a year and a bit

I had a dream last night that I had a newborn again. I had just left the hospital, and I knew I had this tiny little thing to care for. The moment felt big, even in my dream, but what was missing was my anxiety over it all.

It’s taken me a long time to admit that anxiety has been one thing that has characterised every single step of my experience of motherhood this far. From the moment I fell pregnant, I felt anxious. I stressed throughout my pregnancy, about everything. I was anxious, depressed and stressed throughout maternity leave. I’m still anxious today. And it’s something that’s been hard for me to admit, because that’s not who I am.

I was never the anxious type. I was a happy-go-lucky, take-it-as-it-comes, never-really-stress-about-much kind of person. Sure, I experienced stress, but always in relation to a specific activity and it would always end. Never have I ever felt a low level of stress and anxiety like this for close on two years.

What do I worry about? The better question is what don’t I worry about. I worry that he isn’t eating enough; that he isn’t drinking enough; that his nappy might need changing; that he’ll run out of clean clothes; that his bathwater is too hot/too cold; that he isn’t warm enough/cool enough while sleeping; that he isn’t sleeping well at night/during the day/ever; that his nose is runny; that his development is too slow/fast; that he’ll be a picky eater; that he’ll be a bully when he’s bigger. And that’s just scratching the surface of things I worry about. Will he grow up insecure if I don’t co-sleep? Will he be clingy if I do? Will he be malnourished if I don’t breastfeed? Why can’t I breastfeed? Am I even any good as a mother if I can’t do it? What if I never find a formula that he thrives on? Why won’t he eat anything I’m giving him? Why won’t he sleep through the night? When will I get a full nights sleep again? How do people have careers and babies? How do people do this without stressing out all the time?

But I don’t think that this anxiety was a choice. I don’t think it’s something I could have ‘snapped out of’ at any point. Believe me, I have tried. I think that, for some people, like me, the combination of hormonal changes coupled with extreme sleep deprivation (and a whole host of life changes) basically deprived me of happiness, and quite badly marred my first year as a mom. And, in our culture of putting on a photo-ready smile about everything, I’ve felt kind of ashamed admitting that.

As we go into his second (!) year, I’d like to write over the anxiety of the first. We are a year older, a year more experienced, and a year greyer and more tired than ever before. We also laugh a lot (and cry, quite often). We marvel at how quickly he grows and learns things, how much he changes and makes us laugh all the time. It’s still incredible to me that I built that little human from scratch, but he is his own, wild and crazy, personality.

I think, often, about whether it was worth it. Whether all the stress, tears, anxiety, grey hairs and sleepless nights were worth it. And while I loved my life before, the cliché is true: on balance, it is richer for having my small boy in it. And I reckon it will get even richer as he grows up. There is nothing in the world like the love I have for that boy. And I owe it to him and to myself, to sort my anxiety issues out so that I can be the fun, carefree mom I imagined I would be.

9 months in, 9 months out

Although, as I like to point out, that last is a lie (the average 40 weeks of pregnancy are closer to 10 months than 9, and you really feel that in the last few weeks).

Yes, I’m still alive. By some miracle, we all are. Although you haven’t heard anything for a good couple of months, we are all ticking along, trying to figure this family thing out. Want to hear something funny though? Although it is crazy, hard, emotional and insane, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever done. And that in itself is pretty surprising to me.

You might recall, I was pretty pessimistic and skeptical about the whole exercise. Pregnancy was a pain in the ass, and early motherhood was, without one single doubt, the hardest and most crap thing I have ever lived through. But lived through it, I did. And what do we have now? An 8-almost-9-month-old (hell, he’ll probably be 9 months old before I get around to posting this), and I love him to pieces.

That connection I was hoping for? It didn’t come in the first second, the first week or even the first month. Although I loved him and fiercely wanted to protect him, it didn’t come all at once in a brilliant flash of light at all. It snuck in, during all the sleepless nights, and pacing up and down the corridors with him. Through the endless drives back and forth to daycare and the doctor and everywhere else in between.

