A Diary of Motherhood: Second Chapter - Week Six

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.

With my first son, I looked ahead to week six of life post-partum as if it was a lighthouse and I was bobbing up on rough seas, with just a piece of rotten driftwood to hold on to. In those early weeks I told myself that all I had to focus on was getting to week six, and that I could ignore everything that was to happen after that. I believed this so thoroughly that once that appointment with my midwife was over - and I'd repeatedly insisted how "fine" I was rather than indulge the growing doubt and worry that was lurking inside me - that for a long time after six weeks I felt even more lost at sea, because now I had lost my lighthouse.

This time it feels like my all-important six week check with my midwife has come around very quickly without me even thinking about it other than glancing at it in my calendar when making another appointment or plan. Christmas has kept me busy, having family visiting has kept little else out of my mind, and another hard week of broken sleep thanks to the efforts both of my sons has raised my tiredness levels to that which makes holding basic information like what day of the week it is a near impossible task (hence that appointment going in a calendar and lots of reminders being set!). But when the appointment came I answered her questions honestly - "Yes, I'm tired, and yes, I have hard days, but also yes, I do genuinely feel fine. For real this time." - and I felt relieved and relaxed when she told me physically I'd healed very well, better even than after my first birth. But I wasn't surprised. I also feel that way mentally and emotionally too, although this still doesn't mean I am bulletproof when it comes to feeling fragile and vulnerable, far from it.

One of my brothers was still here for the new year, and he and his wife came over to ours for new year's eve, a night I've had mixed feelings about even before I had children, but now, especially now, as I am so tired and still recovering physically and in many or maybe more ways mentally, the thought of staying up past midnight went from "yeah, sure, I can do it" to "please don't make me stay up that late!" as soon as the night was more than a week away. Indeed once the day came around and I had spent much of the hours before our four guests arrived cooking and cleaning and juggling my youngest boy (almost literally) once dinner was served and eaten (and in my case interrupted by our hungry baby) I felt an all too familiar hot-cold panic set in. Unable to stop myself as we still sat at the dinner table with drinks topped up, I began to count up the hours of sleep I was due to get, or not. I saw the total dwindle as after dinner games were put out on the table. I stopped listening to what the rules were of the card game in front of me and I focused all my concentration on figuring out how to excuse myself without seeming like a party pooper. And yet even when I did summon the courage to get up and leave the room, I was clumsy and waffly, making a mountain out of a mole hill, and ironically extending the time I was not in bed asleep.

As it happened, nobody seemed to mind much, and in the end while I did go to bed, I didn't fall asleep for at least an hour on account of the noise of fireworks and parties all around the area, but both of my sons slept soundly and that was almost as calming and soothing as doing it myself, almost. In the end I probably got about six hours of broken sleep - a good night for me! The following morning, when meeting up with my brother and his wife to say goodbye before their flight, I apologised again for not staying up later, and they, again, didn't seem bothered at all. What was most interesting - to me at least - about this whole situation was that throughout it all there was a little voice inside me telling me to stop being so silly. This voice was quick to remind me that less than six weeks ago I had given birth to a baby following a long and hard 36-hour labour, which in turn followed a 41-week long pregnancy, the last month of which was incredibly difficult due to serious health issues with my partner (more on that another time). I'd not slept though the night uninterrupted for over four months and for nearly six weeks I'd not slept more than two hours in a single chunk and most nights featured at least four interruptions on a good night and over six on a bad. I was handling night feeds alone and hadn't spent more than twenty minutes away from my baby since he'd been born; I was allowed to go to bed whenever I wanted, new year or no new year. That voice told me I didn't have to apologise for a thing. That voice told me to look after myself so that I could then look after everyone around me. That voice told me I had nothing to feel ashamed about or to apologise for. I didn't give that voice air time so other people could hear it but I did listen loud and clear to her, and I liked what she had to say.

How I wish that little voice could have gotten a bit louder one evening this week when I went to the cinema with a friend, along with my baby boy a few nights later.

