This Wasn’t The Plan

I had a preconceived idea of motherhood. I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes other women did. I wasn’t going to make life All About Baby. I wasn’t going to put a million pictures on Facebook, and talk about nothing else. I would still hang out with the girls (and boys). I would keep working from home while it slept. The baby would fit in around my lifestyle. I didn’t see why friendships had to change or why some mothers only hung out with other mothers. I would still be me – just with a baby.

Ha.

Actually, I realised early on in pregnancy that I wasn’t going to stay “me but just with a bump”. Debilitating vomiting, tiredness, and depression kept me virtually bedridden for a few months, so badly I even had to quit work. Maintaining a social life was impossible, when I couldn’t even maintain myself. I began to get invited to less and less events.

I also realised I was changing inside. (Apart from the obvious.) I had no idea how protective a person can feel of a baby before it even leaves your body. I had always been a bit of a pushover and eager to help, but now I grew more hard-arse. Suddenly I had no tolerance for drama. Anyone wanting to cause trouble was given the immediate flick. Because it wasn’t about me anymore. The life growing inside me deserved as stress-free an environment as possible. I was, very soberingly, going to be someone’s role model.

And when Little Miss was finally born, my life soon became about the “mistakes” I’d sworn to avoid.

LM was all-consuming. Sometimes I think she was sent to test and challenge me, trial by fire, buffing my edges, pressure on this lump of coal. (Friday 13th full moon baby, remember.) I certainly had to learn that my life was no longer about me, and never would be again.

In a lot of ways, she wasn’t a difficult baby. She didn’t have health or development issues; she loved people; she was smiley and bright. But my little Gemini had a flipside to her.

I soon discovered I was going to be in a routine, something I’d always tried to avoid, or else Little Miss could get very agitated. Whilst I saw other mothers gaily chucking their baby in a sling and going about their business, I was unable to move until LM had had her long morning nap, which had to be at home. Going out after that, she would try to take as much as she could in, and become overstimulated and scream her lungs out, to the point where sometimes we just had to leave. She knew when six o’clock approached that it meant bath, boob, and bed, and woe betide if we were out instead. I couldn’t leave her with my partner, as she refused bottles. She was not a “sleep through the night” baby, so there was no telling how soon she’d wake up for another feed, and most of my friends lived about an hour away. (Anyway, I was getting too damn buggered and sleep-deprived to go out.)

If I did take her out in the day to visit friends or family, I had to leave before schools ended and peak hour began. If traffic was slow or there were too many red lights, LM would scream in frustration, unable to get to sleep, for a journey that could last up to an hour and a half. The distraction of my nerves being shot and a feeling of guilt that all her screaming was doing LM harm meant poor driving decisions, including a red light fine which I didn’t believe possible until I saw the photo.

It didn’t help that other people (including some mothers) would say things to me like an incredulous, “Can’t she sleep in the car?” or a stern, “You have to teach her who’s the boss.” Yes. Thank-you for the judgement on my parenting. I tried to explain red lights to Little Miss, but you know what, she just wasn’t buying it.

I began to despair of ever having a social life again. And started to realise why some mothers do nothing but talk about their baby. When you don’t see friends much, have to turn down events, and don’t work (ha, yeah, I know, you mums out there were ROFL at my “work while the baby sleeps” plan), you, um … kinda end up with nothing else to talk about. I had done it; I’d turned my life into All About Baby. She wasn’t fitting into my lifestyle, I was fitting into hers. Any photos that went on Facebook were, well, the baby, because they were kinda the only photos I had.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t resent Little Miss for this. I knew it wasn’t her “fault” and that it wouldn’t be forever. I knew that whilst exhausting, this was the most important and rewarding job I would ever have in my life. Yes, I sometimes wished I could be baby-free for a day, but in the end, nothing compares to the huge beaming smile I get every morning from someone so secure in my love.

