Having my first baby felt a little like someone giving me the keys to a beautiful brand new car and saying "here, go for it", when I didn't know how to drive. In theory it looks easy enough, I mean, I had ridden in a lot of cars. I had seen lots of other people drive cars but it just didn't feel natural for me. Everything I did felt unnatural and forced. I was always worried that I wasn't doing it right, that everyone else knew what they were doing but me.
When we first brought our little guy home from the hospital I joined a Mothers Group and while this really helped in some ways in other ways it just proved to me that I had no idea what I was doing. I mean, how come their babies were sleeping better? Eating better? Doing what they were supposed to be doing? Did I have a dud baby or was I just a dud? Why didn't I know what I was doing? When was I finally going to get a handle on all things baby and just know what to do and when oh when, was I going to get a full night's sleep?? It just felt like some long drawn out torture.
Oh and don't even get me started on those people who claim they can understand what their baby is saying to them by the tone of the oooh or aahhh. It was all the same to me, everything just sounded loud and foreign. If my baby was trying to communicate with me, I obviously wasn't getting it. What was wrong with me?
I went along to one of my first mothers groups and the clinic nurse who was running it asked each mum if they only had a few dollars left what would they spend it on. Each reply was pretty much the same, "something for the baby". When it got to me, I answered the same, mostly because that's what I thought I should say but also because I had no idea. I was so tired and overwhelmed by the whole experience it almost felt like sitting the entrance exam for a cult. Did I actually have anything in common with these people? Was the fact that each one of us had just given birth to another human being the only thing that bonded us? Would someone mind holding my baby for a few minutes so I could just lie down on the floor and have a sleep?
Due to having had my head down the toilet for a great portion of the nine months I was gestating my parasite... I mean, pregnant, and the difficulty of the birth and now the lack of sleep I had come to the conclusion that I was never, ever again going to subject myself to such extreme torture. One of my best friends around three to six months in had (as had a lot of mothers, I was later to find out) decided that they would indeed be hopping on the miracle of life ride again. My friend (being an only child herself) had this feeling that she was not finished creating her family and that she definitely wanted to add to her clan. I on the other hand felt more than full up with my family load. Sorry, no room here, we're full!!
You would be surprised by the amount of people who are so very offended by this. Like it is a personal affront to them that you are happy to have an only child. I had people I had just met at outings offer to look after my child so that my husband and I could pop home to create a sibling. I even had one woman tell me how devastating it would be if I raised my son, only to lose him in some type of horrific accident as a teen and wouldn't I feel so much better if I had more than one?? "What, like a backup?" I asked incredulously.
Anyhoo, we moved along with the whole being parents thing almost like someone being washed along in a flood and just trying to make the best of their situation. It didn't feel natural, it felt hard. And I wasn't rushing out to have another one to make other people happy or to have a "backup".... seriously are you kidding me!? I would like to say that being a mum got easier and it did, some days and then some days I just scratch my head and wonder what the hell I am doing and planning how I can run away from home.
When you have a baby (actually from the second you announce that you're pregnant) people offer you advice. What you should and should not been doing, what you should and should not be eating, what you should be buying and every other little nuance of child rearing is talked about at length. You find that what used to just be your life has now become public fodder for discussion, from friends, acquaintances and anyone else who might make some kind of passing eye contact with you in the street. I found all this information really hard to take in. It just made me feel like there was some secret mummy club full of women who knew what they were doing and how to look after a small person and I wasn't in it.
Having this small noisy little person in my house was difficult on so many levels. Not least of all because I had felt him growing inside me. I had felt his kicks and hiccups and I had waited for daily reminders that he was moving and growing inside me. Now here he was in front of me, he belonged to me and I was responsible for him but I felt like I had absolutely no control over the situation.
I began to wonder when I would feel like I was in charge again or at least know what the hell I was doing and be able to plan for what would be happening next. People told me over and over that it would take time, around twelve weeks to get into some kind of routine. Then I would feel more confident in what I was doing. But that deadline came and went and I still felt like I was just treading water and I was just so very, very tired.
