Saturday, May 7, 2016

Motherhood... What were you expecting?

Little Tom was only two months old when my first Mother’s Day came around, it felt so special, like finally I was part of a secret club, like now I had an extra birthday or something wonderful. The baton had been passed, my mother was also marvelling at being a grandmother. I looked down at the angelic parcel, sleeping with tiny perfect fingers curled around the blanket, so incredible to think a baby - My baby! - was in my arms. I spent hours just watching his eyelids flutter in sleep, listening to every tiny noise, taking in the curve of his little nose, cupid lips, every miniature eyelash, awestruck over and over again that this living creature was in my care. - Forever! Fancy that! Theres no going back! I'm a mother!!

Tom was not an easy baby, but then I was not an easy mother. Everything was new to me, I had read enough to fill an encyclopaedia but had no practical experience and no one to guide me; it had always been a running joke in our family that I survived at all, my mother was not known for practicalities. 

And to top it off, Tom did not seem to fit any standard mould either, there was nothing routine or logical about him, I filled pages of a notebook with feeding times and sleeps but none of it made any sense. Try as I might to decipher one there was no pattern to be had… I began to look like Russell Crow portraying John Forbes Nash Jr in ‘A Beautiful Mind’ - sleep deprived, chaotic, paranoid and delusional, talking endlessly about sleep cycles and breast pumps, ringing 24hr breastfeeding help lines - every midwife spoke with indesputable authority, every one told me something different.

I rang Tim and ordered he bring home a cabbage. ‘My wife has a craving for cabbage!’ he thought, proudly swinging the enormous vegetable in a plastic shopping bag as he came through the door, ‘How do you want me to cook it Love?’ Don’t be ridiculous, we weren’t going to eat it! Cut the leaves off and put them in the freezer!

Tom slept little and fed a lot, huge engorged breasts had erupted on my usually flat chest, I was a trannie version of The Incredible Hulk. It was peculiar not to have control of my own body - intellectually I couldn’t make head or tail of the baby, but my breasts seemed to have a direct psychic link-up. I’d be nowhere near him when a strange tight, tingly feeling would take over them, ‘Tom’s awake!’ I’d think, barely having time to grab a towel before the eruption of milk started, soaking through everything just as a hungry scream pierced the silence of the house with the force of an express train whistle blasting through a tunnel - ‘WAKE UP!!’ it screamed - not the baby, who fed with urgency, hiccuped and spewed and fed more until he passed out milk drunk in my arms - ME! I was the one who needed to wake up, over and over again, and I was wide awake, frozen cabbage leaves down my maternity bra, still shaking from the pain of feeding with cracked nipples.

‘Are you attaching properly?’ the anonymous voices asked through the phone. Attachment was very important, sitting properly, getting the baby’s head at the correct height, the chin at the right angle, the nose pointing a certain way… A midwife came to visit me, she got straight to the point, grabbing my boob and the baby, putting them together calmly and expertly. ‘Like this!’ she said, watching me nod back at her. ‘I don’t have a fucking clue what I’m doing…’ I thought to myself. The midwife wedged her finger in the corner of Tom’s mouth and pulled him off, ignored the shriek and helped me do it again myself this time. How was breastfeeding so hard? How was something that was supposed to be so damn simple and natural so impossible?

I knew as soon as I got home I’d be lost again, running through the mental checklist of a dozen things I needed to get right, then relax - Relax! It was like learning to meditate in a lotus headstand with a screaming baby in your face. My screaming baby.

Tom always woke up starving and squalling, the couple of minutes it took to go through the checklist was two minutes too long, hold the boob, hold the baby’s head, bring them in together - Posture! Posture! - the nipple already spraying hairline jets of milk across the room, Tom going berserk, his little face turning purple in fury, sweat sharply prickling under my arms, my stomach clenched in anticipation of the excruciating pain. It didn’t matter how perfect I got the attachment, the nipples were cracked well and truly. Bringing them together slowly with trembling hands, the precision of a rocket docking at the international space station. Within range the screaming stops, the baby’s gummy mouth opens wide, panting almost, the nipple spraying and dripping uncontrollably - Focus! Focus! FOCUS! WAKE UP! WAKE UP! WAKE UP! 

Then BAM!

The tiny mouth clamps down with the force of a steel trap, the suction like opening the seal on a vacuum, the pain shoots through my nipple like an electric current sent straight up into my brain, I see stars - Did I actually see stars? Yes, stars! See that? They’re STARS! - The pain is fucking unbelievable, worse than childbirth - I thought nothing was worse than childbirth? - Oh yes, this is worse, that was a walk in the park… The pain is so bad, in fact all of it is so bad I start to think when the pain finally dims, the chaos, the mess, the sleeplessness, that voice in my head... I think I must be losing my mind. What happened to my old life? Gone… gone… gone… let go of it. Drift off to sleep a bit with the baby, don’t bother getting out of pyjamas today - Ever! Why bother ever getting out of pyjamas! - What’s the point? The old life has gone.

Mother’s Day was not just about the birth of my baby, it was about saluting a new me waking up. The Before Me thought only of myself. The After Me was never allowed to think only of myself ever again, and if I did it was with a complicated mix of resentment and desperation. That’s why all mothers are allowed to go mental sometimes.

Motherhood comes more easily to some, perhaps that why if I’m struggling and a woman says to me sagely ‘Don’t wish it away!’ I struggle not to punch them. But to be fair to myself, everyone’s experiences of motherhood are different and mine has not been easy at times, loosing my own mother to Alzheimers sucked balls, the loneliness, and trying - Always trying! - to fill the roles of all the people I wish my children had in their lives - the patience of a grandparent, the fun of an aunt, the sternness of a parent, the busyness of a good housekeeper…

So it’s usually about Mother’s Day each year that I tend to do something awful. 

It’s the lead up, when handmade cards start coming home that say ‘To the Best Mum in the World…’ I panic and worry that I'm not filling the most precious role of all - I’m not a natural mother! I don’t know how to be and I never will! - So I overcompensate and overload myself, baking cupcakes like that annoying chick on Grey’s Anatomy, being too cheerful, too upbeat for too long. It’s always something tiny that sets me off and I crack, all the mean bits of me, the imperfect, swearing, ugly, confused, lazy, horrid awful things come streaming out, I shout and scream and cry like an exhausted eight year old, and end up crumbled in a self-loathing heap. - I’ll never be a perfect mother. I’ll never be a perfect mother...

‘Don’t worry Mum,’ Tom says bringing me in a cup of tea in bed and smoothing the hair from my forehead, ‘You’re perfect just the way you are.’



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