But I also discovered why some women make the “mistake” of having mainly only mum friends. Sometimes the only person you can text at 2.00 a.m. to express your frustration at your sleepless baby is another mother. Most childless people would rather drink ‘slippery nipples’ than talk about sore ones (hell, can’t blame ’em). Sometimes mums are the only ones that get that when your baby is finally taking a bottle and you finally have some free time after whinging for months that you haven’t gone out, you choose to spend it … in the bath. They’re the ones that tend to get that life doesn’t begin and end at social media anymore; when I went off Facebook, they still were texting, remembering my birthday, even remembering my baby’s monthly “birthdays”. They understand “baby brain” and don’t get offended when you reply to a text in your head but forget to actually send one, because they do that all the time. (Most of my SMS’s these days begin with, “I’m really sorry for the delayed reply … ” about a week later.) They remember that even if you can’t go, it’s still nice to be sent invites, to anything from major events to just Chicks at the Flicks. They don’t cancel on you to hang with “cooler” friends. They understand visiting is a two-way street and not always easy. They don’t make “subtle” comments about the mess at your place (in fact, they’ll probably congratulate you for keeping it so together!). They don’t expect you to have lunch on hand or to be thrilled about being left with a pile of washing-up.

This is not to diss friends that aren’t mothers. And I actually get that faced with a choice of, “Do I go clubbing this weekend, or hang with Sore Boobs no-alcohol-because-she’s-breastfeeding-and-pregnant”, Option 2 is the road less travelled, because I would strongly lean to Option 1 myself. I have been blessed with some amazingly understanding childless friends who have made a big effort to be there. Even though I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m a pretty boring friend right now. And probably will be for some time, seeing as No. 2 is on the way.

But one day I’ll look back and realise that although this time seems interminable, it was actually quite short. I’ll realise that even if I seem to have lost some things, I have gained so much more. I will get back to work again, I will be able to do the things that make me Me. But I will be a Me that I had never dreamed of being – someone with more strength, determination, and love than I ever believed possible.

This Wasn’t The Plan

Mummy Guilt

One thing I’ve noticed from online baby forums is … the excessive amount of mummy guilt.

Once upon a time, mothers did things in a relatively guilt-free way. They smoked and even drank sometimes during pregnancy. They probably did have some soft cheese with their wine. They left their babies to cry it out at night. I don’t agree with any of these things (well, except maybe the soft cheese), but it seems the pendulum always swings from one extreme to the other, and never stops long enough in the middle.

The mummy guilt (and judgements) start early in pregnancy (when you soon realise having a baby isn’t about you, but everyone else … apparently). Women are terrified because they drank before they realised they’d conceived. Smokers don’t know whether they’re supposed to quit, or if withdrawals will make things worse for the baby. The list of “What Not To Eat In Pregnancy” has grown ridiculously long … Women stress that they may spontaneously miscarry because their omelette had miniscule pieces of ham in it. For everyone who tells them not to worry, someone else will pop up with a story of how their neighbour’s uncle’s best friend’s dog’s previous owner’s wife had contracted listeria during pregnancy from soft cheese, or how the postman’s second cousin’s nanny gave birth to a baby with foetal alcohol syndrome when she swore she’d “only had a couple of drinks the whole pregnancy”. Women who will scoff all the junk food under the sun during pregnancy will say self-righteously to anyone who dares admit to half-a-drink on their birthday, “You wouldn’t give your baby alcohol once it’s born, so why would you do it in the womb?” Well, I kinda didn’t think they’d give their baby chocolate or chips once it’s born either.

The mummy guilt continues in ways that I never believed possible. When I see friends doing something with or making decisions about their baby that I personally don’t agree with, I think, “Is it directly endangering the baby’s life? No? Maybe I should mind my own business then.” Apparently, that’s not a common sentiment. (Not even from the very people I’ve held my own tongue with.)

I’ve seen women castigated for electing a caesarean, even when they have sound medical reasons, and being told they’re “too posh to push”. (Most of these things are, of course, done online, from people who wouldn’t dare say it to their face.) And on the flipside, I’ve seen women who intend a natural birth being talked out of it as natural is “barbaric”. (Encouragement is usually not a big thing with guilt-trippers.)

