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'm not sure if it happened because Christmas and New Year are over and it's January, the month most people associate with feeling blue (and poor), or if it was simply a case of the broken sleep catching up with me, but this week I finally found myself back in a place I often ended up when I was struggling so much as a new mum three years ago. I say finally because in many ways I've been expecting to come back to this place, so much so that once I arrived there it felt almost familiar to be back.
That place was in puddles of tears the kitchen floor. But let us not jump there immediately.
As we got back to normal this week following the Christmas break, with my partner heading off to work and my eldest son going to daycare or preschool, I stayed at home with Baby JJ. At seven weeks old he is in something of a rhythm for his naps thanks to me being prompt to make it so. After seeing how it was becoming harder for him to fall asleep on me if there was even the remotest distraction or noise or light around us - and after spending much of the last few weeks with multiple adults and three noisy young children, there have been plenty of distractions - I knew he needed a bit more structure. Partly out of fear of what happened with my first son when he was a baby (short spurts of sleep after near constant battles for naps for much of the first year of his life) I refreshed my knowledge of sleep- and awake-cycles, reminded myself of good sleep habits and set about creating something of a routine for my boy. This mostly involves watching how long he's awake and whenever it approaches fifty minutes I do what I can to make sure he's in a place he can sleep. In previous weeks it has been enough for him to be in my arms, but now that he seems to be so much more aware of the world around him, the best place for his naps is in his cot, in his brother's room when he is out (as it's the darkest in the house - see aforementioned battles for sleep!). Much to my surprise, he has been sleeping in there and sleeping well. Of course there is a part of me that feels bereft about this - what's wrong with my loving arms? - but I can't deny that I am content and proud and just bloody well relieved that he mostly goes down well for a nap, and generally sleeps for more than an hour, often up to two or three hours if we're lucky buying me time to do housework, a little writing, or most importantly have one-on-one time with his big brother. I still indulge him (okay, me) with the odd nap on my chest, and our nights are still a good mix of co-sleeping as he nurses back to sleep a handful of times and I fall asleep lying next to him too. It's broken sleep, but it's the best kind of broken sleep, if that makes sense at all.
So, if I'm getting just about enough sleep, and if he is going down well for his naps, and there is something of a routine in place, why the puddle of tears on the kitchen floor?
Well, for one thing, it happened after carrying the baby, three full shopping bags, and a scooter up three flights of stairs, all the while trying to encourage (ahem, negotiate/beg/demand/!) my three-year-old to also make his way up even though he was exhausted from a busy morning at preschool. After the two boys were in safe places - one on the sofa eating an apple and watching TV, the other lying on the floor under his baby gym (which his brother has treated as roughly as if it was an actually piece of gym equipment), I peeled the baby carrier off my body, stared at the bags of shopping in the corner of the kitchen - unpacked and overflowing - and I just slid down the side of the kitchen cupboard and I felt every dull ache in my body throb. My joints seemed to swell with pain, as if I'd run a marathon the day before. My head pulsed with the beginnings of a stress headache - the result of urging (and bribing and blackmailing) my son to come up the stairs through gritted teeth. And after gazing at the clock and realising there were a whole five hours before bedtime with most of those spent as just a trio, I felt totally overwhelmed. I began to cry and then I opened the door to a familiar train of thought. One that used to haunt me when I was struggling with post-partum depression last time: I don't want to do this. I don't want to be Mum right now. Maybe I don't want to be Mum at all. Maybe I made a huge mistake having another kid. This is all too hard for me.
For a split second I felt like I was at the opening of a long, dark tunnel. For a split second I felt like that tunnel was my only option in going forward. For a split second I thought about my son's book We're Going on a Bear Hunt: "We can't go over it, We can't go under it, We've got to go through it." It felt like I was finally waking up to the reality of parenting two children and I had no choice. I had to go down and into that deep, dark tunnel again to get through it...
Or not. Just as quickly as my old dark friend popped into my head, another voice spoke. "It's okay. You can get off this train. You can turn around and find another way."
And I did this by staying on the floor, letting the tears slowly dry themselves, and then by thinking and asking myself a few questions.
Is there something I can do to give me a break from being Mum a bit more often?
Would taking some time away on my own once or twice a week help?
Will a cup of tea and a biscuit help me get off the floor and face the rest of the day?
The answers to these questions were all the same; an easy Yes.
And so that's why a babysitter will come to our house two mornings a week from now on, and I will go back to exercising regularly, spending a few solid hours writing, and getting comfortable in one of the many coffee shops (the ones that do serve coffee by the way, as living in Amsterdam I should probably clarify this) and just being me, by myself, and I.
A former version of myself would have questioned my substance, stamina and skill as a mother by already needing a babysitter for regular breaks after just seven weeks, especially when one of your children is in childcare 75% of the week. But I am not that version of myself anymore. I know that being a mother is intense, demanding and draining - even when you only have one of your children in your care most of the time. I know that doing only one thing constantly for seven weeks - day and night - is hard, tiring work. I know now that even when a baby sleeps, has something close to a routine and gives you an easy time at night, you are still limited in what else you can do, and this can feel stifling. I also know that as an introvert, I need time on my own, or at least in my own company, to recharge my batteries and get more energy so I can then be the best mother I can be.
I know I'm over-explaining it. I know I don't have to justify to anyone why I need a break after an intensive time. Maybe part of me still thinks I am a lesser mother for needing the time on my own, doing other things I enjoy. Luckily for me - and importantly, for my family - a much bigger, stronger part of me is reminding myself that there are no rewards for doing too much with too little energy, apart from burnout, exhaustion, and yes, depression and anxiety. That is the tunnel I do not want to go down, and that is the tunnel that I will do what I can to avoid through babysitters, cups of tea, and doing the food shopping online. Oh, and letting myself cry on the kitchen floor whenever I need to.
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.
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Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.