I sometimes think about my life before I had children and how different I was at that time. I was so very definite about everything. Everything was so very black and white. I knew what was right, what was wrong. Who was right. Who was wrong. I knew everything. I always felt so strong.
Then I had children. And that is the most humbling experience in the world. Because what you thought you knew – you realise that you don’t. The world that was once black and white, had changed to innumerable shades of grey. The world that I had been so very much in control of, had changed beyond belief. Dangers lurked everywhere. Even a simple activity – a shopping trip, became something that had to be conducted at the exact precise time, with military precision. In between a nap, feed and nappy change. Woe betide you if you tried to be a maverick and attempted anything at a different time. Of course, you couldn’t just park anywhere. You had to park in a space that was wide enough for you to open your passenger door to its fullest, and take your baby, nested carefully in her car seat, that slotted into your pushchair, which you had assemble carefully, ensuring all the locks were in place. But of course, at the shops, all of those spaces were taken. Sometimes by gits who didn’t even have children.
Once you’re out and in the shops, of course a third of your attention is on what you need, a third of your attention is making sure that your child or children are ok and the final third is ensuring (a bit like Cinderella), that you’re not taking longer than the allocated time and you’re not encroaching on the nap/feed/nappy change time. Babies, I quickly realised, are incredibly inflexible and unreasonable beings. They want what they want – and they will scream until you give in. Which is obviously why God designed them to have big eyes, tiny noses and tiny, edible fingers and toes. You wouldn’t tolerate that relentless, unreasonable shit from just anyone who wasn’t incredibly cute.
Everyday is pretty much the same. Each day revolves around feeding, sleep, nappy changes and did you wind the child correctly? Any problems with the baby? The baby is crying for an unknown reason – did you wind her?
Are you sure?
Give her to me, I’ll do it properly!!
Top tip! Never ever say to a new mother, ‘Give your child to me, you haven’t done x, y or z properly!’
Trust me. Just don’t. It’s offensive and hurtful. The mother is feeling like shit as it is. This is new and scary and they are just doing their best. Often feeling like their failing….
So this tiny bundle, changes your entire life. And you have no control.
And people expect you to be able to cook and have a tidy house and be presentable and attend social engagements.
People forget over time, how hard the beginning is. I won’t. Not ever. They forget how much help they got from others, from family members who were around a lot and could give even half an hour of respite.
I remember when my mum would pop around after work to see how I was getting on and I would almost cry with relief. Without a word, or passing any judgement, she’d discretely start to tidy up around me, or she’d make me a cup of tea and say, I want to hold her, you go and have a shower. Or, she would just let me have a nap, whilst she quietly took over.
I hope I can be there for my daughters in a similar vein when they are older. I hope I will know just what to say and just what to do, to give them some respite and let them know, it’s ok to need help. You’re not failing, you’re a human and babies are hard.
But the title of my blog, is ‘A sense of shame…’ And it’s called this for a reason. My blogs are generally about female empowerment and how women can do anything in the world. Bringing up babies made me feel completely overwhelmed.
I’ve written about this many times before, but everything would have been bearable if my babies would sleep through the night. But they just didn’t. They didn’t take huge naps through the day. And they would keep waking through the night. For me this was an impossible situation because I had been a baby, a child and an adult who needed to sleep. My tiny girls didn’t need to – especially my eldest. Even now, her mind is so active she doesn’t want to sleep. Sleep is for wimps. Unlike her mother. Who needs to sleep.
But babies are unreasonable. If they need to wake up in the night – they just do. It doesn’t matter how tired you are as a parent. They don’t care. So, my husband would help me. He was never annoyed. He would pace around for what seemed like hours, holding his daughter to his chest so she would feel warm and safe, listening to the regular beat of his heart, gently soothing her. Never once did he complain. Never once did he say how hard this all was. Never once, did he make me feel inadequate…
I would listen to other women, who were doing it all. Feeding, nappy changes, naps, cleaning, cooking, managing to exercise, doing the night feeds, all on their own. Their husbands wouldn’t help. Wouldn’t even dream of helping. But there they were, these superwomen, doing it all, on their own.
I felt a sense of shame because I couldn’t.
I couldn’t do it all on my own. I physically wasn’t able to. And I was incredibly blessed to have people around me who helped me to stay afloat because I know I would have drowned.
It’s funny how resentful I felt of others. I resented hearing about how other people’s babies slept through the night. I resented hearing about other people’s babies having long naps during the day. I resented hearing how other mums had the energy to exercise and meet other mums and keep a household going with their pristine houses and delicious home cooked food. I kept wondering, ‘What was wrong with me? Why did I need so much help? Why couldn’t I get things done like other mothers?’
What I learnt years later, now that my children are slightly older – everyone is putting on a front. Everyone feels like their not coping with something. But it’s just not done to say, ‘This is really hard. Harder than I could ever have imagined!’
I certainly felt a huge sense of shame knowing that I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was – and that actually my husband was incredibly strong and had a source of patience and energy that I simply did not possess. There were times when I thought, he’s going to be furious with me today. The house is a mess. Nothing’s been done. Today is the day he’s going to tell me how useless I am. But he didn’t. He just knew – the fact that I’d got through the day. Our girls were healthy, clean, fed, extremely loved and happy – nothing was more important.
Thank god he saw things that way. Thank god he helped the way he did – and still does to this day. Never once making me feel like I was a failure.
I see my mother, and see how millions of women like her, and many of my friends, just manage motherhood on their own. These incredibly strong, brilliant women, who do everything on their own. I admire them and am in awe of them.
There remains within me, a deep sense of shame that I was not as strong as some of the inspirational women I know. All I know is that the incredible support that I was and still am blessed to receive, I will pay it forward and help my loved ones when they need it.