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I have been finding it very hard to write as I am feeling very dark. I would not call it Post Natal Depression as yet… More that I have felt the edges of things I cannot control crowding into me. Maybe I can control them, and simply feel I cannot.

I feel immense responsibility towards my family – the end of my paid maternity leave looms and that means finding a replacement income. I don’t want to go into part time work just yet, it would mean childcare for two children, which is hardly feasible, and most likely the end of breastfeeding Morgan. I hate expressing milk, it’s time consuming and painful and anyway, what job would be flexible enough to allow me an hour or so each day to pump? I want to be home, with the kids. I need to consider my skills, the possibility of selling my writing and the likelihood I would regularly have the time to write.

I feel angry at a society that sets mothers up to fail – for some like me it is needing income yet finding returning to would come with too many financial penalties. For others it is the necessity of returning to work when they would rather stay home. There has been a lot of rhetoric lately about careers and choice, and I think choice in the workforce is a luxury. I am angry that I spent so many years sick, and thus my capacity to earn is greatly reduced because of interrupted employment and education. I am frustrated that the things I truly want to do don’t result in a paying career.

I am angry that society doesn’t value what I do as a mother, staying home with my two boys. Angry that I sit here, feeling both trapped and worried, doing mental sums in my head but mostly thinking about how I would love to work a day for two, probably, but realistically it needs to be all or nothing, full time work or staying home. For years, possibly.

I love em, but years? Years as a stay at home mother? Alex and I talk about our goal, which is f or both of us to work part time. But I don’t know how to make that happen. Isn’t that the dream, though? To do something you love, just enough so that it doesn’t bore you to tears?

Sometimes I feel like family is pressure, to do better, be better, succeed more, and I must have spent all that time leading up to children just faffing around and time wasting (which isn’t true), and not nearly enough time focusing on my writing (probably true), and now I feel a suffocating need to succeed at something, anything, to earn something for my words (or what else have I spent all these years working towards?) and then of course comes the crippling anxiety…

I look into my boys’ faces and feel I am failing them as a mother.

Which is normal, I guess. 

 

 

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Balancing act

Family


Of course, because I blogged last week about getting the hang of things, life had to tear me down. Last Wednesday I got very, very ill, and by Thursday I felt incapable of doing anything other than lying in bed and yearning for death. Conveniently it was a public holiday, so Alex was home and able to look after me/the kids. On Friday I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with tonsillitis and laryngitis and given some rather impressive antibiotics.

I was feeling better over the weekend when Morgan came down with a head cold. Sick newborn babies are the worst – you can’t explain anything, or give them pain relief, or tell them they’ll feel better soon if only they can deal with you spraying saline solution up their nose at uncomfortably regular intervals.

Sebastian went with his dad to see family on Sunday and got worn out, probably quite over-tired, and so for the last few days has been very cranky – not sick, although his nose has been runny, but just run-down and irritable, as though he was fighting off the sickness that Morgan and I had come down with. And today, while I am mostly better, Morgan remains sniffly and Alex came down with a head cold. Sebastian was cheerful all day, thankfully. 

I had energy for once, and so I cleaned – tidying away toys, doing mountains of laundry and putting even more away, vacuuming, doing dishes, cooking a casserole for dinner, sweeping the kitchen and doing groceries. I so rarely feel rested and energised to really get to much housework, so it was wonderful to get a lot done one hit. Of course, it was followed by the guilt for all the other things I wasn’t doing – not blogging, not crafting, not writing or researching. Not doing a hundred things in the limited timeframe on one day where I happen to have some energy.

I keep thinking about motherhood as a balancing act, but really it’s not me that’s balancing – it’s all the things in my life that I need to do or achieve to keep me, my little family and my aspirations running. It’s spinning plates – frantically running from one to another to give it another whirl, to keep it spinning in the air; all the while conscious that while I spin one, another is slowing down and starting to wobble. At any moment it feels like all my plates could crash to the ground.

Today I kept a few plates going a little longer by doing enough chores to keep me sane and to keep the house running smoothly. Right now I’m spinning another plate by writing this blog entry. But while I do this, I’m aware of others starting to slow down – plates about craft projects and gardening, researching and writing articles, photography or writing fiction. They’re starting to wobble because I only have so much time, energy and opportunity and I have to choose where I invest it.

The trick is not to let those plates fall completely. Keep spinning. Keep running from one to the other and hope for the best.

 

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The day we brought Morgan home from the hospital, our 2 year old, Sebastian, was over-tired and having a bit of a sugar crash. He slept in the car and woke when we pulled into the driveway – and immediately started crying and shouting ‘no no no no no’ when he realised the baby had come home with us. We’d tried to do our best to explain to him in advance that the baby was coming to live with us, but he didn’t really understand, I think, until that moment.

