I have five beautiful friends who are pregnant. Each friend is at various weeks along; one at the very beginning, three in the middle and one is at the I’m-ready-to-drop-at-any-minute-cos-my-vagina-is-hanging-on-the-ground stage. The one at the beginning and the one at the end are expecting their first baby. The three in the middle are expecting their second (one of them is expecting twins!).
I find myself pondering their collective situations and remembering how I found those times. Unlike most mothers I know, I don’t look back on that time with a nostalgic heart and misty-eyed joy. For me it was a time of anxiety, unbearable excitement, extreme sciatic pain, fear, guilt, worry and lack of control. For me this time was one very long tunnel of darkness to get through and I don’t know if I have emerged unscathed.
I look upon my friends like I look at any pregnant woman these days – with intense fucking relief that it’s not me.
Five years on from the birth of my first child I feel compelled to be brutally honest with them. I want to tell them what they’re REALLY in for. Yet, I don’t want to spoil their joy. No one wants to hear the bad stuff – the endless breastfeeding with sore, bleeding nipples, the lack of sleep, the pure frustration, the sickness that can plague babies, the trauma that can surround birth and the mental isolation that can set in even with the most supportive partner. It’s barely glossed over in the baby books. And almost every woman you speak to will tell you “. . . but it’s all worth it”. But my friends are in for a shock. I was shocked that no one told me how hard motherhood would be. This is a shock that they may never recover from. Their previously easy lives filled with easy decisions to do whatever they pleased at any time – going out to the shops, inviting friends over, partying, travelling will suddenly be dependent upon the whims of a demanding little person with more gear and equipment than an army!
Once you think you’re over the worst of motherhood, the arrival of a second child complicates life even further. I can remember chasing my tail from one demanding toddler to my demanding baby going in circles daily whilst trying to stay on top of housework. When the fussing, unsleeping baby was fed and changed the toddler would poo on the floor, then when I was cleaning that up the baby would scream uncontrollably, then I’d comfort the baby only to have the toddler clawing and pulling at me and whining or pulling everything out of the fridge while I was trapped for hours breastfeeding, and in three years they slept at the same time during the day only a handful of times . . .
The way motherhood can steal any sense of identity and self-worth is so demoralising and so self-sacrificing (whether you want it to be or not) that it can be hard to see any good in the fog of repetitiveness, unrelenting care, feeds and washing . . . Oh and when you are feeling completely exhausted and used your husband will still be trying to hump you every time you bend over to pick something up!
While all this bad stuff can only be politely described as a lifestyle adjustment since there is no way of knowing how it will be for different people. You cannot explain to someone accurately how as a new mum THEY will feel. You can only impart how it was for you. I have tried to enjoy the journey of my boys’ babyhood. But honestly I cannot wait until they all reach an age where they are more independent and we can enjoy each other more.
HOWEVER, I do have many memories of intimate, precious moments shared with my babies. With our first born I spent hours gazing upon him in wonder at his perfectly formed little body. I remember holding him for much longer than I needed to after feeding him and running my mouth and nose through his impossibly soft hair, drinking in his baby scent and wanting to melt into him. I used to lay beside him and watched him in disbelief that he was mine . . .
Our second son was less easy going; actually he was a fucking nightmare. He took a nearly three weeks to breastfeed properly, was a fussy, non-sleeping, demanding and inconsolable machine. He pushed me and Mr MF beyond limits we never knew we had. However, something about the way he only wanted ME led us to develop a close bond albeit a frustrating one. I tried nuzzling him too. But his form of comfort was to constantly play with my hair, from the time that he could grasp. I was his comforter as he constantly and feverishly twirled my hair when I held him. It’s a habit he still has at three years old and while sometimes irritating it’s a nice connection that we have.
Our third son was a blessedly easy baby. I remember whispering thanks in his tiny ear in the hospital and crying with relief that I could feed him, that he did sleep and that I finally knew what I was doing. As a toddler he is proving to be single-mindedly determined, yet loveable and good natured. I adore holding his pudgy little hands and delight in his every day learning discoveries like learning to speak.
All babies are different and all my babies are different. Next weekend my first baby turns five years old and my eyes fill with tears at the thought. I think for me it’s a milestone moment, a proud sign that I have done well, that my baby has thrived and that I have survived.
So, do I think it’s all worth it? Oh, man this is a hard question. Many, many, times in the past five years I would’ve said no fucking way – get me out of here now! But motherhood is a kind of love-trap too – why would you leave the baby that you’ve wanted for so long and love so much? So you stay and persevere and learn how to manage . . . or just hang on.
I cannot live without my children. Being a mother for me can only be described as suddenly having your heart beat outside your body. I couldn’t live my life never knowing what being a mother would be like. No, I would not have listened to any ‘reality check’ stories (because of course, we all believe we are having the perfect baby and glide through it all like an Earth Goddess – of course you will too my darling friends). I like being a mother and I don’t try too much to be ‘perfect’ I simply do the best I can one day at a time. Certainly the depths of despair are not worth it at the time, especially the self-doubt and wonder about why the fuck anyone would want to be a mother . . . but the knowledge and experience gained about myself and how to manage is valuable later in life. I hope that my being honest about my experiences it gives my friends the ‘permission’ to be frank when life as a new mother is not conforming to their ideals.
It’s worth it to me to know just what I’m capable of and I hope I can be useful and supportive if my friends find themselves feeling similarly.