The first year of motherhood.
May I be so presumptuous as to write about it from within, before I have fully emerged, one-year-old and smashed (sugar and gluten free) birthday cake in each hand?
The pulsating loneliness of it. I don’t quite know how to explain it. You won’t be alone, ever. If you’re lucky, like I am, you will have a supportive and engaged co-parent, you will have wonderful family, you will have beautiful friends. But there are moments within the motherhood experience that one must go through alone. No matter how much you read all those mom blogs that speak to those experiences, no matter how your late night emails and Facebook posts and messages to your small coterie of friends who are also moms, no matter how many messages sent back to your island from across the ocean, you will have those universal moments and it will be the most alienating and lonely time. I don’t know why. You won’t be the first or the last woman to go there but you’ll go there alone. It feels like you kind of almost have to.
What keeps me sane, in those moments when I feel I have no-one and everyone to call, is to know that this is universal. That’s as good as any reason to spill my guts here on the internet. One day, someone will be desperately trawling through the web as their baby sleeps next to them and they will read this and think, Oh my god, yes, girl, yes. I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to me to come across other writing, other experiences, just like mine. Dispatches from other women who’ve been and been there, been through the loneliness, and come through it. Saying, yes, this happened to me, my baby survived it, I survived it and would you believe it, we’re on to bigger challenges. As I said in a desperate text conversation with one of my best friends, I can’t stand it when moms ONLY talk about the wonder and joy and blessedness of it all: Yes, I’m blessed, but sometimes, I’m also completely fucked (there, I said it). And it helps me so much to hear from other moms who feel this way, too. So, other moms, TALK about the dark things, the scary things, the lonely things. It may help another lonely, desperate soul who is washed up on her own island.
You will travel miles in such a short space of time. Three days after our son was born, I crashed hard. Runners have their wall; so do us new moms. I hit it hard. Coming off the hormonal high and freshly weaned off of the morphine (I’d had a c-section), I was just realising that my son was (1) super wakeful, like the most awake baby you’ve ever met and (2) super hungry, like feeding all the time, like nothing I did, including feeding him for four straight hours at one point, was enough to satiate him. It was hard. It was a truly tough time. A friend who’d been hoping to visit us in hospital sent me a text. I’d been (unsuccessfully) trying to hide how I felt from everyone, myself included. But my friend’s text came in a moment of weakness and honesty. I told her: I can’t do this, it’s too hard, what have I done, what have I done? I looked at those texts this past weekend and felt such surprise (and maybe a hint of pride?) at how far I’ve come. In those early days, it was all mechanical and new: feed baby, burp baby, change diaper, remember remember remember, rinse and repeat. I didn’t yet know how to read my kid. I actually needed people around me supporting me, reminding me, teaching me. Feed the kid, change the kid, burp the kid. Now, that stuff has all been absorbed into who I am, I’m not so worried about remembering to check and change him every two hours. There is a part of my brain, nay, my body, that just knows to do that without even being conscious of it. Now, people look to me and ask – does he need feeding, changing, tell us what we can do for him? When my friend wrote to me, I was someone trying to become someone else’s mother; to be what this tiny, hungry very awake little thing needed. Now I feel like a mother who is trying to learn the tasks involved in mothering and older, more complicated baby.
And that is a way to go in 7 short-long months.
‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’
It may hurt. A lot. Maybe one of the reasons for the loneliness is the true lack of real talk in the mainstream about what early motherhood is really like. I’ve often wondered, sitting up at 3am, cradling and feeding my little bundle for the fifth time in the night (yes, girl, yes), why no-one said anything. Maybe I couldn’t really hear it even if they had. But I read a piece last week that explained that you are becoming a mother. And becoming something, especially something as central and momentous as the mother to another human being, is obviously going to hurt. There’s no way around it.
I had a real moment of despair this morning. My son’s nanny was an hour late for work (thanks, Metrorail), which means I was an hour late for work. Again. My son wouldn’t take the medication he’s been on to sort out his bowel. And I’d already changed my clothes twice as I couldn’t show up at work in breastmilk-stained clothing once again. Then, once his nanny arrived and I was hurriedly packing up my things, he gave me the most beautiful, brutal little sad smile. He can’t talk yet, but in that moment, I felt like he was saying, Oh, you’re leaving again, Mama? It was a hard time. Nothing was anyone’s fault; everything was terrible. I once again was in my car, late, sobbing. I hate this feeling. This feeling of being less than enough in all the areas of my life. Can’t be a good mom, too busy thinking about work. Can’t be a good worker, too busy being a mom. Work and home get pieces of me, no-one has my best. I hate this feeling (so much so that I have quite the work part of it – but more on that later). I called one of my best friends from the car. She told me it’s okay to feel like this: I am supposed to feel like this. There’s no way around this. There’s only through it. And, she said, if through it means sobbing in my car on the way to work, then that’s okay. I’m becoming. It’s supposed to hurt.
Maybe my gift to my friends when they finally join me on this crazy journey (any minute now, guys) will be to share this with them. It hurts. It’s not always going to be sunshine and roses and organic purees. Sometimes, it’ll be tears in your car. Or vomit in the emergency unit. Or shit in the bathtub. It sucks, and, yes, hurts. Sit with and in the hurt. Don’t try to pretend it away. Because, as the Skin Horse says, when you’re Real, you won’t mind being hurt.