Since then, Sebastian has gotten better, although initially he was obviously resentful that I nursed the baby so often and wasn’t available for cuddles. He sometimes climbs into the bouncinette with a dummy he’s appropriated, playing baby. He lets the dummy fall out of his mouth and pretends to cry, mimicking Morgan, and I have to put the dummy back in his mouth and talk to him as though he’s a baby. I think this is a pretty healthy expression of the jealousy he feels over all the attention the baby gets – sometimes he needs to be the ‘baby’ again, to have my focus and attention in this way.

Sebastian’s grandparents have also been invaluable – Sebastian spends special solo time with both Alex’s mother and my parents, staying over night and having all of their attention. I’m lucky to have such help! 

Sometimes Sebastian is very affectionate with Morgan, to the point of being far too boisterous. I have to watch them together or Sebastian will try giving Morgan his dummy, or share his food with him, or touch the top of his still-soft head. Sometimes he’s still resentful, telling me to put the baby down or stop feeding him, because he wants my attention. But Sebastian is young enough that as time passes, he forgets the time before, when there was no baby and he was the centre of our universe. 

Sometimes I feel incredible guilt, for having a second child and taking away the special one-on-one, mother-son relationship we used to have. But then I think about the future, and how lovely it will be to have two boys so close in age, who will grow up together, play together and learn together. Morgan is just starting to smile, and I think Sebastian will start to find his brother a lot more interesting when they can interact.

Driving in the car yesterday, Sebastian pointed something out to Morgan, which made my heart warm. There’s a bond between siblings, and here I see the beginnings.

Sibling rivalry

My darling boys


 

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Stay at home parents like me spend a lot of time doing things that are observed and judged by other people. I take my toddler and baby with me when I go shopping, the groceries I choose are visible in the basket or cart; the way I speak to my children and react and interact with them can be viewed and listened to when I’m out in public. Who they are, how they act and what they wear can be taken as a direct reflection of me – I’m the one they will spend the most time with at least until they start attending school. I choose their clothes, organise their haircuts, feed them and wipe their faces after. It’s with me that they will do a lot of their learning – my voice and words and behaviour they emulate. 

Being their mother is my job right now. Someone has to do it, and I want to, don’t get me wrong, but its a job. Unlike every other job, however, there’s no clear reimbursement for services rendered, no start and finish time, no set goals and achievable outcomes. But everybody, and I do mean everybody, thinks they get input into how I do my job. Everybody is my boss.

I found I got really defensive a few days ago when my partner innocently requested that I do something (to do with our grocery shopping) differently than I’ve been doing it. I got angry, because this is a task that I do 90% of the time and it makes sense for me to do. I have the time, the inclination, I know what needs to be bought and what foods the toddler is happy with fit now. Generally I have a fairly accurate idea of the contents of our fridge and pantry as I do a lot of the cooking too. 

A perceived criticism in the way I did this really got to me because its part of my job. I already feel ongoing Mama Guilt over the toddler not eating enough vegetables, or too much sugar, and that I don’t cook enough, or cook enough variety, and we don’t eat organically, and I buy snacks often without paying too much attention to the sodium or sugar levels, and none of this would be so bad if only we all watched a lot less telly which is probably evil.

I see articles online, and tweets and Facebook posts, that judge mothers, that make commentary on how they parent and how their children behave. Because society thinks it is my boss, that it gets to decide if I’m doing a good or bad job parenting, and those parameters change with who you’re speaking to. 

its hard because this is my job but my partner is parent too, he lives in this house too, and the things I do every day affect him. Where is the line for what is entirely my say and what we have equal input into? If I make most of the decisions because I’m the one that’s home, can he question them? How do you balance that, being fair to his personal investment and my need for autonomy? And sometimes I make so many of the decisions that I don’t want to make all of them, but they’re like cascading dominoes – I know what is in the pantry/fridge because I’m the one that did the shopping so I should decide what we eat for dinner even when it’s not my turn to cook. 

I think we don’t talk about this enough – that when one half of a couple stays at home, they become entirely responsible for the home, even when the other partner spends all their off time there. It’s then easy to become resentful over household and parenting responsibilities, because of lack of autonomy in some areas and far too much autonomy in others. This then affects the relationship, because that relationship exists within the context of the household and parenting, and its sometimes easy for us all to forget: this might be my home, but it’s also my job. One of us Goes out for work and comes home to relax, but I must somehow do both in the same space, when there is no 9-5 definition of start and finish for each.

A balancing act, and one I don’t know I’m particularly good at. 

