Pregnancy (breathe in), a time of being totally in tune with my body, (breathe out) of minute by minute self assessments (breathe in), of ‘this is how I feel now’.
These notifications culminate in one day of labour: the intensified, exaggerated experience of self that declares “THIS IS HOW I FEEL NOW!” With all this focus on the now, it can be difficult to get one’s head around the idea that there will actually be a baby; that the end will in fact be a beginning.
My first pregnancy went something like this:
I hope I’m pregnant this time.
Am I pregnant? I bet I’m not. I’ll buy a test anyway.
I am pregnant! We’re going to have a baby! There’s a tiny being in my belly!
I feel sick. I need to wee. I feel worse. My boobs hurt. I’m tired. I need to wee.
There’s a baby in my belly! I need to sleep. I need to eat. Chocolate, yuk. Oranges, now.
My pants don’t fit. I feel sick. I get to buy new clothes!
I need a milkshake. I don’t feel sick anymore! I’m tired. Feed me.
I look pregnant, not fat! My back hurts. I felt a kick! Must drink milk.
Better buy baby stuff. My body is amazing. Oh, that lavender/coffee/alcohol/perfume stinks.
I can’t fit through there. Food. This baby will have to come out at some point. Sleep. Ohhh my back.
How is this baby going to come out? Labour, what will it be like? Uggh indigestion. Labour sounds scary.
Can’t sleep. Need food. Labour, bring it on. Better pack a bag. Is this labour? No. Need more pillows.
Is this labour? Have I bought enough stuff? Wish I could sleep. Oh, my back hurts. My back really hurts.
Hang on. This IS labour!
And then we had a baby.
I cuddled my tiny boy, stroking his thick black hair and perfect fingernails. His eyes looked quizzically into mine. I was besotted. I was scared. What to do now I had this creature in my arms? I looked at Dave. The two of us were suddenly, terrifyingly and totally responsible for this being and yet had no training or experience. Sure we’d read books, taken classes, but now the little one was here, what were we supposed to do with him? I looked at the midwife. I pleaded – in my mind – “Don’t send us home, alone with this baby.”
Despite my fear I held my boy, loved him, fed him and changed him; each gentle action of care increasing my confidence. But still I felt I needed someone to tell me how to be a parent. So I read baby books and we tried to follow them to the letter. We didn’t trust our instincts; after all, what would we know? Amateurs! Surely the professionals knew best.
Take feeding. My boy took 40 minutes to breastfeed, so I set up my little feeding nook, just as the books suggested. Foam cushion to protect that painful area, check. Another cushion behind my back, check. Pillow to support baby, check. Glass of water, check. Snack, check. Phone, check. Book to read, check. Footrest in position, check.
Compare and contrast with my sister Jen who had her first baby 11 years after me. At eight days old he had his first outing: a bus trip to meet Daddy for lunch. Jen planned to feed him before going out, but packing the bag with, well, everything, along with an unavoidable last-minute nappy change, meant the bus was due any minute. What was a new Mum to do? She didn’t:
(a) call Daddy and say “sorry, we’ll have to have lunch when he’s eight years old, not eight days old.”
(b) placate baby with a finger, songs or promises until they were somewhere suitable to feed
(c) collect pillows, footrest, drink, snack, take up a position on the bus and stay put until he had finished feeding.
Instead she popped baby on the breast, walked to the bus stop and hopped on the bus. He fed happily the whole time and fell asleep during the trip. Lunch was enjoyed by all, cushion free.
Feeding at night, 11 years ago, had its own rules. According to the books we should never feed baby in bed, but in a chair using the “feed, change, feed” procedure. This charming ritual is performed as follows: Mum feeds baby from one breast, baby falls asleep. Dad changes baby’s nappy in order to rouse him for the second breast. The brilliant idea behind this charming ritual is that as baby has more food at one sitting he will sleep longer between feeds. Hooray!
Except that it didn’t work. Our bub woke often, fed for a long time and fell asleep feeding no matter what we did. Somewhere between nine and 12 weeks (I can’t remember details, it’s all a blur) I had an epiphany. Waking in my chair, neck aching, holding a sleeping baby, I was amazed I hadn’t dropped him. I put him back in his cradle and went to bed thinking, “he isn’t doing what the books say, so why should I?”
The next time he woke I brought him into bed with me, put him on the breast and we both went back to sleep. Every night feed after that was the same, and the days no longer blurred.
I have changed a lot since having my first child. Yes, I’m more experienced as a parent, but it’s more than that. I don’t take books, of any type, so seriously. I take advice, on anything, with a grain of salt. I understand that people have different opinions on everything, and that’s ok. I have grown, I have learnt, I have changed, and I no longer need someone to tell me what to do.
“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