A couple of years ago, during school holidays, I went to Sydney with my then eight-year old and finally caught up with a friend and her two boys at a kids’ park. Although we had seen each other intermittently over the past few years, the last time we truly got to “hang out”, the last time we really “knew” each other was BC – Before Children.
Before children, we saw each other at parties and dinners where there were no children present. Or if there were, we probably didn’t notice them. They wern’t our problem. There were often late nights and deep, meaningful, uninterrupted (sometimes senseless), but always flowing, conversations. Unless it was a nice, relaxing adult picnic, there was no death by park.
Back in the day, I was the first one in our little social group to have a baby. The midwives gave each other sidelong glances when he came out because his scream was so loud and so high pitched that I reckon it could have shattered glass. Karma obviously because apparently I did exactly the same as a newborn. Lucky me! From that day, he screamed, hollered and almost seemed to be spitting at me, his grumpy little face resembling a wrinkled beetroot the majority of the time he was awake. He was constantly hungry and would make little relieved “(thank-God!”) nom-nom noises while being fed but yet throw his head back angrily and roar in the middle of it all as if it wasn’t happening fast enough, particularly if we happened to be out in public and it meant my boob was suddenly on display. I worried that I wasn’t producing enough milk – until the time he projectile-vomited his entire feed all over the bedroom. Well that answered that question. Thankfully though, I had so much advice! Lots of wonderful random strangers letting me know that he was hungry, tired, had a pain, was hot, cold, yadda blah blah. All those things that as a completely useless human being, I couldn’t possibly have thought of myself! (FUCK YOU VERY MUCH tho!) Put it this way, my downstairs neighbours came up to our unit one evening to check on things (I think they felt I must surely be stabbing him with a fork and it might be a teeny lie to say I didn’t feel like it sometimes). We were just about to leave the house to drive him around the block a million times in the car (cue Benny Hill theme) so were very grateful that our learned neighbours had All The Answers. Luckily, as the four of us all stood there in the doorway tersely discussing expert solutions, he got very bored and conked out.
A childless friend who lived in my street and worked from home didn’t even bother even looking out the window when I walked past every day with Coby in my stroller. She’d hear him and shout down hello to me. It wasn’t helpful to hear from some people that they had apparently popped their baby in the corner to sleep” while they went to work or attended a course in the first few months when I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. I couldn’t go shopping or meet a friend. I barely went to Mothers’ group and it was all so stressful I had to limit my outings even though staying home was isolating and boring. Stupidly though, I had committed to a full-time yoga teacher training course. As you do.
The thing is, when you are a first time mum, you have nothing to compare it to and your new life is literally thrust upon you. Even though throughout your pregnancy lots of nice parenting people (with experience) will hint at how much things are going to change, part of you refuses to take it on board. “Not for me” you imagine (smugly). Perhaps this is because what we haven’t experienced is virtually unfathomable. And of course, we cannot imagine how much we will simultaneously love our babies more than we could ever have thought possible, but yet loathe our new day-to-day existence at times and hate ourselves for it. I was so grateful for my healthy baby but yet it was so hard to be with him. There were plenty of grim reminders that things could have been very different. I had one girl in my course who, just before Coby was due, had tearfully shared her experience of rounds and rounds of fruitless IVF with everyone. A local friend, pregnant with her second child and due a few months after me, rang me on a particularly bad day when I was wrestling with the usual tangle that is a Baby Bjorn and Coby was screeching the house down as usual, to tell me that her 20 week scan had revealed her baby was incredibly sick and unlikely to survive. She was told he had Down Syndrome and would need an immediate heart and lung operation the moment he was born which in all likelihood, he wouldn’t survive. She had had to make the heart-breaking decision to give birth at that point and then let him go. It was awful. So, so sad. And, as a lucky mum, it was frightening to imagine what losing a child might feel like.
On a much lighter note, another of the girls on my course was a step mum to two children. Her partner had become a dad with his slightly older ex when he was very young. She told me that their first child was apparently so relaxed and chilled that they couldn’t understand why there were so many baby books and texts on the shelves, and so much help on offer. “We’ve got it sussed”, they mused. “We Are Amazing Parents!”, they concluded. It was all so easy that they quickly popped out baby Number Two, who, unfortunately for them, had a personality just like my first born. And then suddenly, it all became real.
This is important though, because, we just don’t know who our baby is going to be and neither do we have any clue about somebody else’s experience when we are giving or taking advice. Being mindful of this and offering non-judgemental help is far more useful. Babies are little people after all – some are easy going and some a little more highly strung. Most babies born in Australia are in perfect health, but unfortunately, some are not. Even if an ailment isn’t serious, it can still mean ongoing appointments and accepting that time is no longer ours to do with what we want. And no new mum can tell you exactly what happened and why it is they got to the end of the day with a newborn and were still wearing pyjamas, hadn’t showered and were unable to get dinner ready. They can only tell you they didn’t stop to breathe and that none of it was relaxing.
The other thing we don’t realise BC is just how much less energy we will have – indefinitely in fact as we will never again know what it’s like not to constantly worry about somebody’s wellbeing (but, on the flip side, we will understand our own parents better). It’s not just exhausting getting up for two to three years in the middle of the night (and sometimes longer for those whose kids have sleep problems), but babies and children are not like adults; they don’t always do what we want them to do just because we’ve asked nicely and spoken in an Indoor Voice. My screaming first-born became an incredibly adventurous, curious and smart toddler, who spoke clearly, laughed loudly and had regular, embarrassing tantrums in public. When he lost the plot, I felt like calling in the SAS since it was like trying to negotiate with a bag of cats. We’d go for long walks where he’d struggle to get out of the stroller but then run away. If I wanted him to come back I might call, wave at him, say goodbye and pretend like I was leaving, but he’d just wave back and march onwards. To make this safer, we’d go to the beach, but predictably, he’d run endlessly and then be too tired to walk back leaving me to push him back over the soft sand. You might wonder as to how the beach was safer when there was the risk of drowning in the ocean, but this was resolved quickly one day when he did run into the water. A wave came, knocked him backwards and as he opened his mouth to scream underwater, I was there in a flash to lift him out. Great lesson and he never did that again! It was an insane time and as a first time mum with an intense child, you really do think it’s never going to end and that you will feel drained forever.
Time For Me..(Huh?)
As our boys played and my friend and I opened up and reestablished our friendship as mothers rather than the carefree party people we’d once been, we confided and confessed our parenting travesties and realised as we shared that it was impossible to live up to some of the ridiculous ideals that are so often portrayed in the media or by smug Mumma bloggers. Time is so limited when you work, have a family and a house to manage that it occurred to me that anyone who does have the time to churn out tons of material regarding parenting or lifestyle, is quite possibly not actually experiencing anything worth writing about, whereas those parents who do have interesting things to say and snippets of life to share, are too darn busy doing that stuff or feeling exhausted by it, to actually find the time or energy to sit down and write about it. I had so many stories to share of our escapades and mishaps, but WTF, I couldn’t even remember my name, let alone string a coherent sentence together.
I was told that baby stuff would pass in a flash and it certainly has. It’s been at least 11 years since my big boy was a toddler and so here I am, finally putting some of those thoughts and memories out there. I’m hoping that now my exuberant, feisty, independent baby and toddler has suddenly morphed into an almost six-foot, lanky teenage dirtbag who teaches stuff to me, that what has happened in the five minutes or so between then and now, will somehow miraculously unfold…