Saturday, 13 August 2016

Not That Kind Of Mum

Twenty-six is an odd age to fall pregnant with your first baby. It's not young enough that people immediately assume it's a 'mistake', but not old enough for you to be super intentional about it.

Don't get me wrong, my husband and I were perfectly aware that we might have a baby, but no one was 'trying' for anything. It was simply a case of being open to fate. As it turned out, we were surprised with a honeymoon baby, due four days before my twenty-seventh birthday.

Two months after our wedding, we moved out of Nick's parents' house into a two-bed flat in Peckham we could just about afford.  The rent plus bills was (is) the entirety of one of our incomes. As we passed the three-month mark, we broke the news to everyone, we got my husband's old cot from his parents' attic, found nursery furniture that didn't look completely mismatched on eBay, and tried not to worry about the rest of the stuff we’d have to buy in the next six months.

It was daunting. My friends suggested a baby shower, but after just having got the John Lewis delivery of our many and very very beautiful gifts from our wedding list, as well as having had a wedding abroad, we felt we couldn’t, and didn’t want to, ask our friends (young and at the start of their careers/salary ladder) to buy us even more things.

The generosity that followed was overwhelming. Friends would message me saying such and such family friend had a bunch of old babygros and did I want them to go and collect them and drop them by? Others booked Amazon bulk orders of nappies and baby wipes delivered to our doorstep, along with a videogame for Nick and insanely lovely beauty products for me, just days after the baby’s birth and with a short message congratulating us and saying they would visit when we were ready.

It was amazing, and it made me feel all the more guilty that despite being surrounded by such a great bunch of considerate, supportive people who would travel across London to come and visit us for just a few hours, I still had moments, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, of feeling utterly alone.

Three months in, it has got better, but I have to fight it on a daily basis. Here’s what I’ve learnt:

  • Everyone feels alone. Not just me because I didn’t join NCT because it cost hundreds of pounds and because I can’t afford to buy Sleepyhead pillows and Norbert the sheep or whatever that magical bastard that makes your baby fall asleep in two seconds is called. You just expulsed a vulnerable,  highly demanding human out of your body and guess what, it’s not done using your body for its own aims yet and won’t be any time soon. You don’t have a job to go to every day because your job is right here, in this silent, never quite tidy enough home. The only people who don’t feel alone in this situation are those who suffer from schizophrenia.
  • You’re not alone. SPOILER ALERT: religious point. God is always with you, always by your side, listening to everything, and if you need more help, more strength, more sleep, pray, pray, and pray again. He always answers. If you’re not religious, sorry, you’re alone and will die alone kbye.
  • Jk lol, you’re never alone! Ok so not all of us find comfort in prayer, but if you don’t feel connected to God, this is still the time to feel connected with all of womanhood and realise if you see anyone carrying a little person down the street, trying to fit a huge pram through Peckham’s narrow hipster corridors that claim to be cafes, then that woman is with you. You share an unspeakable bond with her. Even if she looks like a rich judgmental snob who clearly paid far too much for her non-second-hand buggy which you secretly want and you would never hang out with her and listen to her cretinous dribble in a million years, even so, you’re in this together, and when push comes to shove if your baby or her baby became unwell and you had to call an ambulance, both of you would go to the hospital with the other in a heartbeat, maybe you’d forget to ask her name in the havoc of it all, but you wouldn’t leave her side until someone  closer came to replace you, maybe not even then, because you’d want to stay and make sure that small soul was okay.
  • You need to be selfish. As a matter of urgency. Before I had a baby I liked getting my nails done occasionally as a treat, as well as enjoying buying a new dress or the feel of freshly cut hair (not the look, why does everyone always leave the hairdressers looking like a Texan housewife? It’s all about that post-first-wash-at-home look though).  Now I’m a mum I consider it a matter of survival to set aside at least 3 hours for myself every single week, without the baby, and I do not feel remotely guilty about the fact that no, I do not miss him during this time. Ok, sometimes I do go on my instagram to look at pictures of him. But I will not let this undermine my point: you need to make time for yourself, and don’t wait until you ‘feel ready’. It’s very likely you won't ever feel ready, and you will explode. Don’t wait. Go for a twenty minute walk if nothing else, but do it now. Well, get someone without a criminal record to watch the baby first, then go.
  • Find like-minded mums. I’m still battling with this one. I’ve made friends with a bunch of really great, down-to-earth, supportive mums, but I’m still the youngest by a long shot, which should be irrelevant except for the fact that when it comes to parenting, age doesn’t just mean the amount of years you’ve spent on the planet or the difference in what pop songs you consider classic dancefloor fillers. It means a different life situation, a different income, a different cultural background (usually), and a different attitude to becoming a parent. In my case I became a parent because I felt marriage and children to be my spiritual vocation, and only this past week have I met another mum who would say the same about herself. That’s pretty good going in just three months, but while our babies grow very quickly, on a slow day/week maternity leave can feel very long. My advice here is to persevere until you’ve built a new tribe around you. We’ll get there!
  • Keep in touch with old friends. Especially childless friends, or friends whose kids are past the newborn/toddler stage. Fellow parent friends are a great source of support and friendship, but sometimes it’s nice to hear about office politics and drunken mishaps. Childless friends, take note! Your impulse is to just talk about the baby and focus your attention on your friend’s massive life change, but your ‘unimportant’ bits of news might be just the ticket for your exhausted, adult-conversation-deprived friend.
  • Prayer works. Sorry to bang on about it and potentially alienate any muggles reading, but in the end prayer really is the main thing that helps me. It’s all well and good making time for myself and relying on solid friends but if I’m not reconnecting with the big guy I find myself zombie-ing around very quickly. If you’re even remotely religious and you recognise some of this in yourself, make the effort to pray. Even if you don’t make it to an actual place of worship, even if your only ‘quiet’ time is on the toilet, even if God sounds like Frasier Crane saying ‘I’m listening’ in your head, even if your prayers don’t make sense, your mind gets sidetracked, your priorities are out of wack, even if it’s just a simple thank you, do it.
  • Keep your GSOH. The silver lining about being perpetually tired is that endorphins kick in and everything seems funnier. It's easy to get very earnest about parenting, because it's massive and important and all-ecompassing and scary. But let's face it, poo is never not funny.

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