Five weeks ago I was the girl who had it all: great job, amazing hair, dream marriage and a perfect pregnancy. I was the girl at the party that everyone wanted to be. I held a one on one conversation, at the same time as carrying the attention of the room.
That party was my maternity leave party. It seems like a life time ago. A lifetime that I can hardly remember, when I had time put on jewellery and wear clean clothes.
I’m sitting here staring at my computer about to type in the hardest phrase I’ve had to type into a search engine (since googling ‘what is divorce’ when I was seven and heard mum and dad arguing).
The phrase sounds too precise, a depression specifically caused by having a baby. What is supposed to be one of the most momentous moments in anyone’s life has left me numb.
The baby is screaming in the next room.
Signs of Postnatal Depression – reads the first page.
Last week Dan came home early from work. He could tell that I was struggling with motherhood, and he’s done everything in his power to try and fix it. He bought home our favourite movie from when we were dating, Stepbrothers. I know, I know, it’s hardly what you would expect the favourite movie of a Catholic girl like me to be, but we saw it together while we were still at uni, and went straight back into the cinema to see it again the following session. We roared with laughter, and every time we’d watched it again since it held the same value. We laughed at the same jokes not because they were fresh and new, but because it reminded us of a time where we spent half of our grocery money on film we’d seen twenty minutes before that.
He put the DVD in and we sat on the couch for dinner (again), pizza (again), and pushed play. Forty-five minutes into the movie I got up and went to bed. Dan’s over the top laughter, and facial gestures were starting to make me sick.
The last time I ventured further than my mailbox was when I was in labour. That was also probably the last time I wore makeup or enjoyed contact with anyone other than Mum or Dan. People really shouldn’t visit the maternity ward. I can’t imagine who would want visitors. It’s a time for maternity pads, exhaustion and epidurals. Not guests.
When Bec and Eric from work showed up, I assumed they were expecting the sanguine me that they had been used to. I forced a smile that was clearly forced and my mum tried to carry the conversation. They left shortly after they’d arrived. Did they hate me now? Would everyone look at me and know that motherhood doesn’t suit me. I figure there was no point finding out. I’m not going outside until further notice.
When I worked full time I could never understand stay-at-home mothers with messy houses and dirty cars. I managed to work a full week and still have a spotless kitchen and a made bed. Until I had a baby, and I realised that being a mum is like working a night shift job, as well as a full time job without getting paid, or thanked. My child can’t even smile yet. I can’t imagine the pile of unfolded washing I’ll have by the time she’s running around.
This morning my husband left for work with un-ironed pants. A month ago, he would have had to step over my dead-40-week-pregnant body to go out in public with his chinos as creased as that. Turns out he doesn’t care as much as me.
My mum visited yesterday. She also visited the day before and took out all the pizza boxes from the refrigerator and threw them in the bin. I knew she wasn’t impressed. She returned again last night with a vegetarian lasagna and a bowl of salad.
As a girl I always remember looking at my mother knowing that she knew everything, she always had it all together. I can’t ever imagine my baby looking at me like that. I imagine that when this baby is old enough to form sentences they will despise me.
Mum stayed until 4 o’clock, she cleaned the bathroom and washed the sheets and took the baby for a walk so I could have a sleep. Then picked up her bag to go.
I fell to the floor in a sobbing mess. My mind took me back to a time when I was eight years old and in primary school, the feeling of being abandoned to the bullies who I thought hated me. It was the same now, except the bully was a helpless 3 week old, who cried and I didn’t know why.
I’m not this person. I’m not the person who dreams about ways to be hospitalised so I can have a break. Or maybe I am. I guess things have gone too far.
“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