It’s 2.36am. I am sitting in the dark, in the nursery, breast-feeding my baby. The night is still and all I can hear is the suck, suck of my baby on my breast. The pain in my neck is piercing but I cannot stop looking down on my beautiful baby. Sleep beckons and I tilt my head back onto the top of the armchair, and my heavy eyes close. It is in these moments my mind has time to wander. When I have physically stopped, my mind goes into full gear, and streams of thought rush through my head.
My baby is 10 weeks old. I am overwhelmed by the power this little baby has over me. I never imagined the amount of love that would swell up inside of me. I am afraid of this love. I am afraid because the more you love, the more there is to lose. But it is impossible to hold back and futile to try to do so.
I also wonder about who and where I am. I can’t believe that this is happening to me. I can’t believe that I have a baby! I can’t believe that I am a mum! I wonder where my old life went and whether I’ll ever get it back. There is a sense of mourning for the person I used to be. My life is not the same. I do not think the same. I am not the same. It’s like a death of my old self; and then I am reborn.
I went to the shops a couple of weeks ago on my own for the first time since having my baby, and the world was a different place. I saw babies, small children and families everywhere. The way I see the world has changed. There was a time when I didn’t think much of babies except for the fact that they are cute. Intellectually I understood the importance of raising children, but it was my career that was important. I used to get annoyed with parents and prams getting in my way, but now I look on with compassion. When once I was wracked with frustration and I just could not understand my mother, now I see the world through her eyes, and I have a new appreciation for the woman she is.
I also see the world through my baby’s eyes. The first time I went out with my baby I realised that he has never seen the world before. Just walking through the garden to the letterbox was an adventure. I walked slowly. My wound was still healing and I was unsteady on my feet. My mind was still in a haze from the birth. I was shaky, nervous to be outside. I was used to being physically strong, mentally clear, and in control. This was all very new. I wasn’t sure how it would all go. My baby nestled in the baby carrier slung around my shoulders, with his ear resting on my chest up against my heartbeat. I pointed out to him, the blue sky above, the big tall trees that towered over us, and the pretty yellow flowers that swayed in the breeze, and it was like I was seeing the world for the first time too.
The first few weeks after the birth were so surreal. I was on autopilot. Feeding, changing nappies, rocking the baby to sleep, bathing and feeding and changing some more, around the clock it went. Day, night, weekdays, weekends all blurred into one. My life was a blur. I don’t know where the energy came from as I was up most of the night and I was also recovering from the caesarean, but I just kept going. When I did have time to myself I was in a panic, racing against time before my baby awoke from his slumber, trying to do the washing, cleaning, eat breakfast, lunch, have a shower or even trying to hold on to a grain of myself. One ear was on the baby, while the rest of me rushed through life as if I had never ending deadlines. It was a battle of priorities: sleep or eat, sleep or clean, sleep or be what I used to be.
I slowly came to the realisation that I can’t do it all, or if I wanted to then it was going to take a lot longer than I was used to getting things done. Then I became angry. I became angry that I couldn’t do it. I was angry at society’s expectation that I should be able to do it. I was angry that my husband was considered to be a hero for working and having a newborn baby, while for me it was expected that I just do it and I wasn’t allowed to complain. That somehow because I was home, it was ‘easy’ for me. By going to work, he got a break. He got to keep a sense of himself. Secretly I resented him waltzing home from work and telling me all about his glowing career achievements. But then of course, I felt guilty, for he does his share of the load to. It was 24 hours around the clock for both of us. He as a man, as a dad, has his own pressures. He too is coming to terms with becoming a dad and adjusting to his new life. But nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel intense jealousy that he got seven hours of sleep while I was a sleep-deprived zombie!
In moments of madness I am in a panic about my future. I wrack my brain, plotting my life beyond babies, trying to keep the ‘career me’ alive. I wonder if I’ll ever have a career again and whether I’ll be able to cope with having a family and working. These thoughts fuelled by anxiety are all-consuming, and I get lost in the fear of the future, ignoring the bliss of the present. This baby that I yearned for disappears in the mind-numbing hum of anxiety that I will have to choose between motherhood and everything else that is me.
But then after the storm, there is the calm when I look down onto my baby’s little face, and I have clarity.
Something monumental has happened.
A new life has entered the world and my life. I am called to take care of this baby and raise him to be a man.
I am taking another step; a new chapter of my life has begun. Things start to get easier, I get a handle on things, we get to know each other, and I begin to learn what it means to be a mum. Anxiety then turns into excitement. I treasure the moments that I have with my baby. Each day we discover something new.
I look forward to life as a mum, to nurturing and taking care of my family, and as my baby grows, I find that I have grown too.
“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