It begins as soon as you witness those two blue lines. You remind yourself that it’s in the best interest of your baby and that it’s only for a relatively short time. But the sacrifices continue long past the gestational term.
There’s a catalogue of sacrifices a pregnant woman is advised to make for 40 weeks. I remember feeling quite terrified about it. I’ve never been good at giving up anything. I was a spectacular failure during Lent at school, and I cheated each time I attempted the 40-hour famine. And recently, prior to undergoing a general anaesthetic, I even failed to go nil by mouth for the 12 hours prior to surgery. How on earth would I be able to manage 40 weeks of sacrifices?
I admit that some sacrifices were harder than others for me. I found giving up pate and salami an cinch, but admittedly this could have had something to do with my vegetarian bias. The soft gooey cheeses were a little harder. For my first pregnancy I kept a safe distance between Brie and myself but during subsequent pregnancies I allowed a fleeting visit from time to time.
Wine was unquestionably the hardest pleasure to go without. There were no substitutes. I tried drinking lime sodas out of wine glass to trick myself into believing it was a ‘real drink’ but I was too clever for that. I experienced separation anxiety from wine but I managed to forgo it (more or less) for the required time. Perhaps I was delusional, or maybe I skipped over the breastfeeding chapter in my pre-natal reading, but once my first child was born I naively thought that I could reacquaint myself with wine with renewed enthusiasm. But breastfeeding meant I had to limit my intake to a standard glass (a few measly sips for me!) I had already applauded myself for giving it up for 40 weeks. I thought I’d done my time.
But a mum continues to sacrifice, long after your baby is fully weaned. There are the obvious things a full-time mother gives up like sleep, spontaneity, career and freedom. And then there are the less obvious things that you may not consider before becoming a parent. Dignity, privacy, sex and control are all distant memories to me now.
People often talk about losing dignity during childbirth. But this is just the beginning of the demise of self-dignity. At some stage every mother will experience the humiliation of leaking milk at the most inopportune time. I had no idea that the mere thought of my baby, or even hearing another baby cry, could cause this type of embarrassment. Breastfeeding itself is a lovely experience. But the leaking milk, blistered nipples and constant self-groping to determine which breast was emptied last, is not the most flattering experience.
As your baby grows up a little, so too does their curiosity and you find that all personal maintenance is exhibited in front of an audience. I’ve no problem with my toddlers helping me paint my nails, but there are some things I’d rather do alone. Anyone who has ever breastfed knows there’s nothing remotely dignified about expressing milk. At the moment I have two assistant pumpers. My toddler’s fight over who gets to help me use my breast pump. One holds the bottle and the other helps me pump the lever and they squeal in delight as they watch my milk drip into the bottle. It’s the toy of the month.
Privacy & Space
Under duress I have forfeited privacy and personal space. I have two little shadows, aged 3 and 2, that follow me around all day. Soon I will have a third shadow as my 7 mth old baby is now beginning to crawl. It’s nice to be popular but I would occasionally like to attend to basic human rights by myself. I can’t remember the last time I was able to go to the toilet and dispense the toilet paper myself. I now have two little people next to me, fighting over who gets to unroll the paper and who gets to tear it off. You should see how excited they get when it gets to the end of the roll and they get to replace it. The sheer delight!
The truth is this: after your first child, your sex life takes a back seat for a while but it still exists. After your second child it’s infrequent at best and you forgo sex in favour of sleep. It’s a no brainer. After your third child, your motivation for sex is for conception purposes only. Outside of ovulation times, it’s virtually extinct. And if you’re not planning for another baby, then you better make the most of birthdays and special occasions!
Partially related to aforementioned sacrifice is the extensive lingerie collection that I have given up since kids. My sexy assortment of Victoria Secret lingerie has been replaced with sensible underwear, like the Bonds Boycut, which, incidentally, is really very comfortable.
Even before your offspring can talk or walk, they possess an innate ability to control just about every situation. If, like me, you enjoyed being in control before children, get ready to forfeit all power. You will learn to pick your battles and relinquish control. I used to be really good at negotiating in my previous role but now my children win, every time.
I don’t know if these sacrifices are for life. But I do know I never have to give up soft cheese again.
* First published on iVillage.com.au