First born

by Kirstin Watson


She measures out her life with nappy changes, nappy changes and breast feeds. In a haze she goes through the motions of her life, broken up into three hour intervals through both day and night. No one told her it would be like this.

The haze is at its thickest during the night. Those hours, hours before dawn, when the logical, reasonable mind has shut up shop for the night. Reason will only return with the rising sun.

The cry drags her out of sleep. This was a thin sleep, it only lasted two hours. She pulls on her old purple dressing gown, it smells of milk and there is crusty dried sick on both shoulders.  She should wash it, but in this weather she knows it will take days to dry. The nights are so cold she could not bear to be without it.

As she picks up the crying baby boy from his cot he smells the milk on her and cries louder. She hurries in to the cold dark lounge room, pulls out a rug to change him on with one hand and rolls it out on to the floor. The relentless high pitched cry grates against her nerves, it is almost more than she can stand.  To keep him quiet she puts her finger in his mouth and he sucks frantically. With her free hand, she removes the wet nappy, unfolds the clean one and tries to push it under him before he has a chance to wet her and the changing mat.  To do up the press studs of his grow-suit, she needs two hands. As soon as she removes her finger from his mouth he cries again. She works as quickly as she can.

His crying has triggered her let down and milk leaks from her full breast, dripping down her front, soaking into the dressing gown and almost instantly becoming cold against her skin. Finally she sits down and puts the infant to her breast. Greedily he sucks, milk overflowing onto his cheek. This whole time his eyes have remained closed.

It is now that she feels the loneliness most sharply, even though she can hear the soft snoring of her partner in the bedroom. She and her infant are the only people awake in the house and she wonders if he has actually really been awake in his three weeks of life. She looks down at the baby at her breast and his eyes finally open. He looks somewhere to the left of her, at something that isn’t there. No one told her it would be like this.

Another night, here it comes again. The haze rolls in, engulfing everything. Locking her in this moment, in this feeling. ‘My God,’ she thinks, ‘If I am to live one moment, one feeling forever, please, it can’t be this.’

It is the haze that makes her resentful, jealous of her partner when he talks about work, his life continues outside this house. Her outside life has ceased, she feels like she now only exists inside these walls. He talks about who he spoke with at lunch time. She spoke with no one at lunch time. Sometimes, no one makes eye contact with her all day. No one told her it would be like this.

Her days are shaped by physical exhaustion. She feels tired and disengaged from the world outside this house. No one asks her opinion, no one asks what she did on the weekend. If she does make it up to the shops, no one seems to notice her. Perhaps the vacant, weary expression on her face makes the people she passes feel uneasy.

Night after night, she sits in the cold dark lounge room. People tell her this won’t last forever. She can believe that on an intellectual level during the daylight hours, but not at night. At night she is at the mercy of her isolation, the haze of loneliness. She feels trapped in this cycle of perpetual isolation and exhaustion. Has she ever felt this alone?

And here comes the haze, her sleep starved mind has began to visualize it. A smoky mist that spills into the room, low to the ground. Swirling around her feet and the legs of the coffee table. As she sits, she is stripped back to her barest, performing her most basic and innate function. There are no pretensions about this, she is doing what her body was designed to do. Now she sits with the haze, like an uncomfortable old friendship, she is familiar with it, they have spent so much time together.

And then one night she looks down at him as he sucks at her breast. His eyes are open and he looks straight into her eyes and smiles. The haze lifts, evaporating as his smile spreads, moving into his beautiful clear blue eyes. This sight, so beautiful it makes her heart ache. She tries to burn this image into her mind.

In that moment she sees that things will always change and move forward, no matter how bleak or how perfect. One day he will walk to her, one day he will talk to her. And one day she will meet him as a grown man for coffee.

Perhaps one day she will hold his infant child in her arms. Will she remember the haze then? Will she tell him? About an old companion that she once spent some time with.

No one told her it would be like this.


© Kirstin Watson
Shortlisted for the 2007 My Child/Parenting Express Short Story Competition for Parents

“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.

Share your thoughts

* Gloria Steinem