Another four months have passed since I wrote about the first four months with my baby. My partner has just begun his four months of parental leave; we are overlapping by two weeks, so that we can all adjust, and I can finally get some time to do my own thing – which includes some writing.
I have so much to say… so much to work through. Do I even know how to write any more?
I’m having a tough time these days. January is always a hard, tired time of year. The sleep situation is not great right now, and prominent among the mess of feelings around restarting work is the dread of having to do it on little sleep. The worst effect it has is on my mood and ability to feel positive.
But, it will pass, sooner or later. Everything is so very temporary.
I’m looking forward to work itself. I visited the office a few weeks ago, and the head of service, service manager and team manager all sat down with me to tell me about new projects coming up that I may be involved in. It sounded exciting, and it was awesome to feel I haven’t been sidelined or forgotten about – and for them to agree so easily with me reducing to four days a week. It was also lovely to have this whole chat with baby on my knee, as if to demonstrate there is no conflict between these different elements of who I am now.
But as I face the end of my maternity leave – the end of this strange period in which me and her have existed in a bubble – I find myself grieving hard and this takes me by surprise. I knew it would be hard to go back to work, but it’s more than that; it’s the loss of something I can never get back to.
I think back over the summer and one particular day keeps coming to mind, as a focal point for my sentimentality, even though it was like so many other days and nothing remarkable happened. She was two months old. It was a warm day and we took a long walk along the shoreline, her in the buggy and me pushing. We came all the way back and ended up at our nearby shopping mall. We sat in the bar area by the water, I had a diet coke, she had a breastfeed, and she fell asleep in my arms. I was in a T-shirt and she was in a sleeveless romper; after spending the entire pregnancy bundled up in jumpers and scarves feeling yuck, I was grateful to rediscover long walks and light clothing – and to have this beautiful little person to share it with.
The strange thing is that I wouldn’t even want to wind the clock back. Mothering a baby is bloody hard – the early days particularly hard when everything is so new and overwhelming. I cannot imagine how anyone finds the resources to go through it all a second time – pregnancy, labour, birth and recovery, establishing breastfeeding, all the many stages of sleep deprivation… Do we just forget it all in time?
She alone has been constantly with me through these days. I’ve been her world and she’s been mine. We’ve survived together. Somehow, she seems to be thriving, even if I’m not, yet.
It’s hard to put into words what I feel for this baby. I know her like I know myself – although she is constantly changing. I’m completely enchanted by her. I feel a fierce compulsion to make sure she is well and happy and has everything she needs. And I’m exhausted by caring for her. Becoming a mum has shone a spotlight on weak points like never before, as I’m frequently pushed to my limits: My need for sleep. My need to be productive, efficient. My need for a bit of breathing space now and then.
My need for safety – I’ve been frightened by the responsibility of looking after this dependent little person, although my anxiety has calmed down a fair bit since I last wrote. The challenges of breastfeeding require their own post, but we are now also dealing with establishing solid food. I brought a big chunk of the “old” me to this task, starting with educating myself on what the latest studies say about when to start and what foods to give; planning in what order to introduce new foods, and in what form; then making lots of puréed food and freezing it in small portions… But while I can plan her feeding schedule and quantify her nutritional needs all I like, I cannot make her comply with this plan! She is generally doing really well, but there are days she throws me curveballs and refuses to breastfeed, or mealtimes become a lengthy struggle with an increasingly stroppy baby who merely wants to grab and play with everything that comes near her rather than eat – and I find it very hard to be relaxed about it.
For a while I was disturbed by the contradiction of loving her and finding her hard work. Delighting in her one moment, then a little later tearing my hair out because she won’t sleep or won’t feed. Crying my eyes out at the thought of having to go to work and leave her, then crying because I’m desperate for a couple of hours to myself. Spending a frustrating hour getting her off to sleep at night, furiously lamenting the lack of an evening… only to sit down afterwards and do nothing but look at photos of her on my phone.
But the contradiction just has to be embraced. Otherwise, it produces endless guilt, at the gulf between my immense love for her and the superhuman resources I would need to be the perfect mum. There is tremendous vulnerability in allowing yourself to love that much and hold that love in tension with your flawed self and your own needs.
Perhaps evolution has bequeathed parents with permanent rose-tinted glasses towards our children precisely because of how hard a work it is. The glasses hide the permabags under the eyes. They ensure we will, somehow, find the resources for this.