As a stay-at-home mother of three young children, I sometimes feel like I’ve been sentenced to house arrest. It can be lonely and isolating and right now it seems interminable. Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest in Burma for more than a decade and the duration of Julian Assange’s exile is anyone’s guess, but I bet he isn’t prepared for years of monotony. I am sure that it is peaceful at the Ecuadorian Embassy and to be honest, the mere thought of being arrested if I step out my front door is just a wee bit exciting to me right now. At least it would be something out of the ordinary….
My baby has just turned nine months old. And whilst I am still referring to her as my “baby” she no longer seems like a baby. I was hoping she wouldn’t be in such a hurry to grow up but she is clearly in a desperate hurry to keep up with her sisters. I wish she would slow down. When each of my other daughters was nine months old, I was already pregnant with another baby growing inside me. This time I am not, nor do I intend to be. I notice myself touching my tummy sometimes, subliminally yearning to feel those little bubbles – the early signs of life. But there is nothing there (only a rounded belly – the imprint of having been stretched three times in three years)!
It occurs to me now that my baby has had her final feed, that I am no longer needed by her in the same way. She has shown her preference for the bottle over my breast and she decided this without forewarning. I wasn’t intending on breastfeeding her for much longer but I had hoped to hold onto one feed a day for a little while longer. In any case, I had hoped to be aware of our “final” feed together but she made it abundantly clear one morning that she was no longer satisfied with what she was receiving from me. For a week I tried to coax her into a final feed but it was not to be. I am no longer her physical lifeline. I am all dried up.
The Oxford dictionary describes Groundhog Day as a situation in which a series of unwelcome or tedious events appear to be recurring in exactly the same way.
As a stay-at-home mother of three preschoolers, I feel like I am suffering from Groundhog Day Syndrome. Never before have I endured such repetition in my daily life. Admittedly, in my former (working) life, I started each day the same way. I would turn on my computer, make a coffee and chat to my colleagues whilst my emails loaded. For years I followed this predictable routine and it never struck me as boring. Four years on it almost seems exciting!
One thing I have learnt since becoming a mother is that children thrive on routine and repetition. Play School’s endurance of 25 years is a perfect example of this. Kids love the predictability of this show. Imagine the outcry if one day the round window was replaced with a hexagon? Kids like knowing what’s coming next. The problem is that their desire for routine is often at odds with our need for change and variety.
One thing I never quite realised before becoming a mum was just how much of my life would be spent at parks! I knew that most kids loved playgrounds but I didn’t appreciate just how much time they could actually spend in them. As any mother of pre-schoolers will know, you spend a large proportion of your time at playgrounds. There is rarely a day that I do not go to a park and there are some days that I go twice.
Like it or loathe it, the park is where parents spend a huge amount of time. Park etiquette is a funny thing. I often find it fascinating to observe the way in which mothers interact (and kids for that matter) in the playground. It can be an interesting social experiment. More about this in another post…….
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?
Recently I saw a friend of mine who is about to become a first-time mother. At 36 weeks gestation, and just commencing maternity leave, she radiated the pre-baby anticipation that I also felt with my first baby. We chatted about the usual topics you cover at this time: had she packed her hospital bag, decided on names yet; was the nursery ready to go; and how was she feeling about the impending birth. When I said goodbye and wished her luck for the labour I couldn’t help but feel a touch of envy for what she is about to experience.
Twice in one day I heard the following comments from mums that are doing a great job looking after their families. “I am not the mother I thought I would be”, and “I feel like I am doing everything badly.”
My advice? “Lower your expectations.”
Whether you’re a stay-at-home-mother managing the infinite demands of family life, or a working mum juggling a professional life in addition to family responsibilities, the same sense of guilt pervades us all. We tend to feel that we could be doing things better – more books, less TV, more craft, less shouting at the kids, more nutritious meals, less sugar…. the list is endless.
Something amazing happened today. My two-year-old daughter fell asleep in my arms.
To many, this may not seem all that extraordinary. But my daughter has not fallen asleep with me since she was about 8 weeks old. In the early days she rarely slept at all, and when she became a better sleeper, she opted for the cot or pram over my arms. I used to envy (and still do) the mother’s whose babies so effortlessly fell asleep in their arms.
I am going to dispel a myth. The pain does not end when labour does.
Recently I was bedridden with acute bronchitis. It was agonising and I was incapacitated for days. As I lay in bed, wondering when the pain would end, I thought back to a defining moment in hospital after my first baby was born.
I remember, 24 hours postpartum, weeping in excruciating pain whilst feeding my baby. It felt like I was experiencing labour all over again. “Oh they’re just the afterpains,” the midwife said in a matter-of-fact tone. “Your uterus is contracting again, just like during labour. It shouldn’t last more than a few days”. And then she was gone. I felt like I’d been had. As if 30 plus hours of uterine contractions wasn’t bad enough, I now had to endure more of them. Everyone had told me that as soon as labour ends, so too does the pain. They had lied.
A chorus of complaint generally follows the announcement of a pregnancy, shortly after “Congratulations”. Before I had children I repeatedly heard parents lament their former lives. “Your life will never be the same again,” and “I don’t do anything for myself anymore,” were common refrains. I had also read articles proposing that childless people were happiest, and that the joys of parenthood were fleeting at best. Surely, this couldn’t be true I thought as I fantasised at what motherhood would look like for me – leisurely strolls with my baby, baking cakes with my toddlers, baby chinos at the cafe and catching up with girlfriends over lunch. Fast-forward three years and life is far from this fantasy……