A Diary of Motherhood: Second Chapter - Week Eight

This is my motherhood diary, documenting what life is like as I adjust to becoming a mum of two. I wrote my first motherhood diary in the year following my first son's first year of life. I call him Baby Bird on this blog. He became a big brother to my second son, Baby JJ, in November 2018 and so I have returned to writing weekly updates about what life is like becoming a mother to two young boys.  (I wrote about my first son's birth here). You can find all of the first year's diary entries here, and you can start at the beginning of year one here, and year two here.
I got high this week.

This is something I shouldn't say so freely living in Amsterdam as we do, but it's true. On the morning of my second son turning eight weeks old, I was sat in a coffee shop and feeling high.

I'm leading you on. Of course, I mean a coffee shop selling caffeine, and yes the high was indeed caffeine-related but it was also a hormone high, and surprisingly not the oxytocin kind. You see I was riding high because I'd just done my first exercise class in over four months. And I was alone; one son in daycare and the other with his new babysitter, who couldn't have agreed to come look after him quicker when I asked if she was interested in looking after him a few mornings a week after last week saw me struggle with being with a baby 24/7.

So I felt high because of endorphins and caffeine, yes, but also because I was doing something I hadn't done in almost as long: sitting by myself, alone, drinking coffee, and doing nothing else. No breastfeeding a baby. No wiping a toddler's mouth. No changing a nappy. No calmly telling my eldest son he shouldn't put his hand down his trousers just before eating dinner. No thinking about what I would need to take with me if we were to leave the house. No trying to remember what was (or wasn't!) in our fridge for dinner that night. No watching the clock to see if the baby would need a feed soon or a sleep, or if we were going to be late for wherever we were going.

Yes, I was still a mother, but I wasn't actively being mother in that moment. And rightly or wrongly, that made me feel so good.

It's strange that I would highlight this moment in this week's motherhood diary. It was so very fleeting - I had to return an hour later to relieve the babysitter. And I have spent many more hours this week - night and day - doing the breastfeeding, the wiping, the nappy-changing, the clock-watching and the near-constant advising my eldest son to do or not do things that could endanger his health or someone else's. Why would I not write about those, because although they are repetitive and monotonous and draining and knackering, are they not also the bread and butter of what makes you a parent?

There was also the high of feeling well for just five days previously I'd had a nasty but brief bout of mastitis. I'd gone to bed that Friday night and couldn't sleep despite Baby JJ snoring away beside me in his bassinet. I was freezing cold and shivering. I asked my partner to check the thermostat but it was no different from usual, but I knew that I was. I took two paracetamol, laid a blanket over the top of the duvet and hoped for the best. It was a restless night with little sleep, but by the morning I knew I was quite poorly with a temperature and body aches all over. I checked my breasts repeatedly, searching for red marks and lumps but couldn't find anything noticeable, but when my son nursed, my let down stung sharply and this sensation lasted a lot longer than usual. After a few phone calls to my midwife and the out of hours doctor (because it was Saturday - of course, it was Saturday!) I was confident it was mastitis and not the flu like I'd been dreading because the idea of looking after an eight-week-old with the flu was a sickening one. 48 hours of staying in bed later, my fever was gone, my milk was flowing just fine, but I was still sore in my bones and lacked even more energy than usual. And then as I undressed for a shower, I noticed a tell-tale red triangle shaped mark on my left breast as if to confirm what it had been.

But I was already relieved to feel well enough to go about the many things that need doing every day. While it is never nice being ill, being sick as a parent brings a whole new load of fear, stress and well, ill-feeling! Because when you can't do the many, many things you do as a parent each day, well, things do kind of fall apart... 

I remember with my first son that aside from all the new things I was feeling and thinking (and struggling with), I was quite amazed just how much I would do for him as a baby. Having a newborn again I've been reminded of this, and of course, the workload is indeed heavier now. The doing is constant most days. The acts of providing and caring are relentless, and they use up energy, and demand mental focus and attention. If you have never cared for another person or being for a long period of time, I think becoming a parent is a real shock. And yet, I've always found the doing work relatively easy. As in, I don't find it mentally difficult, and while some up-the-back poos will easily get the better of me, I do feel the odd rush of satisfaction or pride when a baby is clean, fed and asleep in his cot, smelling of baby lotion and talcum powder (and no, it doesn't happen every naptime, or even every day!). And now it is very different because with a toddler you don't just do the work without reward, or rather feedback, which  my eldest son sometimes supplies with heartening comments like "Mummy, you didn't wipe my bum enough" to "Mummy, I love your bouncy tummy".

Maybe that's also why I don't write about these moments very much. Because they're not the hard part for me, albeit they do undeniably suck up so much time and energy. Possibly it's also because those moments where you feel a sense of peace and satisfaction with what you're doing are quite few and far between. What I mean is, for every sweet moment like my toddler son saying "thank you, Mummy" unprompted or just kissing my hand when I place it on his cheek, there are ten or more moments where you are doing, working with no reward. There's cleaning, washing, tidying, organising, planning, folding, sorting, wiping, scrubbing, finding, carrying, sweeping, lifting, and probably not often enough mopping. And this is not to mention the playing. Once your child is more than just a few months old, there is scope to play with them. Mostly I do this unthinkingly, and for the most part it is enjoyable and sweet and another potential source of lovely moments, but I have to be honest and say there are times (many times!) and especially in these early recent weeks of my other son's life, when I am simply too exhausted to lie on the floor and push a few cars around with my son. Other times, I make excuses so I don't have to get the play-dough out. More often than not I avoid any messy activity for my eldest because I simply don't want the burden of cleaning it up after, or supervising him while he does his best at cleaning up, knowing I'll have to sweep and wipe after him anyway.

So maybe that's why I don't go into detail about the doing, because I'm ashamed to admit that I don't always love to play with my three-year-old. I'm also saddened to say that even with my relatively new 8-week-old, who I still look at like he's the most beautiful thing on this planet (because I actually think he is) and who I still cuddle to my chest or side all night, every night, I find it hard to muster energy to feel the high of being fulfilled by the relentless cycle of nappy changes and feeds. The feeds are of course very special, but now that we are back to a more normal rhythm and I am more active doing other things to keep our family life ticking over, they have occasionally also been a little annoying, interrupting other activities or duties. Now I've written that down I feel sad by this so I will try to work on this not being the case. Oh, but the nappy changes, the day I stop doing nappy changes will not be a day I regret and I'm not sad to admit that. Truly, I'd totally forgotten to just how much more often a newborn needs a clean nappy, and just how epic and runny and staining-tumeric-yellow their poos can be.

But if I don't do it all with enjoyment, I do it with commitment and care. I put energy into it. I know this because that's why I felt so good after putting my energy somewhere else that morning I sat alone in the coffee shop, the sweat still drying on my back. It was like (re)discovering that I had another purpose - exercise, drinking coffee, reading, people watching - and that was instantly rewarding in a way that parenting just isn't because I do the latter so much. And then there was the high of not doing anything, of just sitting there, watching other people be busy working on their laptops or pushing their offspring in buggies down the street outside. (Not to mention the high of being in better health again after illness. Really, that is the best high of all.)

Sometimes it is in the not-doing that we can stop, take a step back and really appreciate what the doing involves - effort, energy, care, LOVE - and so actually me writing about this beautiful, peaceful moment of not-parenting I am also writing about the many not-so-peaceful, sometimes painful (physically and emotionally), but also occasionally very, very beautiful moments of parenting.

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

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