I should firstly confess that I am not a big fan of the cinema. Given a choice I much prefer to watch films in the comfort of my own home and while I enjoy movies I can happily wait a few months to watch them on Netflix or DVD rather than sitting in an over air-conditioned room with strangers rustling sweet wrappers all the while wishing I could turn the volume down just a tad, but this week my friend wanted to go watch a film and I wanted to be distracted from saying goodbye to my family who had just left after such a fun week, and I was feeling a little emotional about it all. I felt confident that my almost six-week-old baby would sleep for most of the early evening showing and I knew I could just nurse him if not to keep him quiet. I booked seats as close to the exit at the back of the room and I packed a bag with more changes of clothes than I thought he and I would both need and off we went to the cinema. He slept in his carrier perfectly all the way there and all through the adverts, but just as the trailers began he got restless and I could tell he was hungry, so I popped him on my breast.

As my son began to feed, his little squeaks prompted some kind smiles from the middle aged women next to us. They complimented me on his looks and on how well he fed. They also said it was good that I was out with him. I enjoyed a quick feeling of pride, letting it swell in me for a few seconds, then I went back to watching the trailers for a terribly predictable Dutch teen horror movie (cabin in woods, good looking characters, power-cut etc.). Before that trailer had ended a young white blonde woman from three rows in front of me had got up out of her seat and come to squat by my side in the aisle. She said something to me in Dutch that I didn't hear over the noisy trailer soundtrack so I leaned in closer. I was half thinking that she was about to compliment me on my courage breastfeeding in public but what I heard was her telling me to stop feeding my son. She was saying he was too loud, and that I should go outside. I was speechless. So much so she obviously thought I hadn't understood so she told me it all again in English, asking also if I had a friend with me who could take the baby outside. Still in shock, I continued to be without words. I stared at her and made some quick, sweeping judgments; Educated, child-free, young, possibly single, possibly on a date, possibly living the kind of life I lived ten years ago. 

"I'm feeding my baby," I said eventually, in English. I have always been excellent at stating the obvious.

"I know but I don't think this is the right place," she said.

I looked up at the screen, it was now a trailer for the Hollywood film Green Book.

"The film hasn't even started," I said without looking back at her. "He will be finished soon."

"I don't want to make you mad," she said. "I just don't think it's the right place."

It was only then when she said that that I realised how mad I really was. So mad that I didn't trust myself, not to do anything violent or aggressive, but to cry. All my life I have fought a tendency to cry when I'm angry. It makes me feel next to useless in any kind of disagreement and I really didn't want to let her see my tears. So I sat back and continued looking straight ahead, keeping my son on my breast. She said something again about not wanting to make me angry. I looked at my son, his tiny mouth sucking away, oblivious. Suddenly his squeaks seemed deafeningly loud and that made me want to cry and run from the room. Thankfully, she stood up and left me. Almost immediately after this, the film's opening credits began. They were still playing when I stood up and went outside to catch some air and try to get my son back in his carrier and asleep. Then I let myself cry a little, the tears falling onto his head as I bobbed up and down in the cinema's foyer.

I also whispered a few colourful four-letter words with the image of the woman's face printed in my mind. I'm not proud of this, of my rage.

I watched approximately half of the film in the end, coming and going again and again. My son didn't settle back to sleep for a long time, and he spat up a considerably large chunk of his milk, meaning I had to feed him again before the end of the film and without debating it internally too much I did it on a seat outside. 

I wish I'd told that young woman how unfair her comments were, how vulnerable they made me feel, how I was interrupting nothing but the trailers, how maybe ten other people were sat closer to me than her and none of them saw fit to bother a woman feeding her baby, how maybe one day if she has children and is lucky enough to be able to breastfeed them that she will understand how hard it can be to do so without judgment, fear, embarrassment.

So while I am proud of that little voice inside of me that is encouraging and protecting me, I know there is still room for it to be a bit louder and to maybe one day be heard by others. But for now I'm glad she is here with me because her clear and precise tone is a voice that I will continue to listen to. Hers is a voice I am proud of because the voice is undoubtedly mine.

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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