The first time I realised that I loved my child in the way that I believed a mother should, was when he was sick. It was an ordinary night, and we’d had an ordinary day. I can’t remember how old he was – 6 or 7 months, I guess. We had some level of sleeping routine going by then (all hail the odd full nights sleep) but this was not a night I was going to get a full nights sleep. No, that night, my poor boy got a mad high fever and cried as though his tiny heart was breaking. And I didn’t feel mad or upset, I felt sad and worried and helpless. I wanted to hold him and make him feel better. I wanted to cure all his ills. I cradled him all that night, through his fever and out the other side, just offering him all I could, which was my comfort (and painkillers to manage the fever). And it was that night that I realised that I loved him. I loved him as much as I had ever hoped, and luckily, that love has only increased.

In those first weeks and months, I thought I was defective. Every cry and every need felt like an extra chain looped around my neck. I thought I’d never escape all the chains that bound me to this helpless little thing. As an aside, I think I am not a good newborn mother. We got through it, but it was through grim determination and a LOT of help from my husband and my in-laws and especially my sister.

These days, although I do the majority of waking during the night (husband is much better in the early morning than I am, and tends to manage the 4-5am wake up calls), and I’m much happier. Maybe it’s the fact that our little love is more interactive these days or that his face lights up when he sees us. Maybe it’s the fact that I am happily and gainfully back at work, and he is at daycare which allows us both to get the daily stimulation we need. Maybe it’s watching him grow from a helpless newborn into a bouncing (crawling, eel-like, climbing) baby boy has been one of the most fun things I’ve ever seen. I don’t know.

I do know that I’m grateful. I’m grateful that it did sneak up on me. That defective feeling, the endless sad and hopeless feeling, that has faded (I’m also taking a herbal supplement to manage anxiety, so that might be helping).

But if there are prospective or new mums out there who are concerned about a lack of feeling – try not to worry to much. It might not come like a tidal wave or a flash of light. It might not even come at first, but you’ll get through it. And one day you’ll realise that your heart is squirming around on the floor and bashing himself into everything, and it’s all OK.

things fall apart and time is not my friend

meet-alex

So, I’ve got a couple of posts sitting in drafts – one, the story of how my little boy came into the world, and another emotional one from about 2 weeks in. Both unfinished because have you ever met a baby? Tiniest most time consuming thing I have ever come across.

I have many things to say and not very much time to say it. I’ll have to go with bullets for now, and hope that in the future things ease up enough to get some time to write it all out. Here’s the short form, for now:

  • Babies are time consuming. Before you’ve even woken up properly, it’s 1pm and you’re still in your pyjamas having just put the baby down for his second (or was it third? Who knows anymore) nap for the day. It’s insane how little you can get done when caring for a baby.
  • This mothering gig is EMOTIONAL. I cried pretty solidly for about 3 weeks, went on some fairly serious anti-depressants (not for the sads, but for milk production – that’s another story) and I still cry a couple of times a week. I DO NOT CRY. This is weird for me.
  • There is no spontaneous. Any outing has to be planned, prepped and thought through. There is a small window of opportunity when you can get the kid into the car without screaming, get where you need to go and get home before a meltdown hits. Mine is not a child who takes naturally to being outside the house, even though we’ve been taking him out since day one. He prefers to be at home (but I go crazy if I have to spend 4 days at home, so there’s that).
  • I have become an evening showerer. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a morning shower person. It makes me feel ready and fresh for the day. Now, I shower when I can, and that’s usually in the evening because my paranoia will not allow me to be somewhere where I am unable to come if he’s in trouble/cries while I’m alone. It’s tough – any advice on that? Hoping I grow out of that at some point.
  • Online shopping is my friend. Anything with an app or that I can do easily online is the only thing I can really manage these days. My phone is my constant companion, and being able to get things done while entertaining the baby or in between entertaining the baby is invaluable.
  • Entertaining a baby is weird. He likes to stare at the light coming in the window and coo, he likes to push his dummy out and act like it’s the worst thing ever until I can retrieve it and put it back in. I try to sing to him, but I feel a bit silly. I play him music, and put him under his baby gym, but I don’t know if any of it actually sinks in. What am I meant to do with the kid?!
  • People said it would get easier. We’re nearing 6 weeks, and In some ways, it has gotten easier, but more because I have settled into being at home, into not working, and into trying to find the value of my days in caring for this tiny person. I’m fighting it less, which helps. I’m also learning the difference between his cries – there’s the snorty-fists-in-mouth-panicky cry for hunger, there’s the sharp toned wail of gas, and the despairing sobbing of the overtired. I’m starting to learn the signs that he’s tired and will sleep easily, which makes putting him down a lot simpler. I don’t always get it right and sometimes spend ages trying to get a wide awake baby to sleep (frustrating for both of us), but I guess we’ll get there).

