In life with little one, it seems, nothing stays the same for long. The last couple of months have brought some of the hardest times yet. When I think back to the joy of my daughter’s first birthday, I wish we could have paused time there… at least for a while.
The day after she turned one, we began settling-in sessions at nursery – leaving her for periods of time with people she didn’t know, in an unfamiliar environment. I wasn’t prepared for how awful that would be. Picking her up, seeing her puffy little face explode in a desperate cry at the sight of me, just broke my heart.
After a nursery session she would be unsettled and clingy, and want only me. When she was much younger, I used to wonder how attached to me she was, since she was so sociable and happy to go to anyone; now, it’s clear that a deep bond has formed, and it’s a bittersweet revelation, appearing as it has at a time when I have to leave her with strangers.
It didn’t help that my morale and motivation at work had hit a low point, with my project continually being stalled and held back by forces outside my control. It felt like a form of torture, putting my baby through stress beyond anything she’d ever had to deal with in her little life, just so I could go to the office to try and force myself to work on something no-one seemed to actually want.
My mind has churned over and over the situation, looking for any reasonable way out. I must say, I can understand much better now why some mothers choose to stay at home. If you don’t love your job, and if the income isn’t needed or isn’t substantially greater than the childcare cost, why would you put yourself and your child through this?
And then swiftly came the next layer of misery: just as I had dreaded, after a year of impeccable health, she has started picking up illness after illness at nursery. Two nights in a row we took her to out of hours clinics, due to high-grade fever that wouldn’t come down with paracetamol (the first night) and wild screaming and throwing herself around (the second night). It was an ear infection, and the poor girl is now on her fourth or fifth one – every cold seems to trigger them. She cannot understand the pain and doesn’t know what do to with it. And I can do nothing besides give pain medication and cuddles, both of which she often bats away in anger and frustration.
In turn, I’ve been waylaid myself with numerous instances of fever, cold, and awful hacking coughs; I couldn’t eat for two days recently, which was very unlike me; I’ve had eight days of sickness absence from work. Somehow we struggle through… if it weren’t for the help and support of my daughter’s grandparents, and both of us working part time, I don’t know where we would be.
So far, the ceaseless onslaught of illness has made my anxiety worse, not better. I lose perspective and forget that these are just normal childhood illnesses, and that most families don’t feel that sending their little one off to nursery is akin to sending them into a war zone. (I’m awaiting counselling on the NHS… it’s an unhelpfully long wait.)
She has largely settled in at nursery now for her two days a week and seems content there now. However, she still often doesn’t eat well or sleep enough. Submitting her to nursery care means accepting a certain degree of chaos in that way. I often sit uncomfortably at my desk with a knot in my stomach on those days. I’m not sure when or if that will change. Maybe we made the wrong choice of nursery: I’ve felt disappointed, for example with staff apparently feeling it’s fine if she doesn’t eat breakfast or lunch, and not offering her the alternative food we packed for her. But there are no spaces anywhere else.
It’s sad to fall into survival mode again, gritting teeth and getting through, guiltily longing for some future time when things will be easier. That confidence in myself as a mum I was beginning to feel when I last wrote – it has been somewhat shot to pieces lately. In fact, I sometimes feel ashamed that I have had the nerve to have a baby, as dysfunctional as I am with anxiety. I look at myself, and I feel sorry for my daughter that THIS is who she knows as ‘mum’.
It’s important to note that there are still happy moments in the midst of all this hell – blissful moments, even. It has been a beautiful summer so far and this year we have discovered the swings (and seesaw, climbing frame and so on) in the nearby park. Many an evening before dinner I stroll over there with her, strap her shoes on and let her explore and play – watching her learn to walk over this couple of months has been a particular joy.
Her dad and I even managed a night away, thanks to her grandparents’ overnight babysitting, to see Paul Simon play in another city. What a treat! And even though I woke up in the hotel with a blazing fever thanks to a bout of bronchitis, the whole trip away was fun and unexpectedly transported me right back into pre-baby life – who I am, how I am, how I experience life, how we are as a couple, when I’m not ‘mumming’. It made me realise how completely being a mum has taken over my life. So completely that I hadn’t even really noticed. Perhaps that wants examining, but hey, I’m too busy being a mum. Or trying my best to be.
I suppose I can at least say that I’m here, doing what needs to be done, getting through it, somehow cobbling life together. Putting one foot in front of the other.
An opportunity came up at work for a secondment into the civil service, into a fast-paced role delivering short-notice analyses and longer pieces of interesting project work. I went for it and was accepted. It will start in September. I can’t say I’m not nervous about taking on a more demanding job, given the chaotic nature of family life right now. But the alternative was to stagnate in miserable clock-watching apathy, and perhaps further reduce my hours. My career does still matter, and not just for the money (although, yes, that’s certainly important). There’s not an awful lot of head space and energy left over for caring about it just now, but there will be, I guess, in time.
This too shall pass… right?