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.
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.