In the first few weeks of my child's existence we were too scared to take him out in public. I was so worried that we would get to a shopping centre and he would cry and people would stare and I wouldn't know what to do and then I would be a failure and it would be public. So I went for walks around the block instead. I'd rug him up and put him the pram and just walk.
I looked down at his small little body, with his delicate features and tiny little hands and wonder what life had in store for him. I wondered what he would be like when he grew up, what would he look like, what would he achieve in the world. Then one day a little while after that twelve week mark I looked down at his little face and I didn't feel so disconnected anymore, I still didn't feel in control of the situation but I was not unhappy that I was his Mum. It was the very first time I had felt like that and it was amazing.
I did eventually take him out in public and it wasn't nearly as bad as I had imagined. The shopping centres were filled with light and sound and noise and one little woman with a small baby in a pram was hardly even noticed. My biggest problem was establishing where the baby change rooms and feeding rooms were situated in the centre and once they were found it wasn't as daunting as I had ever built it up to be.
The day we left the hospital with our small bundle of joy is etched in my memory as one of the most frightening moments of my life. I know how that sounds - Drama Queen - but I cannot think of a better way to describe it.
I was scared, clueless, overwhelmed, exhausted, sore, anxious and maybe a little bit excited (but that feeling was low down on the list). I have never felt so out of my depth in my life! Which is something I wasn't really expecting to feel at this stage of the having a baby game. Whilst I was pregnant (in between vomiting bouts) I had set up the room, washed all those cute little clothes and taken photos of them on the line (because they were so cute - look I'm bringing a little dolly home!). I'd read all the books, as far as I was concerned I was as ready as I was ever going to be.
From what I hear, it's a bit like learning a new language. You download the lessons, you walk around repeating phrases to yourself as you listen to some suave native speaker on your ipod telling you how to say, hello, goodbye, why I would love a drink and where are the toilets. You do your research and you feel prepared. That is until you head across to the country of your choice and the natives speak so quickly you think they are speaking a different language to the one you've been studying and the only conversation you've been having is with your smiley face luggage tag at the end of the day because you're exhausted and nobody "gets" you. (Before you scoff - I know someone who just had this very experience).
When I brought my little dolly home from the hospital he was small and lovely (to me). As a side note to that, not all babies are lovely. I know people who say "oh all babies are beautiful!" but that is one of life's great crocks of crap given by people who are seeing life through mummy coloured glasses. This was brought home to me in a big way one day when a friend gazed down at her scrawny little baby, who was way too small for the skin God had given him (no he was not premmie - so get off your soapbox) and she said "Isn't he lovely?" which he clearly was not!. He looked like one of those ugly little birds before their feathers grown in, all wrinkly and sharp. She really thought he was beautiful.... which just goes to show how the saying "A face only a mother could love" came about.
Anyway, back to the story... lovely little dolly, cute little dolly clothes on the line, beautiful baby room ... ahh how lovely. Well the reality of bringing a baby home was the opposite of that. It was loud and smelly and not lovely at all (except when he was asleep - which is when they really are all lovely). Not just because he was quiet but because he just looked so small and peaceful like a little angel. Which must have been my thinking process on what being a mum would be like in some weird demented way.
I didn't sleep well when I was pregnant but it was nothing like the sleep deprivation I was suffering from once we brought this angry, demanding little house guest home.... and I began to wonder if our lives would ever be the same again and why I had thought being a mother would be just a great idea in the first place.
Drew's first bath (not my hairy arms - in case you were wondering)
Some people are born to be mothers. They dream of a day when they will have a little person to care for and love and they feel that their lives will be complete when this happens. I am not one of those people.
I never had any interest in these small, noisy, loud creatures and to be honest, could not understand what anyone else saw in them either. So the way in which my life had completely changed course by actually having just had a baby was set to become one of the most difficult, stressful and confusing times of my life.
So there I was in the hospital after the birth of my first child wondering what the hell comes next. I had never changed a nappy, I had never bathed a baby, I had never felt so exhausted. People say (and I don't know what people, but you do hear this about the place) that when you have a baby you will instantly fall in love with it. You will feel so full of bliss and endorphins that you will immediately bond with this strange little person and wonder how you ever lived without it. Well, that didn't happen. I didn't feel like that. I felt overwhelmed, confused and seriously out of my depth.
