My life has always been ordered.
Being a teacher of mathematics has meant that logic has a special place in my heart. Over the last six months I have learnt that chaos can be pretty special too.
I didn’t believe that I was really going to be a mum throughout the whole of my pregnancy, although the massive stomach I was sporting made it hard to ignore. Even while watching my little lady on the ultrasound machine, determined to make the sonographer’s job as difficult as possible by somersaulting repeatedly, I couldn’t believe she was going to be a real person.
I would wake up in the middle of the night terrified because I couldn’t feel her moving and was constantly poking and prodding to wake her up. I’m surprised she didn’t drown with all of the iced water I drank. It would serve me right to have a baby that suffered from insomnia, as I refused to let her sleep while I was pregnant. I sat in the birthing class at 30 weeks and let the midwife’s voice wash over me, not really listening. I was certain my body would figure it out as we went along.
Besides, being a teacher, I had read all of the appropriate books and was confident I knew what was going to happen. Big mistake!
I wish I could say that labour was peaceful, dignified and beautiful, but in my experience it is not. Naked, on all fours and screaming like a banshee springs to mind. This was not going to be quite as simple as I had thought. Georgia was pulled out red-faced and screaming, after a failed suction and emergency caesarean, and placed on my chest.
She opened one eye and looked at me with an eyebrow raised, clearly unimpressed at our first meeting. I have to say I returned the thought as I looked into her battered and swollen face. I loved her already, but she was not an attractive baby at first sight. The first few days passed peacefully at the hospital with her waking every four hours for a feed and drifting off to dream land. I thought I had the whole parenting thing covered. This was my second mistake.
Arriving home was an anti-climax, with the three of us sitting in the lounge and looking at each other, all of us unsure of the shape our new lives would take. I learnt the meaning of the saying ‘pride comes before a fall’ as the next 24 hours highlighted exactly how much I didn’t know.
My baby girl found her voice, and she made sure we all knew about it. I had no idea what to do, I was tired and unsure and just needed to press the ‘call’ button beside the bed for assistance from the nurse. I could teach mathematics to teenagers last thing on a Friday afternoon without batting an eyelid but, I have to tell you, this little baby bought me to tears more than once.
My lowest point came when Georgia was four weeks old.
After walking with the pram for an hour and a half to get my baby to approach something resembling sleep, only to have her eyes snap open after seven minutes the minute the movement stopped, I screamed (in my head) how much I hated my new life. I was used to using books to find out things I didn’t know, applying the knowledge and solving the problem and I found it really confronting not being in control of the situation. At my wits end I resorted to asking Google for advice on how to raise my child. Typing in “how to make my baby sleep” the most helpful advice I got was to try a warm bath and massage.
Are they for real? That was it?!
I ran the bath, at this stage probably about four hours since her last feed. Ten minutes couldn’t make that big a difference, surely? I would get the bath done, a little massage, quick feed and pop her into bed for a nap. I can hear all of the experienced parents out there laughing and am sure they can predict what happens next. The screaming started as soon as I began undressing her, but Google said bath so bath it was.
I didn’t think she could scream any louder, but was again proved wrong five minutes later. I finally admitted defeat when she showed her disgust for the whole situation by pooing in the bath, only to find I had forgotten to get a towel. I had also pulled her out of the bath before she had finished emptying her bowels, so was sporting a yellow patch down my front.
That was the day I finally let go of my need to do everything perfectly and to allow myself to make mistakes. It’s not easy but the joy of watching my baby develop more than makes up for all the times when I have felt out of my depth.
Suffice to say, she never did get that massage.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem