Having another baby is like riding a bike.
This is what I told myself as I embarked upon pregnancy number three. Today, six weeks after my third boy was born I’ve arrived at a few conclusions.
One, the bike I’m riding has a flat tyre and shonky brakes.
Two, I’m seriously out of condition and ride like I’m 88 years of age.
And three, I’m no Cadel Evans.
I’m so out of breath I don’t know who I am. I’ve become one of those mothers who yell out random names when she calls her children because she can’t remember who’s who. I have tracksuit pants with permanent knee and bottom molds due to excessive wear. My only contribution to conversations with others revolves around the tenderness of either my caesarean scar or engorged breasts or lower back (sometimes I can incorporate all three topics depending on how energetic I am). My stomach is a cautionary tale akin to those often found in women’s magazines warning about the reality of pregnancy on your figure. A road map of stretch marks decorating a sagging stomach that resembles an empty pillowcase billowing on a droopy clothesline in the wind.
A month before my boy was born I remarked to my obstetrician that it had all crept up on me and I wasn’t really ready. In keeping with my bike riding metaphor he told me that having a baby was a bit like the Tour de France. The first half was slow going as you tackled the windy path up a very large mountain. Then once you reach the top, the final half was speeding, out of control, down the other side.
I still haven’t found the brakes. One would imagine that having your third made you a bit of a know-it-all. Not so for my husband and I. On our third night in hospital, the wheels fell off. We turned to each other at 3.00am in the dimly lit hospital room, baby whaling, and my husband’s hair sticking straight up on one side and stuck to his creased face on the other. Me with large ice packs stuffed down my bra so I resembled a very daggy and disheveled Dolly Parton. We muttered fragmented queries, ‘Is he hungry?’, ‘Maybe he’s overtired?’, ‘Can you be constipated when you’re three days old?’. We had no idea despite already mothering and fathering two other children.
At precisely that moment, I remembered. It all flooded back. The panic. The sleep deprivation. The cat-like cry of a newborn. The frustration at being an educated woman but having no clue when it came to being a mother. The learning curve that looped and dipped but never ended.
First hurdle was the reality that I had no choice but to have a third caesarean after the two previous. Second speed bump was having an artery on the side of my womb disturbed inducing a lot of bleeding during the operation. Third obstacle was a strange pain across my chest that after two scans revealed a partially collapsed lung. Fourth dip in the road was the fallout of having said scans: not being able to breastfeed or cuddle my newborn due to radiation exposure. Fifth struggle, low milk supply despite having ridiculously giant boobs resulting in my baby losing weight. Sixth hill — an infection in my scar resulting in tenderness (in the scar) and irritability (in me).
Head down. Deep breaths. Dark thoughts invaded about world conspiracies against me and whether or not the universe was shouting that I really was no good at this mothering caper. Some days I desperately squinted ahead to see what was around the next corner but to no avail. It can be very hard to achieve clarity when your eyes are hanging out of your head.
So, how do you keep pedaling when you want to yell ‘time out!’ or you fall sideways into the gutter or that stitch in your side flares with every rotation of your legs?
The answer: an excellent support crew. They ride beside me, chant my name, even ride in my place when I throw in the towel. They laugh with me and when I need to be reminded that I’m taking myself too seriously, they laugh at me — mimicking my awkward style and reenacting my not so glamorous moments. The prize: my boys. The reality that so many friends can’t have or have lost babies means that any mountain, lack of coordination on my behalf or dodgy equipment are momentary challenges for what is a wonderful expedition. One I am bloody lucky to be on.
So I visualise myself a winner, riding down the Champs Elysees, my husband riding beside me, punching the air with pride. Confidence creeps back. I could be Cadel Evans after all. The only difference is that I have changed the winners jersey to blue because yellow really isn’t my colour.
Coupled with the reality that under my outfit are industrial-strength stomach control pants because let’s be honest, lycra can be very unforgiving when you’ve birthed three children.
“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