There seems not a more fitting time than now to reflect upon the last (almost) 12 months, with the first birthdate of my baby upcoming. The concept of the word in question (motherhood) is like an elusive mirage, at least in the lead up to it actually happening anyway. Something some young women think about often, something we wonder how (and even if) we will manage, how we will look and act when it happens to us, and who the little person we will produce will grow into. It’s a miraculous blend of so many different things, that before having experienced it, you can never truly understand. Who knew, that a plastic stick you awkwardly weed on would inspire such incredible and immense changes? Seeing the second line appear, your life suddenly has more value, and things you did mindlessly before now affect you in a new way. You’re sheltering something precious and your existence becomes more wholesome than ever before.
The beauty of pregnancy and also that of your life as you currently know it can’t be fully appreciated though, until after the fact. When the day finally arrives, it feels as though you’ve spent an entire eternity waiting to meet this person, every second of every day for nine or more months completely consumed with thoughts of the tiny bean growing inside you.
And then he’s here.
From inside your body, from zero but a dream, to a whole being – a little creature who is exclusively (at least for now) dependant on you for survival. The agony of labour subsides and you realise that you had to work for the gift you’ve just received. Time stands absolutely still, as you hold him in your arms, pressing his little body close to yours. Eyes are closed as clumsy hands feel innately and desperately to the breast – the source that will sustain him for his first turn at life on the outside. Time goes by and we learn together how it’s all going to work. Things change from moment to moment, morning to afternoon, day to day. No two are the same. You’re a mother now, and you exist because he exists.
Things are not how they used to be; describing it as a “new purpose” does little justice to how it actually feels. Millions of women everywhere on the planet take on the same task, but it doesn’t make it easier. The first 12 weeks are hard…heck, the first 12 months have been hard. From recovering from the experience of childbirth, to learning to breastfeed, staying home because you’re scared of leaving the house in case he cries and you can’t console him, waking every 2-3 hours to nourish him, make sure he’s warm enough, cool enough, comfortable, satisfied. From changing nappies and reading literature about enforcing sleep, feeling pressured to “get into a routine” and then not showering till midday, to realising it’s 3pm and you haven’t eaten since 6. Post 12 weeks you’re trying to manage keeping the house clean, the washing done and remembering that you have two dogs that also need care. You make it to the politically correctly named Parents Group meetings where everyone is more or less in the same boat, trying to find their way and wondering if the rest of the group is feeling the same way. You’re introduced to more literature and you learn new terminology every week.
As is the nature of time, it passes.
He interacts more with you every day and you wonder how you got so lucky. Then there are nights when you and your partner look at each other with a sense of despair – the crying hurts your soul and sometimes, your anguish coerces you to cry alongside him. Has he got a tummy pain? Reflux? Colic? Is something hurting him? Was it something I ate? Is he overtired or undertired? Is that even a word? It’s only emotional if there are real tears. Is he crying tears? Has he had enough milk? Is his nappy full? Does he need comfort? What do we do!!?
And then you get better at it. You get better at all of it. You think you know each other well enough now, but what might be your saving grace one day is an insult to him the next. You venture more frequently out of the house, but not before packing 14 bags with all correct essential items: a change of clothes, nappies, wipes, a flannelette, a jumper, socks, two bibs, burping cloths, nappy bags, a teething toy or five, a dummy which you vowed never to use because of the potential damage it could cause his teeth if he became addicted to it, a muslin, a cotton or bamboo or wool only blanket because all the other materials do not breathe, and the questions change their flow but continue nonetheless.
By now the strange thoughts have more or less subsided; you’re extra careful in the shower with a slippery baby, and you round the corner watching his head so it doesn’t brush the brick. You trust your dogs but you still never leave him unattended during the perfect amount of tummy time he is getting. And suddenly he’s sitting up, you’re trying real food and the routine you naively thought you had established has vanished, just like the full night’s sleep you used to know. He’s reaching for toys, he’s so clever. But don’t tell him that, you want him to have a growth mindset so that he strives to achieve.
And just when you think you have some semblance of control over just about everything, he’s got a rash, he’s not eating, he’s not sleeping, he has cut a tooth. His gorgeous gummy smile has disappeared and he’s learning how to get a reaction from you. Somewhere along the road your patience became infinite for him; you exist because he exists and it doesn’t seem like it was ever meant to be any other way. His eyes look into what seems like your very soul; there is nothing more real than the connection you feel when he’s attached to your body. Family and friends excuse his want to be in your arms instead of theirs as something to do with milk, but you know it’s much deeper than that. You constantly wonder whether you’re doing things right, and you feel a sense of accomplishment when you see heavily pregnant women with no other children in tow. You catch yourself wondering if they know what they’re in for, before comprehending that they, of course, do not.
The journey is bumpy; you ache in parts of your body that used to work just fine. He’s gone from 3.45kg to 10 and he’s walking. You’re buying him shoes and admiring his squatting technique. He’s got 8 teeth and more coming. This person who was little but a whisper has turned from just that into a pint sized pocket rocket who suddenly no longer needs to nap during the day. But still there are the questions that loom when things aren’t going well: has he eaten enough? Slept enough? Had enough stimulation for his developing brain? Social interaction? Education? What is he picking up off the floor? When did my floors become so filthy? How close should I be in order to catch him when he overbalances, but also so that he can learn without someone standing over him? Should I go back to work? Should I put him in daycare?
Am I a good mum?
And you hear your own language change: be gentle with the dogs. That plant is a living thing so we shouldn’t rip off its leaves. Yucky, don’t put that in your mouth.
Life is more incredible than ever before; you watch him marvel over passing birds, the wind through the trees, this beautiful flower, a stone, a leaf, water rushing out of a tap. You want to be around him always, at the same time you feel starved of time for yourself. You don’t want to leave him but you daydream about getting a massage, a pedicure, your hair done. You want to go to the gym but settle for a walk. You wonder how you ever filled your time before he existed. You see that life is vastly different but you wouldn’t change it for literally anything. The face you see when you enter his room cancels out the nights you’ve gone to him, zombie-like, three or four times in order to calm him. The way he totters down the hallway could bring you to your knees and his voice, his breath, still hot and milky sweet even at 11 months old is all you ever want to smell. Your heart is full in a way that can’t be replicated and you feel a sense of unquestionable oneness, of unequivocal completeness.
I tell people time and time again that deciding to have a baby was the best decision I’ve ever made. And I stand by it. This has been only a tiny snippet of my life over the last year. There are more intimate details, and there are more public details, but this I captured in one sitting on a Tuesday evening, in my living room. Hope you enjoyed it.