There’s more, but I think that’s all I have time for. The baby monitor says he’s going to surface soon, and I need to make him a bottle.

tick tock, tick tock

So, we’re all confirmed: unless I go into labour over the weekend, we’re heading into the hospital for a C-section at 9.30 on Monday morning. Changing the face of Monday mornings forever, right? Geez. I’d usually be happily sipping on my morning coffee at that rather civilised hour, but instead I’ll have been nil-per-mouth (NOT EVEN WATER?!) since midnight the night before. Not even a coffee to steady the nerves.

It might sound like I’m a little bit petulant about the whole thing, and I guess (if I have to be honest) I am, rather. The whole of pregnancy has felt rather like a series of indignities that have been visited upon me by the universe. I know, I know, it’s a miracle and all that, but it’s also amazingly uncomfortable, undignified and (again, if I’m honest) a total pain in the ass. At the moment, all I want is to never, ever be pregnant again, and yet, I’m fairly sure that motherhood has some new indignities hiding up it’s sneaky sleeves for me. So, there’s that to look forward to.

It’s strange. You hear of people who have this instant connection to the child growing in their belly. Mums and even dads who are bowled over by the miracle, absolutely besotted with the child they have yet to meet. I’ve not really felt a connection to this child yet. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my brain’s way of protecting me if anything should go wrong (look, I’m a little bit pessimistic at times, and have been waiting for a disaster for the last 9 months). I’ve read about people like me, mums who don’t feel much for the child they are incubating, who fall in love the moment they are born. I’ve even read about mums who are besotted with their unborn child, only to discover that the actual baby is something quite different to what they were expecting.

I don’t know what will happen to us. I know that, given how I feel about my retarded dogs, I will probably love this child with unreasoning abandon. I hope so. I hope that once he’s out and about, a real, living, breathing thing, that I’ll feel that connection and be able to shuck off this weird feeling of disconnectedness. That I’ll be able to honestly tell you that it was worth it. That I’ll be able to feel that all the new indignities that new motherhood will force upon me will be worth it. I hope so, or I’m in for a helluva ride over the next few months.

on mother’s day and motherhood

Today was weird. For the first time, I was wished a happy Mother’s Day by several people, even though the child I will mother hasn’t actually come yet. I have a strange relationship with Mother’s Day. My own mother has never felt further away, either emotionally or geographically. You see, my parents divorced when I was about 7 or 8 years old, and when I was 11 we (my dad had sole custody by then) emigrated to SA. My relationship with my mother, which was never especially good (even as a small child I saw her as extremely selfish and difficult to deal with) completely fell apart. We didn’t speak for several years, and when we did eventually make contact again, it’s always been iffy to the point of non-existent.

As of now, we’ve not spoken in over a year (possibly 2?). I even forgot to invite her to our wedding a few years ago. She just doesn’t feature in my life, which I suppose, on reflection should be a really sad thing, but in reality it’s just the way life is. My relationship with my dad is not much better (is there any wonder I’ve always been nervous about parenthood with these examples?!) It’s just been deteriorating for much longer.

I have, however, often loved my friends’ moms. They seem like lovely souls, doling out love to everyone who passes by. I was in boarding school, which meant any weekends we wanted to spend away from the boarding house were, by nature, with someone else’s family. That was always fine by me – I seemed to get along with parents in a way that my friends (impatient teenagers) just didn’t. I loved seeing moms dealing with daughters, dads dealing with sons – they always seemed to be such great friends.

As a teenager in boarding school, and later throughout most of my adult life, I’ve always been a mothering type. I care for my friends the way most people care for their families. I used to tuck my sister and her friends in at night in the boarding house, and bring them little treats to make tough weeks lighter. When a colleague has forgotten lunch, I’ll often share my own with them, so they don’t go without. I’ve always joked that I’ll mother anything that moves.

So as I take my first steps into parenthood and motherhood in just a few short weeks, I wish with every fervent hope in my being, that my parenting journey will be different from that my parents had. They say you always turn into your parents, but I really, really, really hope I never turn into mine. I hope that my own history, my own personality and the way that I want to be as a mother wins out over whatever nature has placed inside of me or created in my early years. I hope to be the mother I saw in my friends families, not my own.