Every now and again, I like to log onto TED (www.ted.com) and watch inspiring videos of what humans are achieving in the world beyond my own small life. Last night, whilst waiting for our younger DS to settle down, I thought I would lay in bed and catch up on what TED had to offer. Out came my iPhone and before I knew it, I was relishing in the amalgamation of technology with medicine, mammoth artworks made from fishermen’s nets and the attempted genetic modification of a chicken to create a chickenosaurus or dinochicken, because chickens are dinosaurs don’t you know.
But one story that caught my attention was the talk entitled Let’s Talk Parenting Taboos, delivered by Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman who own www.babble.com, an online portal for parents. Rufus and Alisa start the talk off by saying that when they got married and fell pregnant, much was discussed by their friends and family about parenthood, but when the big day arrived, and the reality of parenthood set in, they realised that a vast amount been omitted – the ugly stuff that doesn’t get spoken about. They wanted to create an online space that would tell it like it is and hence Babble was born.
What struck me was what they considered to be parenting taboos. The first one they decided on is that it isn’t always the case that dad’s fall instantly in love with their newly delivered offspring. Now, I don’t know if it is because it was this was a TED conference and they didn’t want to offend anyone, but I would have loved it if they also said that a lot of women don’t feel instant love for their new offspring either. I know that I desperately wanted a child when I fell pregnant with my first child. However, when my DD arrived, I remember being totally overwhelmed, at the tender age of 24, by the enormity of the responsibility for which I had just signed up. I just sat in the hospital bed and cried. Yes, everyone thought I was crying from overwhelming love and happiness, and if my darling daughter is reading this, yes, honey, I was crying from overwhelming love and happiness, but also for the responsibility I suddenly felt ill prepared to take on – for the next 18 years of my life, which by the way turns out to be forever because you never do stop loving and wanting to protect your children.
I also cried because no-one told me that a women’s stomach doesn’t snap back into place the moment the baby is delivered. As naive as it may sound, I genuinely believed that as soon as the baby was delivered, and the placenta along with it, my tummy would be as taught as before. Imagine my shock when lying in my post delivery bath, I looked down to find my tummy skin ebbing and flowing to the ripple of the bath water. Yes, people, ebbing and flowing!! It was almost doing its own horizontal mexican wave! I stood up to find that I had an apron and that I had to get back into my pregnancy clothing. Now it is true that I put on a whopping 23kgs with my first child. Everyone kept telling me I was too young and not ready for a child (and judging by my reaction above, they were probably right), so I ate to look pregnant. It was a totally conscious decision. I thought, rather than wait for the four or five months to start showing, that if I helped nature along a bit, gained enough weight and started to look pregnant people would applaud my life nurturing decision rather than tell me I wasn’t ready for it. So, yes, I probably was around 12kgs too heavy when my child entered into the world. However, nothing had prepared me for the flap of skin that was left behind. I don’t remember reading that the uterus takes a long time (weeks) to shrink back to its original walnut size. Of course, now in my forties, I realise that biologically it would be impossible for a muscle that was the size of a walnut stretched to the size of a watermelon, to suddenly snap back to its original size. But at the time, I didn’t know. I was humiliated by my changed body and I didn’t know what to do, so I cried.
The second taboo mentioned was that of being lonely when you have a baby. This is one with which I definitely agreed. No-one does tell you how lonely it is. All you imagine is you sitting there with your baby playing blocks, its beautiful eyes staring at you, giggling. Oh, how life is going to be wonderful. All I can say is curse you nappy and baby cream ads. What they don’t tell you is that babies actually don’t interact at all for the first six weeks (they only smile at four weeks and that’s only if you don’t mistake it for wind) and not much until around 6 months when they start being able to sit up and see the world around them. All they do is eat, poop, sleep and cry. Boy do they cry. No-one tells you that the crying unnerves you and no amount of times going through the routine taught to you in ante natal classes (are they hungry, wet, full of wind, tired) can save you from the ever-eroding self confidence that a new mother inevitably undergoes. I was constantly on the phone to my mom asking if I was doing something wrong. The confidence of my youth was rapidly leaving me (and is only now, after one has left home, starting to return to anywhere near its former glory).