Everyone apparently has the right to know if you’re going to breastfeed or formula feed. If you say formula, watch out. If you say breast, you will be asked how long for, and told either it’s not long enough (WHO currently recommends 2.5 years), or that you should only aim for six months because you’ll be sick of it by then. (Like I said … encouragement is not the theme.) Some women, incredibly, have even been told they’re selfish for breastfeeding, because it takes bonding away from other family members, and now the grandparents will have to wait to babysit overnight until you have finished producing booby juice naturally, like HOW COULD YOU TAKE THAT AWAY FROM THEM. (I can’t imagine that when I’m a grandmother, the first thing on my mind will be, “Yay, I would love my sleep disturbed every couple of hours by a newborn again, and please make the nappies extra-pooey because I MISS THAT SO MUCH!”)

Don’t even get me started on vaccination debates. They never end well. Apparently both sides are child abusers who either want to see their babies die of horrible diseases or of horrible ingredients. Yeah, ’cause we all set out to do the worst we can as a mother. (Oh, and everyone thinks they have the right to ask you bluntly about whether you will or not. “None of your effing business” should be a suitably blunt response.)

There are so, so many other things to feel guilt over. Do you co-sleep? Depending on who you listen to, it’s either a SIDS risk or SIDS prevention, and your child will either become secure and emotionally healthy, or will form a disturbing attachment that’ll see them still in your bed at 21. Are you going to feed solids at four months (“Too early – digestive system not ready”) or six months (“Too late – iron stores depleting”) or even later (“Aren’t you worried you’re STARVING your BABY?”)? And what solids will you start with? Iron-fortified rice cereal (“You need to build up your baby’s iron stores, which magically deplete at six months”) or plain fruit and veg (“Baby rice cereal is so outdated, starting them on a carb is bad habit, and plus it’s processed”)? Purees? Well, yes, if you want to delay speech development and make your baby dependent on spoon-feeding till they’re 15. Baby-led weaning? Well, I hope you know first aid because your baby may choke.

Baby falls asleep at the breast? You’re creating bad habits for later and a rod for your own back. Baby doesn’t fall asleep at the breast? You’re going against nature, as breastmilk releases a chemical specifically to help babies do just that. Rock to sleep? You’re creating a rod for your own back. (I seriously want to ban that phrase.) Don’t rock to sleep? That’s so cruel, don’t you know the baby has just been rocked to sleep for nine months inside and now you expect it to go cold turkey.

When your baby’s crying of tiredness, someone will insist it’s hungry. When it’s hungry, someone will tell you it’s just wind. When it’s wind, someone will say they’re cold. Apparently even strangers on the street will know your baby better than you.

Everyone seems to have the answer on why your baby isn’t sleeping, without having spent one night at yours. Tizzie Hall is either the saviour of all babykind, or the dangerous antichrist putting babies at risk. Whatever the case, if you don’t help your baby get the “proper” amount of uninterrupted sleep per day, you are DESTROYING THEIR DEVELOPMENT. But if you do try sleep training, be prepared to be told how cruel you are. Your baby shouldn’t be allowed to cry for a second. In fact, don’t even go to the toilet. Wear a nappy yourself. If there’s something on the stove, let the kitchen burn. A baby being allowed to cry for one second is a baby being neurologically DAMAGED BEYOND REPAIR.

Actually, all I want to ask is … is your baby alive and relatively happy? WELL DONE. You are surviving a difficult part of motherhood. Now go have a coffee. (Unless you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Because that is … oh, what the hell.)

Mummy Guilt

Pregnant Again

The first thing everyone said, when I told them I was pregnant again, which was by accident and completely how-the-hell-did-that-sneak-in, and that I was freaking out about it, and didn’t know how I’d cope when I struggled with one as it was (they’d be 15 months apart), and had previously decided I wasn’t going to have any more than one, and that I was so tired and suffering anxiety, was … “Congratulations!!!” I wasn’t sure they heard me right, but anyway.

