This Diary of Motherhood is a series of weekly letters to my first baby, my little son who I call Baby Bird. I know not everyone wants to read about the highs and lows of motherhood so you can read non-baby related posts about travel, writing, freelancing or Amsterdam instead. Alternatively read one of my short stories or check out some book reviews and recommendations.
Dear Baby Bird,
On Wednesday morning, at the end of the weekly barre exercise class I go to while you're at daycare, I found myself thinking about the day I gave birth to you and I had a sudden, stomach-deep urge to cry. This is not unusual. I often think about that day, maybe once or twice a week in fact, and most of the time it passes just as quickly as it appears, no tears shed and the most important day in our life not dwelled upon for too long.
But that Wednesday was different. I kept that unsteady feeling inside, pushing it deep within in, like I would a train ticket that I didn't want to lose tucked in the bottom of my back pocket, and once I was at home and in the shower, I let it out. It didn't come in the ribcage-stretching wretches I imagined it would. Instead it was a gentle cry, the kind that both upsets and soothes you simultaneously. Once dry and dressed, I went back to work. I finished a few things relating to the release of my latest book, which is dedicated to you by the way, and I enjoyed my day of work and writing and being on my own.
Of course, all this alone time means I end up indulging some bad habits. I spend too long surfing the Internet, searching for things I don't need to read or even be aware of, and it was when I was scrolling through Instagram that I stumbled upon the photos of someone who had recently lost a child. I subsequently spent the next hour or so sobbing and sobbing and sobbing at photos documenting a stranger's tragedy, because I'm learning how impossible it is to hear other mother's stories and to not put them in the context of your own life. How would I feel? What would I do? Would I be able to carry on?
It's an activity that serves few purposes, of course. Why imagine the worst when you can spend that time treasuring the best that you have? Why torture yourself with countless horrific what-ifs? Why dishonour their sadness by feeling your own which is surely minute in comparison? And selfishly, why was I wasting my precious alone time on this?
This activity particularly stuck out because it was the opposite of the kind of comparing I normally do when on Instagram. It's more often than not I view photos of beautiful children in the arms of beautiful people with beautiful words written underneath. It's more often than not that my eyes land briefly on these images and I wonder, fleetingly, why my life is not as perfect as theirs. I'm not proud of this. But that Wednesday afternoon I was having very different thoughts. I was considering how I got so lucky to have such a perfect life.
While I do watch the clock most Wednesday afternoons because those are the last of my "adult hours" for another five days, last Wednesday, after I'd put my phone away, I ended up watching the clock for a very different reason. I was counting down the hours, willing the time away so I could pick you up, hold your body in my arms and sniff the soft skin under your ear. I was desperate to see you. It was a physical yearning.
Wait a minute mum, haven't you always felt like that about me? You may want to ask. Haven't I always been the light of your life? Don't you always count down the minutes until we're together again?
Well, I'm sorry, son, but no. I haven't always been this way. As my silly little Instagram confessions reveal, I don't always feel that way. At least not consciously. I have a number of suspicions why that is so - I find caring for you without a break much harder than I ever thought I would - but I know enough now to realise this is "normal", in the sense that almost everything is normal when it comes to parenting. In fact, when it comes to parenting the real problems occur when we start using the words "good" and "bad" or "not normal" so I'm going to do my best to avoid using such terms and instead I want to be honest and share some of the specific challenges and feelings and experiences I have as I continue to navigate this new journey.
I suppose the conclusion you can take from today's diary entry is that I am finding that motherhood is endless and emotional. It is endlessly emotional. It is emotionally endless. But see this as a good thing, like I'm trying to. Because for me, for you, for us, that doesn't just mean a future of tears, sadness, fear, exhaustion and feeling vulnerable - all of which I experience on a very regular basis - because I know now that the emotions I can expect on this journey are also going to be incredibly positive; joy, gratitude, pride and the purest, sharpest, impossible-to-ignore happiness I have ever known. And love. Needless to say, love covers all of this, as if it's a wide, warm soft duvet we now live our lives under.
Some mothers write about such delicious feelings in the minutes, hours, days and weeks after they have become mothers - no matter how that happens. But I am not one of them. While I felt love, happiness and gratitude, I also felt shock, responsibility, uncertainty and a very real and deep grief (for my old life) in ways that often eclipsed the happy moments. I needed time to sort through my feelings and you needed time to grow and show me the light at the end of the tunnel.
Interestingly enough, that's not why I was crying in the shower. I do not look back on your birth and feel bad things. I have absolutely no regrets about the day you were born. Maybe I should tell you that story rather than returning to these darker days of your early months, because that is the greatest story of my life. Giving birth to you was my proudest moment. I was at my strongest when you came into the world. I wish with all my heart that all mothers could say that and I'm so incredibly fortunate that I can say this, and do remind myself of that very, very often.
So when I think and cry about the day of your birth, I'm not crying because I'm sad. I'm crying because it was epic and it was a life-defining moment for me and I'm proud of it, and all of that kind of creeps up on me every now and again. I also cry because it fittingly marked the beginning of this endless, emotional journey we are on together, and if anything is worth taking a moment and a few tears to honour every now and again, it's that.
Now before I sign off, I want to add a few other things, which will hopefully also lift the mood.
Here's a little list of things you did last week... many of which are sources of all those positive emotions that I'm talking about...
- You started "half-crawling". Extending your arm ahead of you and pushing up on the elbow to then project your body forward. When your father and I first saw you do this, we watched frozen and speechless in awe.
- You woke up at 5.45am a lot. The least said about that the better.
- Actually you woke up at night a lot more than the last few weeks. Again, let's leave that there. I'm determined to maintain some level of hope about this, much of which dies away once I start counting your night wakings...
- You began clapping "on demand" (i.e. when your father or I would clap at you) and at random other times. I like to think you clap when you're really, really happy because you do it a lot...
- You proved that you are going nowhere but forwards when it comes to food. You now try almost everything we put in front of you (hummus, avocado and pita bread all featured this week; you are SO middle class), and you often lean forward open-mouthed when we are eating from a plate of something that we're not sharing with you. Your curiosity about the Dutch apple pie I was eating the other day was all consuming - smart kid!
- On Friday afternoon you took a nap in the middle of both your dad and I, just before you fell asleep you kept turning your head from side to side like you couldn't believe we were both still there.
- Using your half-crawling style, you discovered the vintage style car we bought for you long before you were born. I think you may have fallen in love with it a bit.
- You played with a half deflated balloon for three days solid. Placing the tied in your mouth you would suck on it like it was a nipple which I found only mildly insulting.
- You ate a full breakfast (of porridge, not eggs and bacon, of course) every single morning. This made me so proud, but gave me some discomfort as my breasts no have to adapt to a few less feeds a day, but I have faith in this body of mine to adapt accordingly because it has so far; what a brilliant machine it is.
And I have so much faith in you. Faith that you're going to keep throwing challenges, emotions and that blinding happiness at me.
Your emotional, wonky-boobed, thinking-about-writing-your-birth-story-in-all-it's-ugly-wonderful-detail, crazy-in-love mother x