Suddenly, my friends, who weren’t in committed relationships, never mind ready to have babies, no longer saw the fun in me as a person. I couldn’t go to restaurants, to the movies and even walking the dog proved to be like a mission impossible. I would try to cook but that was impossible (you will hear mothers talk about how they learned to peel potatoes with one hand. I used to think that was a crock, but it’s true, you do learn how to do that). I would try to talk on the phone – impossible. Anything and everything is impossible to complete when you have a baby. Do not believe the Wii Fit ad that has that woman with the triplets doing ten minutes of a fitness routine whilst her babies sit and smile at her. It’s rubbish! I found myself wondering what age is the youngest you can send a child to preschool and I found myself envying those mothers that “had to work”. I wondered whose dumb idea was it that I would be a stay at home mom! This was not the fun I imagined it to be, that was for sure.
Then, around a year to 15 months they start to walk. Oh, that’s fun! They don’t so much walk as catapult themselves around a room. You pretty much find yourself standing permanently trying to catch them from doing some harm to themselves because they are only as tall as the nearest coffee tables. Suddenly, seemingly innocuous furniture seem to grow monstrous personalities that are determined to harm your child (for whom you now do have an overwhelming love and protection). Socialising is just exhausting. I remember my sister yelling at me once when my child kept interrupting me and I would break our conversation to hear what my DD had to say. “Can I not have a conversation with you without being overshadowed by a four year old!” she yelled. I felt awful, torn between my sister, who I didn’t see that often, and an incredibly demanding four year old who had no concept of “in a while darling, mummy’s just talking.” Thankfully, years later, my sister phoned me to apologise after the birth of her two children. Suddenly, having joined the Lonely Parent of a Demanding Child Club, she totally understood.
The other two taboos was the fact that a woman is not allowed or supposed to talk about her miscarriage and that you can’t say that your average happiness has declined. I will leave the miscarriage for another post as it warrants that, but again, I agree with the fact that parents on the whole feel compelled to say how much better their lives have been since they had children. I believe that my children have enriched my life in ways that I could not have ever experienced had I chosen not to have children and I have definitely matured (you can spot the fifty year olds who have never had kids a mile off), but there were times when I felt so low, as a parent, as a person and as a woman, that I wondered if it was always worth it. Parenting is hard. You lose yourself, or at least I felt to some (I admit quite shamefully, large) degree, I had lost myself. I did not want to be defined by my children and I didn’t want to be defined by motherhood and in fact I fought against it – a lot. I spurned the mother’s groups, the forced kids activities, the let’s stay at the party moms, now I realise, much to my own detriment. It took me a long time to reconcile that my role as a mother would take over everything else I had to offer as a person. I was definitely never prepared for that.
As I sit here today, with my 18 DD now living with her boyfriend some 20 minutes away, independent, strong, I believe I must have done something right on the very rough road of parenthood. She is not conventional, opting against university, wanting to do things her way – much like her mother. I see people’s reactions when they hear that she isn’t going to university and has moved in with her boyfriend, but I don’t care, I am so proud of her and the wonderfully sensitive, kind and compassionate human being she has become (a sure sign of a totally biassed mother). When the time comes for her to have children, I will gush and goo and tell her how wonderful motherhood is, but I will also tell her all the things that people don’t mention – the shock, the loneliness, how your pubic bone hurts like hell as your womb grows, and how some people are unfortunate enough to get piles, among others. My parenting journey may have been a rocky one, much like everyone’s I reckon, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a valuable one that did result in a love for my two children that is so huge that my heart wants to burst every time I clap eyes them. I call it Evolutionary Parenting!