One year of motherhood later I emerge, a real mother, not just a pretend one or a practicing one.
The forever bit has now sunk in. I wear clean but un-ironed clothes and half-done ponytail along with banana smeared sunglasses and phone. The physical and mental adjustment has been complete: I am a mother. It’s taken a year.
I attended not a single prenatal or birthing class and decided to just ‘wing-it’ from day one. You can only guess how much we had to learn.
At first my feeling of motherhood was aligned with I’ll try not to damage, ruin or accidentally maim her as I knew nothing of handling nor had I spent any time with a newborn.
The first 48 hours at home was an uphill battle in baby appliance learning. You can read the instructions for car seats, nappy wrappers, bottle sterilizers and battery operated rockers all you like but real life in the fogginess of new parenthood is like assembling a whole IKEA showroom with one allen key.
Feeding was the next mountain range. My boobs were declared a drought zone and formula became her diet. I was frustrated and embarrassed not be a boob feeder as it’s the medically the best feeding option; but I was secretly relieved not to pull out the saggy boobs in public.
My emotions, particularly the sheer sudden amount of tears I could produce by watching a news stories on babies, children being lost then found or room reveals meant I lost interest in mascara quickly, but secretly I enjoyed feeling so much particularly after years of pushing down my female emotions in the corporate world. I felt proud of being a sobbing woman in front of the TV with a baby in my arms.
Parenting is constant learning. I had baby books stacked in the bathroom (the only place I could read and where the light is good). I read each stage of development and anticipated teeth, smiles, movement and monthly birthdays with forensic fervour.
The mothers group was a great source of such discussions when solids time arrived, or changing sleeping situations. We were studying our children, researching theories, debunking experts and recommending blogs and websites. A private Facebook group was set-up to capture all the links and images we discussed.
The shift in priorities was sudden and straightforward. We were a family, we had to co-ordinate our outings, talk about finances, the best way to do things from visiting relatives to re-arranging the house and furniture to best suit her safety and spread of toys.
Any money I earnt went on her. I succumbed to the idea that purchasing things would solve so much, only to see her favour clothes pegs over an expensive ‘intelligent’ toy.
In the first three months of her life we visited the hospital many times, not because she was ill, but because my beloved aunt was dying of cancer. Thinking of her cuddling her great niece and bottle feeding is a happy memory. I held back tears as she sang songs to Chloe, ones I remember her singing to me.
I thought about my mother constantly. She died three years ago and it radically altered me. Family and children became more important. I needed to see my father and siblings more, for both the conversations you could only have with them and the physical connection back to Mum. Maybe this was why, at 43, I became a mother for the first time.
Did I love my daughter instantly?
At first I was deeply affected by her physical presence. In holding her I couldn’t believe she was mine. Taking care of her, getting her to sleep, feeding her was the first level of my commitment, but it wasn’t a love, just a warm feeling of responsibility.
When she started smiling, when her hair became a bit crazy, when she started doing things I created or set up for her, that’s when the love really started.
She went into her own room at seven months. She responded by crawling off there and reading/ turning the pages of books in the natural light of her room. I peeked around the door to see her muttering to the pages of an upside down book. Oh, swell of the heart.
This year I’ve not read a single novel against my usual one to two novels a week pre-baby. My reading is confined to parenting manuals, twitter feeds and, of course, countless reading of ‘Where’s the Green Sheep?’ If a picture book has more than 28 pages or too many words it somehow becomes ‘lost’.
On their 1st birthdays the mothers’ group had a picnic and we reminisced about our year. From when we were heavily pregnant, waddling down streets, taking up the bed with our bulbous bellies, and being told of the immense change we knew was about to happen; the becoming of a mother.
We all agreed that parenting came first, and then came this enormous, wonderful, huge love and I looked at her, stuffing cake in to her mouth as fast she could, and felt probably the most identifiable statement in my life that, I am Chloe’s mum, not just Catriona, but a person who created, takes care off, wipes the face of this funny little creature I call my daughter; whose life is both our futures.
“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