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Morgan

Morgan

This is my second son, Morgan. He was lifted out of my numbed body through a hole in my abdomen in the early hours of a Friday, three weeks ago. I heard a gurgled cry, and then the surgeon held him up for me to see – a slippery, crying doll-like baby covered in white vernix.

I didn’t labour for days to have him, because I had a c-section. This is a choice I feel really good about. He’s my last baby, and I’m glad I have something other than the memories of fear and trauma from the birth of my first son. I did have a bit of labour, because Morgan decided to arrive early, thus the middle of the night intervention rather than my lovely planned hospital appointment for birth.

His face wasn’t bruised from the squeeze of a vaginal birth, his features weren’t distorted by swelling. I didn’t lose loads of blood or scream with pain and fear as he was born. Although I lay on my back on an operating table, numb from the breasts down with a sheet blocking his view, his birth was beautiful to me. I chose it, I felt in control, and although I trembled with shock a little as I was wheeled into Recovery, I felt positive after the birth.

I held him to my breast and his mouth latched onto my nipple and I loved him immediately, just as I loved my first child immediately.

Now we are four. Four in the home and four in the heart. I have a partner whom I love passionately and two beautiful children. There won’t be any more babies for me, so I’m enjoying this time. Our family is complete. I’m whole.

morganandme

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Often I write about the harder aspects of parenting – the tiredness, worry, logistical difficulties, blah blah blah yeah it’s hard. But really, it’s easy to write about these things – they’re what bugs me and makes me grind my teeth. However, it’s just as important to remember the wonderful things about parenting, the hilarious things, the sweet moments. Here’s a list of things I love.

1.- When you have a tiny helpless infant who just likes to gaze adoringly at your face, you can dress him up in cute outfits and pose him for hilarious photos. Exhibit A:

A baby monkey and his garden gnome friends!

2.- You have instantly joined a club that makes you share knowing smiles with strangers in public, because they have a kid and you have a kid and you all know how great it is and how tiring and how worth it.

3.- As your child grows up, you start seeing the world again for the first time – the brightness, the colours, the way a bird flying is pretty amazing when most things walk on the ground, the way a horse snuffling your hand is fantastic and tickly and a tiny lizard cupped in the palm of your hand seems like the weirdest creature on earth. Sebastian amazes me every day with what he finds fascinating – a light switch is frickin’ magic and learning to peel a banana is a huge accomplishment.

4.- Related to #3, you start rediscovering the joys of your childhood, like Christmas and birthdays and Easter egg hunts, Lego and cardboard forts and hiding in a castle and the wonder of trains. Your cynicism starts eroding and you begin to give a damn again, and experiencing a far simpler kind of joy that you thought was lost when you got your driver’s licence and right to vote.

5.- Big gummy fat-cheeked beautiful baby smiles.

Eating food is awesome.

6.- Family. Having a child brings your family closer together, your parents and grandparents and siblings and all of your partner’s family too – I gained a whole bunch of lovely in-laws andĀ niecesĀ and nephews. My parents are super-involved in Sebastian’s life, as is Alex’s mum, because it really does take a village to raise a child.

7.- I finally understand my parents. My mum was 19 when she had my older brother, and not quite 22 when she had me. Having a child yourself helps you to understand who your parents are – what they went through as young parents, the choices they made, and how amazing it was that you remember a wonderfully happy childhood and your parents never let on that it’s incredibly hard to have a family and work and study and your own interests. I feel closer to my parents now, because I only now do I truly understand who they are.

8.- Baby kisses. Sebastian’s started out as a weird lunge he’d do at my face, with mouth wide open and inevitably aiming for my chin or my eye instead of my cheek. And there was always tongue involved, and he wanted a good long pash, too. Now he makes proper kissing noises, and if he gets a little hurt on his hand or foot or arm, then he will present it to the nearest adult to be kissed. Nothing can go on until it has been kissed better.

For a while this was how Sebastian kissed. He’d latch on and things would get weird. I look forward to showing him this photo when he’s 16 and too cool for me.

9.- Sometimes when there’s a group of adults around talking, and someone says something funny and everybody laughs, Sebastian laughs too. Even though he doesn’t understand what the joke was, he laughs because he is joyful that other people are laughing. He’s a little social animal and delighted that he’s included in our world.

10.- My child challenges me to be thoughtful and creative, to think of new activities and new ways to learn. I’ve learned how to be patient, to stop myself from raising my voice, to explain things simply and how to teach by example. Basically, having a kid encourages you to examine who you are, the good and bad qualities you possess, the things in life that you love, and the values you want to pass on. It may be trite, but it’s true: being a parent makes you a better person.

He’s worth every minute.

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