They are intense, but manageable. For some, I know it is a lot, lot worse. I’m definitely more of a baby blues sufferer than a post-natal depression sufferer, for which I am very thankful. Personally, I think the answer is probably acceptance that these feelings are normal, willingness to share with friends how it’s going, and self-awareness so that I speak up if it does get too much.
People who know me won’t have seen much of this “other side”. I keep it tucked away at home, and that’s okay. I don’t need anyone to do anything differently, or help me. But I don’t mind admitting that for all the appearance of I’ve got this mamma thing down to a fine art, there is a lot of desperate paddling under water whilst the me on the surface holds it together.
And finally, and importantly, I felt the most joy this morning when my baby smiled at me because I was singing a made up song to the tune of Soft Kitty from “The Big Bang Theory”. The highs are often very high and they are much more frequent than the lows. It’s just, like everything, you don’t get the highs without the lows, and you don’t win any prizes for making out you’re okay all the time.
Image: Moini, Stork carrying baby (silhouette), https://openclipart.org/detail/264662/stork-carrying-baby-silhouette, May 10, 2017