People are very well meaning. They tell you things about your baby with the best of intentions. But all that does is make it more confusing and to be honest made me feel more like a failure. I didn't love this small noisy person more than life itself, I looked at it and wondered why on earth I had wanted to join the mummy club in the first place. After all, I didn't know what I was doing, I didn't even know where my life was headed. How could I now be responsible for someone else's?? Who thought this was a good idea and what the hell was I doing here in someone else's life?
Nobody tells you, you might feel like that. They say you will love it, they say it is magical, they say it is a miracle of life. So what was wrong with me that I was not revelling in that magic and rejoicing in the miracle of life? Nothing. Everyone feels different and that's ok. (I will skip ahead just for a moment and say things did get better...... eventually).
We named him Drew because I had always liked that name (in fact he was going to be Drew whether he was a boy or a girl) and it was an uncommon yet it wasn't odd (being a school teacher I am so over the oddly spelt, same sounding names and the just out there names - not cute and clever. Just annoying. Yep Millica - Oh, it's Mellissa .. I'm talking to you) and I held my little guy, like you are supposed to and people came to visit with flowers, toys, clothes and fruit (cause after that experience you really need the extra fibre to kick things off - if you get my drift) and I just felt weird and lost and a little bit like a fraud.
The nurses came in and out of the room, demonstrating how to bath him, how to wrap him and telling me how to take care of my stitches (somewhere you should never have stitches) and how to look after myself and then we were ready to go home. As the doctor came into our room to check and to sign everything off and the nurses picked Drew up and handed him to us and wished us well, I thought to myself, I can't believe they are letting us take a small person home with us, we don't even know what we're doing!! When you buy a dog at the pet store they suggest further reading and equipment you may need to purchase before you leave the store, where's the manual? How does this thing work?
I felt so unprepared for the journey we were about to embark on.... and I was.
I hope you are enjoying the Friday Flashback series Starting from Scratch and I would love to hear from you with any comments you would like to contribute.
Giving birth is like nothing you have ever experienced in your life. You are excited about the impending arrival of what people often refer to as your bundle of joy but you are unsure of what exactly is about to happen to you.
Contractions feel like really bad cramps... to start with and it's all really down hill from there. I know some people like to put together a birthing plan and work out how they are going to handle what is about to happen to them but it's all very unpredictable. It is hard to plan ahead even if you plan for every eventuality as you can often change your mind when it actually happens to you. I know my husband and I talked at length about not using drugs or what kinds of drugs I may or may not go with on the day. We felt that the pethidine was too risky but changed our minds before the actual event. Reasoning that if it was an option, then they must offer it for some reason. In the end I went with a cocktail or gas, pethidine and a epidural chaser. It all ended in vomiting once our bundle of joy arrived.... but I am getting ahead of myself.
I went to bed two days after my baby was actually due seeing that he had not deemed it time to actually turn up yet and woke around 11 o'clock in desperate need to go to the toilet. Whilst sitting on the toilet my water broke, which was confusing because I didn't remember drinking enough to cause a huge gush of liquid and then it hit... "well, I guess this is it!". We headed off to hospital on a Friday evening, to find that yes indeed our small guest was indeed ready for his arrival but I was only a few centimeters dilated.
During birthing classes when they spoke about giving birth I always felt that I would be quite prudish and not want to be showing my bits off to all and sundry but the truth is I didn't care. The nurse asked if I would like to hop in a warm bath to relieve the contractions and I immediately stripped off to my birthday suit in front of her and hopped in, to my husband's amazement.
I ended up partaking in all the drugs they had on offer and although each person needs to decide on their own pain threshold and where their limits lie at the time, I've gotta say it was the most painful experience of my life. Ok, so I was going to try and sugar coat it but what's the point, if you're about to go through it you'll find out soon enough.
