13 Apr 2011
A while ago, in February, I wrote some very black words about motherhood. Black in a way that made it painful to read. I didn’t publish them. I was writing about a black time, from a positive position, but about the very blackest time in my career as a mother. Or what I thought was the blackest time. It seems that I was wrong about that. The black periods come and then recede and then they come again. This is how I experience motherhood. Occasionally, dark storm clouds roll in.
Recently, I was musing about how to write about motherhood. Truthful. Honest. Raw. That’s how I wanted to write about it, but it’s incredibly difficult to write authentically about motherhood. You are expected to ‘love it’, you are expected to give up some of your identity, and as I found out recently, to give up your toast. This is how I experience anyway. I feel that I am expected to be a sunny, cheery and positive. There are days when the act of mothering is so unmitigatedly relentless, that it is impossible to be sunny, cheery, and positive. Sometimes it is hard to be even remotely pleasant; even to the child who you love. It is even harder to admit, or write about it.
When I was thinking about having a child, I knew, intellectually at least, that it would be hard work. That it would be difficult, sleep depriving, heart wrenching. When I got pregnant, I spent a lot of time thinking about the first twelve weeks of the baby’s life. If I survived the first twelve weeks, I thought, I would be alright. What I didn’t think about was the next twelve years. Or the rest of my life. I thought about time in little short bursts into the future. Next week, ten weeks pregnant, twenty weeks pregnant, thirty weeks pregnant, forty weeks. Then first six weeks after the baby, then twelve weeks after, then countdown to the recommended twenty six weeks of breastfeeding. I even diarised those twenty six weeks. And the next bit and the next little bit. Only recently, I have been able to think about motherhood as the REST OF MY LIFE! Let me say that again – THE REST OF MY LIFE.
In the first weeks of Benedict’s life, I would wake up and I would have forgotten I had had a baby. It was with a start, a shocking jolt, that I would hear the cry that had woken me up. Oh that’s right, I’ve had a baby and he needs me. Now. My mind played tricks on me. I imagined I had ‘lost him’. I woke up not able to find him. Of course I hadn’t lost him. He was in bed. I would have forgotten that I had got up in the night, breastfed him, put him back to bed and then returned to my own bed. Sleep deprivation makes you mad. As I trudged through the mind numbing tiredness, I couldn’t think very far ahead. At six months, thinking about him being a one year old seemed impossible. My thoughts were all about the next little bit. Just get to sleeping through the night, it will get better. Just get over this bit. Just meet that milestone. It will get better. I had almost convinced myself that if I mastered the ‘next bit’, motherhood would, like magic, get better.
What I didn’t realise at the time, while I was convincing myself it would be better if this happened or after that happened, was that I was experiencing the relentlessness of mothering. It does get better, but just because you are getting some sleep, the baby eats well and things are remotely sane, doesn’t mean that it will be easier. It will be just as demanding, just differently demanding. This is not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I did. But my thinking was not adapting fast enough or deep enough.
Motherhood is demanding in a way that is hard to deal with. Demanding because you cede control; you can barely get your own way. At all. On Tuesday, all I wanted to do was eat my hot toast, made from bread I made myself, with lovely fig jam. I had managed to get the stars to align and got tea and toast at the same time. I sat down. No mean feat in itself. I was joined seconds later by the toddler pulling at my pants. Toast, toast, toast??? NO. NO. NO. This is mama’s toast. I am going to eat it. Cue tears. Cue crawling on to my lap to tug infuriatingly at the button on my jumper. What swiftly followed was exactly enough to send me into a day-long funk. Fig jam all over my pants. Loss of toast. Crying child. Inner fury at my own inability to deal with a simple everyday situation.
It was only a piece of toast. I should have just smiled and given it to him. At that moment, it was too much. I did not want to. I wanted to sit quietly and eat my toast, by myself. With no toddler. These are the relentless moments. These are the moments that are hard to write about. Motherhood … it is a marathon. With a moving finish line. A relentless, receding finish line. This day reminded me that the black days come. The black thoughts come. The trick is to know that they will pass. But you might want to eat your toast first.
Thanks to some dear friends for their encouragement, some direct, some tacit, to write this post. You know who you are. x