While you’re expecting your first baby you are surrounded by other women who are already mums. None will tell you it’s going to be easy as a new mother, but all will, quite naturally, emphasise the good points. How much you’ll love your baby, the fun you’ll have together, how many beautiful baby clothes there are in the shops at the moment, etc etc. And besides, when you’re expecting your first child, what life will be like with your baby isn’t your primary concern. Your mind is instead fixated on the quite unfathomable concept of how the baby will enter the world through your lady parts! I used to spend hours worrying about that! It seems ridiculous now! As ridiculous as knowing you’re about to fight a 100ft dragon, and worrying about what colour shoes to do it in!
For as I found out, your battle is not in the labour room. Your battle is at 3am when your baby has barely slept at night for a week, and you’re hallucinating with tiredness. And your baby wants you to comfort them, again, but you’d sell your Nan for an hours sleep! Your battle is at 5pm when your husbands at work, your toddler goes into meltdown mode and you’re trying to calm him down, make two different dinners (a toddler clinging to your thigh by a hot stove is a real treat!), tidy up from the play date you’ve had (how do two tiny people and two frazzled mums drinking luke warm coffee make so much mess??) and then he has an accident!
And all the time you’re fighting these battles, particularly in the early days, there are the happy bloody mums and their happy bloody children. The happy mums on packaging, on advertising, on fucking Topsy and Tim! And don’t get me started on Flop!
And even most of your friends! “Ah, it is hard, but it’s worth it, isn’t it!” (Is it?? I could have had a holiday in the Maldives with what I’ve spent on Tommee Tippee products!) “Ah, we wouldn’t change them for the world though, would we!” (Hell yes! I’d like my baby to cry less (6 straight hours was the boy’s record) and stop doing such explosive shits he pretty much writes off the entire building he’s just done it in!)
And you think, what the hell is wrong with me? I love him, don’t I? Why can’t I cope and everyone else is just fine? And then…. there’s the one friend!
The boy happened to be born on the same day as the little girl of a friend of mine. We bumped into each other hours after they were born, both a little high, a little emotional, and each newly in posession of two things: a tiny, red person and a searingly painful scar. It was 35 degrees that day. It was tough.
We met again 3 weeks later. I had no desire to leave the house. The boy was prone to bouts of inconsolable crying, for which I was certain people would judge me as a terrible mother, and my undercarriage was still a touch delicate as I had given birth to the child with the world’s most massive, round head! But the one friend was sporting the much more painful scar of an emergency c section and so I thought, if she can go out, then I should be able to do it too!
And we met, and we pushed ‘the sprouts’ (as they came to be known) to a nearby park. And we sat down. (Ouch!) How are you doing? Oh, ok, you know, a bit tired. And then we made eye contact. All crap was suddenly cut through in a second. “It’s shit, isn’t it!” Said the one friend. “Oh God! Yes, it is! It’s truly awful!” And we sat, and held each other and we cried. We cried for the life we once had and would never have again. For the fact that giving up that lovely life had been our decision, our doing! For the fact we were each sporting the physique of Jabba the Hutt. For it all. The pain. The tiredness. The guilt for feeling this way! We were broken. And all the time the sprouts lay happily in their prams, carefully shaded from the sun that was burning our skin, looking at the trees and wondering what their thumbs were for. Blissfully unaware.
And the one friend has been there ever since. And we talk honestly and openly about how we feel. The highs, the lows, the really lows. And we drink tea, and we drink wine, and our husbands discuss the cricket. And the sprouts play happily together (well sometimes!). And the four to six of us together read, we build dens, we paint, we make play doh models, we dress up, we go for days out to places with play grounds and miniature railways and soft play areas and animals, and we have an amazing time. And sometimes? Sometimes it isn’t amazing! Sometimes it sucks! It rains, one or both sprouts go mental, someone loses their shit (usually me!), and it’s an unremitting disaster! But it’s ok. Life continues.
And over the last three years the one friend and I have come to two important conclusions:
The truth of the matter is that it’s perfectly possible for something to be utterly amazing and utterly horrific at the same time. Having a baby is the very essence of yin and yang, heaven and hell, black and white. It doesn’t just change your life. It gives you a completely different life that in no way resembles the one you were living before. It is so incredible, so remarkable, so insanely beautiful that at times it makes you feel your heart will burst with happiness and pride! And then, it’s so hard, so tiring, so thankless that it takes every ounce of mental, physical and emotional strength you posess just to get up each day and keep going. It’s both. It’s everything. And that’s OK. What you feel at both ends of the spectrum is normal and natural and it’s ok. You’re allowed to have those feelings! You’ve bloody well earned them!
We have also learned another important lesson. As we have observed other mums chatting to each other for ages or sitting staring at their phones while their children play alone without bothering them we have wondered, why don’t ours do that?? “Mummy look at me! Look how high up I am! How high up am I mummy? Mummy, come down the slide with us! Which side of the slide do you want to go down? Mummy, this little boy has got the same t-shirt on as me! What are you eating? Can I have some! This is fun isn’t it Mummy! What are we doing next?”
We finally realised, they want attention because they’ve always had it. And rightly so. And some of the others, well maybe they haven’t. The boy sits and chats to me while I’m on the toilet. The boy spends most of his nights in “the family bed”. The boy expects his days to be full of fun and activities and conversation and affection and is digruntled if it isn’t.
Because parenting is like anything. Like a job. Like a new fitness regime (I imagine!) If it’s so tough you aren’t even sure you can do it any more. If it takes everything you’ve got. If you constantly question whether you could be doing more or better. If it’s the hardest bloody thing you’ve ever had to do! Then honestly, that’s when you know you’re doing it right.
Cheers Parents! 🍷
(And cheers to you my friend! X)