Archive for April, 2012

The obvious reasons that parenthood are exhausting are, well… obvious. You have a small child to keep entertained, who needs help to eat and needs clean clothes and a safe place to play, who needs to sleep on a regular basis and needs love and attention. There are the household tasks that are repeated over again – cooking, cleaning, laundry, vacuuming, putting away toys. The list is never ending. But what you don’t know before you give birth is the emotionally exhausting aspects of parenthood.

But first, I must say – I am luckier than most. Alex often works staggered shifts that mean he is home in the mornings, and gets up with Sebastian, or home early in the evenings and gives him dinner while I cook. My mother-in-law comes once a week to spend the day with Sebastian, and does some cleaning/baby laundry while he naps (we used to try to stop her, as it seemed like it should just be her day with Sebastian, but this proved impossible). My parents live on the same property as us, so often I go to their house the evenings that Alex works, and that’s a meal I don’t have to cook and extra help with Sebastian. My mother does not work Fridays and we spend the day together. In all, I have a fantastic amount of help and support that many stay-at-home mums don’t have, and my partner is around much more than most.

But being a mum, even with all that help, can still be exhausting because of the unexpected things that are not listed in baby books. A short list, off the top of my head:

1.- Constant physical contact. For Sebastian’s first four months of life, he screamed horrendously if you put him down. I held him all day while Alex was at uni, and all night as we co-slept. Now he is older and mobile and active, Sebastian would still like to be touching me or within a few feet of me all the time. He takes my hand and leads me to whatever activity he wants to do. He leans on my legs when I sit in a chair. He wants to be with me, eat what I eat, do what I do, always. He comes with me to the toilet. The shower scares him so I do not shower while he is awake and nobody else is around. He pulls my hair and kisses my face and bites my fingers and wants to be UP or DOWN, or carried or kissed or held or swung around in the air. As a child, he has no sense of personal space or of areas of my body that are private. He watches me when I am naked, getting dressed, putting underwear and a bra on, with frank curiosity, and is inclined to touch too. I breastfed him for a year and felt like that part of my body actually belonged to him and not not me, for a whole year.

2.- Repetitive activities. There is no way I could casually read a book while Sebastian happily plays in the corner. Or write an email, or surf the web, or make a phone call. Phone calls are the worst, because he wants to speak to the person there, and screams if he can’t. So instead we play together. Part of a child’s process of learning is repeating the same action over and over again, forming muscle memory and understanding the mechanics of the world. This is sometimes very fun – like when he learns how to sit in a chair by himself and is very proud, or we play a game of sliding cars down sloped surfaces. However, if Sebastian likes something, it happens over and over and over again. I swear I sing Twinkle Twinkle to him 80 times a day, because it has actions that we do together, that he knows, and by doing the actions it prompts me to sing the song. This is good for him, because it is a form of communication that he’s managing, but HOLY FUCK I am over that song. The same with a few of his books that he wants to read a million times in a day. And it’s not just the games – he needs help to eat most meals and snacks. So I sit, and spoon food in his mouth, and teach him that no, we don’t throw it on the floor, and let him use the spoon, and we talk about what is HOT and what is COLD and what is food that is okay for fingers and what needs a spoon, and no it doesn’t go in your hair or get fed to the dogs, the cat does not want your toast, but okay teddy can have some OMNOMNOMNOM… this happens three times a day for meals, interspersed with snacks. I am so excited that he is close to being able to spoon feed himself.

3.- Everything must be timed just right. Sebastian cannot stay awake too long past the time he is ready for a nap or he will become hyper and impossible to put to bed. He cannot sleep too long or he will be too hungry when he wakes up and throw a tantrum and refuse to eat. If we go out, we must have snacks and toys and possibly a chance for him to run around before he gets tired, while still managing to achieve grocery goals. If he naps too late in the day then he will be awake past his bedtime and making dinner will become very hard. If there is a long car trip it must happen when he is very tired so he will sleep and not complain the whole trip. These endless calculations are actually much easier now that he no longer breastfeeds – when he breastfed exclusively, at three hour (or less) intervals, my whole life was on a timer. If I needed to go out, I needed to consider if I would have to breastfeed in public and if there would be a comfortable location to do so. If I was going anywhere without him, I needed to be able to complete everything I was doing and get back in time to feed him. Since Sebastian was born, I have a giant mental alarm clock in my head that is constantly ticking away to the next task or activity. Even when he is asleep, I need to consider that if I start a task, will it be finished by the time he wakes up?

4.- My brain gets put on hold. I like to think I am a smart person with intellectual pursuits and natural curiosity and talent in my chosen areas. However, when I am with Sebastian I am just a mama. No creativity is required for bathing him, feeding him, dressing him, and so on. We do not have philosophical debates about Playschool. I try to engage and be creative by doing new and interesting things with him, like building a fort or exploring the garden or going to feed the ducks or taking him swimming, but really, my brain has been on hold since I gave birth. I managed to write and direct a play last year, and the only way that could happen was because Alex was at home at that time, job hunting after finishing his study. I haven’t written anything since, which is part of my motivation for this blog – to get back in the habit. But the worst part, the absolute worst part, is that when I do have some time off to myself, and the house is empty… I am tired. I just want to read a book and lounge around and do nothing, because there’s no clock counting down in my head when he’s not around.