I had spent six months with Little Miss Sleepless, who was not so bad when she wasn’t going through developmental leaps, teething, or trying to practice rolling or crawling during sleep-time (so about 5% of the time I could be guaranteed of an okay night’s sleep, though never all the way through), when I fell pregnant again. Ironically, I was just out of sleep school and Little Miss was starting to sleep better. Also ironically, the paediatrician at sleep school had told me the contraception I was using might not be the best, and I’d said, “It’s worked just fine so far.” She’d basically said, “It’s your funeral,” (or perhaps, “As long as you would be okay with falling pregnant again”) and I had thought, “Ha! It hasn’t failed me so far.”

I also kept hearing from all these women with babies the same age as mine, how they couldn’t wait to fall pregnant again. I thought, “Are you mad? I would have a nervous breakdown and cry for weeks!” Well, close enough.

(I should say, despite my initial denial, I am loving my Peanut now. The bond kind-of snuck up on me, same way pregnancy did. I even find myself being positive about having two kids close together sometimes, before I remember that I’m supposed to be filled with self-pity.)

I often hear from people how having two children close together is a great thing. There are definite positives. They will always have a playmate. (Or someone to torture and dob on; whatever.) I will feel safer knowing they’re looking out for each other. (Or egging each other on). Apparently, they will entertain each other so I have less work to do. (Or demand double the attention.) I will get all the “baby stuff” out the way at once. (Though without benefit of a much older child who could possibly be a helper.)

But oh, my gosh, the hormones. Save me from the hormones. Don’t talk to my partner about the hormones. I feel like I’ve said, “I’m sorry, it’s the hormones,” so many times that it should be just a given by now.

Leaving aside the bone-crushing first trimester tiredness, the feeling that I’m not entertaining my Little Miss properly because I can’t muster up the energy, the vasospasms whilst breastfeeding in very early pregnancy which thankfully passed, the changing and diminishing of my milk which has seen Little Miss stop breastfeeding as much and instead devour all of her food and then mine, the pregnancy nose which means I gag during nappy changes and banish my partner to the couch if he so much as breathes in my direction after garlic … SAVE ME FROM THE HORMONES.

One night, I’ll feel all loving and maternal. I’ll look at my girl and think, “Gee, she’s sweet. She’s so beautiful. She’s growing up so fast. I could cry. Oh, don’t you cry, honey – here, I’ll feed you and pat you till you fall asleep. There, there. You’re my little angel. I love you. I’ll sit here all night with you if I need to. I know, I know. You’re just a baby. I’ll stroke your little downy head and sing you a lullaby.”

Next night, an internal (I stress, internal) monologue goes on in my head, something like this: SERIOUSLY? Are you frickin’ SERIOUS? You’ve been outside as long as you were inside, and you haven’t learnt to sleep by now? You know I’m pregnant, right? You know Mummy needs sleep too, right? Can’t you think of Mummy? I think of YOU all the time. Yeah, yeah, okay, I’ll feed you. Oh holy crap DID YOU JUST BITE ME? Okay, now I know you’re just using me as a dummy. Aarrrgh, stop screaming my ears off, they’re bleeding. OMG, you do know you have all DAY to practice crawling and standing and babbling, right?

There are nights I could cry myself to sleep from exhaustion. Then morning breaks; I hear a little noise from the monitor. I sigh, and resign myself to getting up and starting it all over again. I go into her room. She gives me the biggest, happiest grin, so excited to see me; that smile that says, “You’re my favourite person in the world.” And I melt, and think if I get two lots of that smile, maybe that ain’t such a bad thing.

Pregnant Again

About this blog

I’ve been a mother for a total of nine months. Yep, nine months. I came into this having no previous experience of babies (my own or anyone else’s), and the first thing I quickly realised was … babies do not come with a manual. Why the hell not? Because they’re crafty little buggers and quickly disprove any parenting theories you might have or books you might read. But they manage to be slightly adorable along the way. It’s their survival mechanism. They need it.

Enjoy my blog (when I manage to keep it up in sleep-deprived moments) … and add a sprinkle of salt, a dash of pepper, and microwave for three minutes in a bowl of goat’s milk, before feeding to your cat upside-down.

Thank you 🙂

About this blog