That’s what I thought I would be. Like the ever loving Mother Goddess whose image I hold dear, there I would be resplendent, glowing with the joy of natural birth, milk overflowing from my bountiful breasts, nurturing my newborn babe as she lies peacefully in my loving embrace. I would smile serenely at my gorgeous daughter and be at peace, proudly, fiercely standing in my role as ‘mother’. Hah!
It didn’t quite go down that way. Despite my attempts at conscious conception (just the one glass of wine dear) and in spite of all my reading about pregnancy and labour (can anyone say ‘birthing library’) and despite my best efforts at meditation (which consisted of putting on the CD’s and falling immediately into a deep and lovely sleep), my pregnancy ended with me, feet in stirrups, numb to the collarbones with a man called ‘Vasco’ with hands the size of hams, yanking my placenta out of me. Not exactly the natural home waterbirth I had so lovingly planned. Instead I spent the first hour after my daughters birth being sewn up and ‘recovering’ before being reunited with her in my (thankfully private) hospital room and the next few nights trying to sleep through the unfeasibly loud snoring of the woman in the next room. If you can imagine something like a cross between a blunt buzz-saw and a grizzly bear then you may come close. The hospital never slept and consequently neither did I. Not a wink. For FIVE days. I was probably out of my mind by the time I left there but I wouldn’t know never having been entirely in my mind from what I can gather.
Despite these initial setbacks and the utterly alien feelings that swamped me as I returned to my home – as if I was just visiting - I did try to get straight into the swing of my attachment parenting. I breastfed as I did indeed have abundant milk though sadly not tough enough nipples. Each 2-hourly feed was accompanied by hot guilty tears as my hungry baby latched on with a suck like the engine of a 747 (something else I was in no hurry to put my tit into) and slowly grated my nipples into bloody pulp. I remember that feeling of utter bewilderment so well. Not only could I not birth normally, I obviously couldn’t even breastfeed. What kind of mother was I going to be when I couldn’t even get that right? It should be simple right? Wrong. I have discovered that nothing about mothering is simple. Or easy.
Since the day I returned home sleep deprived and blimp chested I have been on a steep learning curve. Steeper than masters level mathematics which is something else I know nothing about. I have bumbled and cried and shouted and gotten frustrated and blissfully breastfed my way through the first 8-months of my daughters life. She eventually stopped grating my nipples though she has never really mastered latching on (and neither have I!) but I figure if she’s thriving then we must be doing something right. I’ve done all the usual new mother stuff like taking her to the doctors convinced she must be part-suffocating every night because of the appalling grunting, wheezing and snorting she did in her sleep (they call it ‘snuffly baby syndrome’), I’ve cried with tiredness and my heart has swelled to bursting at her first smile, her first laugh, her first tight squeeze around my neck as I hold her. I’ve even been paralysed with fear after she rolled off the bed and onto the (thankfully carpeted) floor. But most of all I’ve struggled to be a good mom not even coming close to the Great Mother that I thought I wanted to be.
It has been a struggle, though a struggle with a lot of joy and laughter in it. It has been a difficult journey through my emotions. Through my feelings of inadequacy at not being able to give birth naturally without pain relief. My feelings of envy towards anyone who HAS been able to do it naturally particularly those Amazon women who water birthed naturally. I felt so weak and feeble when I thought about them. I have felt the frustration of a girl interrupted by this little being whose endless needs so clashed with my own. I have forgotten many, many times that she is the most important job that I will ever do and I have tried to fit her in around my work with anger, resentment and frustration the only outcome. I have tried to do it all, look after my little girl, exercise, run my business, cook dinner, clean house and continue to read my parenting books – hoping to find something I overlooked that could explain this complex mothering thing to me in simple terms. I have failed at it every day in a million different ways. But you know what? It’s ok.
That’s right. It’s ok. It’s ok to fail because it means I’m trying. It’s ok to fail because in every failure I see what doesn’t work for me, my baby and our family as a whole. Every day I try harder to be a more intuitive mother, a more understanding and aware parent and every day I fail at some part of it because I’ve never done this before. That’s right. I’m a complete novice. I know if this was a profession rather than a vocation I’d have been sacked by now but thankfully my heart is open to the learning’s inherent in the failings and I just try different things every day. I sometimes feel like I’m fighting a losing battle. When I’ve misread the signs for the umpteenth time that day and my baby has already cried herself to sleep in my arms before I realise that she’s tired, it can be demoralising. You know that your baby is speaking to you but it might as well be in Urdu because you just don’t speak the same language and it can make you feel lonelier than you ever thought was possible. BUT (and like mine, it’s a big butt) if you can hold on through these testing times you’ll be rewarded with… more of the same. Yup. I’d like to tell you it gets easier but it doesn’t. Or at least, it hasn’t for me. Not yet. Yet it truly doesn’t matter. You find more strength, more patience and more trust as time goes on even though the learning curve continues its sheer ascent. Once you’ve got them sleeping through the night then come the teeth and the two hourly waking through the night. What do these teeth do? Wrestle their way out of the gum? How can something so small cause that amount of sleeplessness? That’s followed (or precursored) by starting them on solids which sometimes results in the shiny sore red bum which causes more night waking. Then of course, interspersed with all of the above you have the milestones. Rolling comes first which is swiftly followed by rolling off things, which is followed even more swiftly by the heart attack. Then comes crawling – this they do in their sleep. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone in to my crying baby to find her confused and sleepy on all fours. How do they do that in a sleeping bag, I ask you? Could you put yourself on all fours in a sleeping bag? On second thoughts, don’t answer that. I don’t want those images stuck in my mind. And the curve goes on.
There are days when I find myself shouting ‘What? What do you want?’ at my precious little cherub. Only to realise that she wants me. She wants me to play with her. To listen to her. To watch her. To show her things and share in her daily growing. Aha! So that’s the answer then is it? Well, it is today. Tomorrow it may be that she is hungry or that her bum is sore or that her gums hurt or that she wants to grab the cat by the face and love her to death. Who the hell knows what it will be the day after that but I can’t wait to get there and fail to understand all over again. Because in these daily lessons I come so much closer to understanding who she is as a being and who I am as a mother. I am not perfect. (No! You don’t say). I’m not even close. I am committed though (or I should be) and I am in it for the long haul. So when my daughter hits 16, dies her hair purple, gets her nipple pierced and yells at me that she never asked to be born, I will smile and know that despite everything I did wrong by the time she hits 20 she and I will be really good friends because I did some things right and one of those things was to try hard and to love her with my whole heart every day and every night for all of her life.