You watch those birthing movies and the woman screams obscenities at her husband and pushes a bit and it's all over. Well, it's not like that. My little guy didn't want to make his way into the world and seemed to be hanging on in there. The Doctor tried a suction cup and then was eventually forced to perform an episiotomy (that's basically cutting bits where you don't want to be cut) and pulling him out with the salad tongs (that, by the way is not the technical term). He arrived in the world almost exactly twelve hours after my water broke and I spent a fair amount of time after that vomiting - and you thought that was all over once the baby was actually out!
I spent all this time pre-birth reading books, looking at how the baby was developing from the size of a nut to the size of an orange and on and now it was out in the world and I really didn't know what I was doing. I had expected the experience of birth to be full of the unknown and scary but to be honest the really scary stuff started after he arrived in the world and came to live with us.
As promised, I will be blogging a new series on Fridays, starting today!! Yay!! So if you are thinking about motherhood, about to become a mum or have just become a mum, then this is for you. Do not count yourself out if you having been doing this mum thing for a while either - come walk with me down mummy memory lane to where it all started. I promise to be straight-up about my experience of becoming a mum but know that it will not always be pretty (in truth, most of it won't be) but it will be honest.
So here we go ....
I have never been a very maternal person. This may come as a small shock now that the career page on my resume currently reads "stay at home mum" (God who saw that coming - I can honestly say I didn't) but that's how it is. I know people who LOVE babies, can't get enough of them, always want to cuddle other peoples and can't wait to have one of their own - yeah well, that wasn't me.
I never had any interest in babies or children. I did not want to hold them and I could not understand why people wanted to show me pictures of their sprogs when I was so clearly not interested. So the day I announced that my husband and I were expecting came as a BIG surprise to many (and yes, it was planned so I was not one of them). Prior to hitting 30 I thought having children was something other people did and I did not have the slightest interest in joining that club. Then one fine day (sometime after my 30th) it just hit me in the face that I might actually want to get involved in this whole parenting caper. Really, no-one was more surprised than me about this turn of events.
So, hubby and I talked it through. What were we doing? Could we afford it? Was this the right time for us? Was this the right thing at all? And we came to the conclusion that we were just going to give it a whirl anyway, regardless. The thing is, you spend most of your 20's partying (OK, maybe that was just me.. whatever) and trying not to get pregnant, so it goes without saying that once you start trying - it will just happen. At that time we had friends who desperately wanted children and had been trying without success for a fairly lengthy period. So I figured, if they wanted a baby so badly and it wasn't happening for them, maybe it wouldn't happen for us either. I had spent a good 16 years on the pill (yeah yeah, partying and trying not to get pregnant) so I thought this is probably going to take a while.
Being not so child friendly, my husband and I just decided to keep this change of heart about trying for a baby to ourselves until we knew what we were up against and the thing is ... it was very quick, much quicker than I had anticipated. So, when I went to the Doc's cause I kept throwing up, I thought it's probably a bug - which it kinda was.. really more of a parasite. Anyhoo, I rocked on up to the Doctors to be told that I was pregnant. Although we were scared, freaking out... and still vomiting we were kind of excited.
The thing is I knew my friend would be devastated and I wanted her to hear it from me, at home, so she could process it all, without an audience. It was one of the worst days of my life, telling her that we were expecting. Me, the woman who wasn't big on kids anyway, who wasn't really interested in babies, was telling her (someone who so desperately wanted to be a mum) that we were expecting. I know that it was heartbreaking for her. I knew it would be like a kick in the guts and understanding that and made me feel so sad that I was pregnant and she wasn't.
After that significant lowlight the pregnancy was filled with many highs..... (What! I think I was typing on autopilot for a moment there). It was crap. It was a crap experience and I did not enjoy being pregnant one bit. I know what you're thinking "what a selfish bloody cow - seeing as your friend wanted that so bad." Well before you jump on that - let me give you a glimpse into the future and tell you that it did happen for her and she now has two lovely girls.
So... back to me. Head in the toilet, feeling very sorry for myself. The thing is, people say "Oh, you should be happy about morning sickness. It means the baby is healthy and growing really well. It's a constant reminder that you're going to be a mum!!" Mind you these are people that aren't pulling over on their way to work to vomit by the side of the road.....
See you for more of flashback Friday next week - want to share some of your experiences?? Please do!!