Being a mama is a wonderful, rewarding and amazing experience. I treasure him, I do. But it is difficult to explain to my friends who do not have children just what is so exhausting about parenthood – the endless chores, yes, the way everything takes about 30 minutes longer with a kid hanging off you, yes… but the emotional part. An indefinable tangle that leaves you feeling that you are SO important to one person in a way you have never been before, but it leaves you emotionally empty for anything else. Society devaluing stay-at-home parents is a whole other post, but sometimes it feels like once you are a parent, there is not enough room for anything else. It is hard to stay physically affectionate with your partner when your child has been touching you all day and you just want your skin to yourself. It is hard to wind down and relax with that giant clock ticking away in your head. It is hard to dredge up that enthusiasm for daily tasks when it takes so long and seems so hard and you just have to do it all again tomorrow. It is hard to feel smart, or attractive, or creative.

I love my family, and the time I get to spend with my son, but every day I have to find a way to remember that he will not be this young and small and helpless forever, and that when this part of my parenting life is over, I have to feel like I still have something to contribute, I have to feel engaged.

Just writing about it helps, I think.

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I fell pregnant unexpectedly when I was 25. Although I had known my partner, Alex, for years, we’d only recently started dating. I was naturally terrified. We both lived in shared houses (not together), I was a student and Alex had intended to go back to study the following year. He’d been working as a bartender and within a few weeks had taken a panic-job at a digital media company, where his role consisted of editing gay porn (as far as I could tell). It made him horrendously unhappy during the brief few months he was there.

Pregnancy and parenthood can be hard at any point in your life, but having an unplanned pregnancy can be downright traumatising. We were poor, and I smoked and took medication, and did not have private healthcare, and we ended up moving in together in the ‘burbs when I was five months pregnant and my pelvis began separating unevenly, causing horrible pain. Our furniture was (and still is) a mismatched combination of hand-me-downs, cheap Ikea units and op shop finds. While financially we did manage to scrape along by the skin of our teeth, we also had to prepare for a baby. It is ridiculous that the baby bonus is only paid after you have the baby, because most of the major purchases need to happen in the months before hand – we were lucky in that Alex’s brother had twins who were outgrowing their baby gear, so we were given a cot, high chair and change table, toys, clothes and other baby gear for free. Family members also contributed things like a swing, a bassinet, a car seat, first aid kit, clothes, blankets, electric thermometer, soft toys, newborn nappies, etc.

I will probably write more about my pregnancy and birth experience later, because it still sits in my mind as a thing I was completely unprepared for, in spite of all my diligent preparation. I did not enjoy pregnancy, or felt like I had some mythical glow or had found the meaning to life and was hiding it in my uterus. I felt guilty about that, but finally crystallised in my mind that loving my unborn baby and hating the process of growing him were two separate things.  And the birth was a nightmare of pain and failed epidurals that ended with me giving birth flat on my back with my legs in my air in an operating theatre with an audience of medical staff under fluro lights. It was not the beautiful scene of meaningful pain I triumphed over while angels sang in the background that I had been led to believe. Sebastian was born, and put on my chest for about 30 seconds while my hands were still too full of needles to hold him properly, and then he was taken away while my ordeal continued as I was stitched up.

I did not properly hold my son until about an hour after he was born, but when I did, it was exceptional. I was lucky enough to be one of those women who felt an instant bond with my child. I say ‘lucky’, because I know it is not always this way for women, and sometimes takes time and help for that bond to form, and some women finding that initial bond and some women not seems to be down to chance. We have a video my father took of me holding him, an enormous 10lbs 2oz (4.6kg) of fat, bloody, mewling baby. I held him to my chest, skin to skin with a blanket around both of us, rocking him as he made little baby noises, and I was in love.

We took him home a few days later, after a brief but stressful hospital stay. Being home with your newborn, I learned, is 90% panic and 10% furtive glee. We learned. Our whole lives had changed with the arrival of Sebastian, and money was still tight, and Alex had indeed gone back to study for a year, and I was being a stay-at-home mum. Within twelve months we had started dating, gotten pregnant, moved in together, nested, and had the baby. Sebastian was three months old when we went away together for our one year anniversary.

We still do not have a lot of money. Alex works full time, and I was working part time but that seems to have died off and I am job hunting again. We plan to get married, someday. We live in the country now, in a little cottage on my parents’ property in the Dandenong Ranges. Sebastian will be turning two in July (two!), and Alex and I will celebrate our third anniversary in September, and we are muddling along, making a life for ourselves, trying to keep a hold on what we love to do and how to make it work with a family.

The answer is yes, by the way. We do love each other.

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