30 Nov 2012
What you must not do, is reach behind you into your past and try to drag parts of it with you.
You are not that person anymore.
Let me tell you a story.
This is a story about ‘everywoman’. She’s you, she’s me, she’s your wife, your sister, you lover, your friend. Let’s call her Stella, although that isn’t her real name. Stella lives in a world where the truly important and transformational aspects about her life are hidden, not discussed, not for public consumption. She lives with a haze of unspoken thoughts and fears hovering just out of her grasp.
Why didn’t anyone tell me?
What no one tells Stella is how much of herself she will lose. Or about how much she will lose control of perfectly simple things, like getting in the car and driving away. Or about her bodily functions and how they will betray her while she is trying to get on with life. Or the boredom, or the self loathing, or the sheer frustration of trying all day to something easy and minor and trivial that cannot be achieved while holding a baby that won’t sleep.
No one tells her that everyone, every woman feels like this. In Stella’s mind they are all coping and it is only she who is paralysed standing next to your car for an eternity trying to decide if you should just carry the baby into the bread shop or whether you should get the pram out of the boot. As she stands there a stranger approaches her gently to ask if she is ok because she is concerned that Stella has been standing there for such a long time.
In Stella’s mind everyone else loves making craft and cuddling tiny babies while not reading their book. In her sleep deprivation addled brain, it is only she who is monumentally incompetent and you are the only one you who can’t do all the housework and cook the dinner and look after the babies all day.
What no one tells you is that this is the last bastion of the secret club that you can only enter by having a baby. A secret door that once you pass through it you can never go back. The changes are profound and you can’t know this from the outset. The mechanical details of having a child can be taught and explained but no one will tell you what it feels like. Not often does anyone try to speak honestly about the grind and the isolation, and if they do soft words in rosy colours are applied over the hard messages to soften, to conceal and to temper the blows.
If Stella is lucky she will be well supported. But no amount of support and encouragement is going to silence the noisy voices in her head telling her that she should love this, that it is natural and easy and that if it isn’t, that it is her fault. If she is unlucky she will not be supported. She will be bullied by doctors and nurses and her pain from the birth with never leave her. If her expectations, no matter how unrealistic about her birthing experience are not met, she will feel like she has failed in some way, and no one will want to talk about it. Not her friends, not her partner, not anyone; because after a while someone else cannot hear her tell the story over and over again without wishing it would stop.
Sometimes Stella will feel like she is surfing the wave to the shore and that soon, she will get up on her feet on the wet sand and walk, free from the clinging water. Other times the tide and the gritty irritating sand will trap her, pulling her back under. She will occasionally try to feel herself again. She’ll try to read the New Yorker or the Paris Review but the page will swim beneath her eyes and she will struggle to hold a coherent thought and then the baby will need a feed or comfort or the toddler will pull all the books off the shelf and Stella will leave the page there only to have to try to tidy it up later.
No one will tell her that it will take years before she will successfully drag some part of her past into the light and reconnect with it. If she is lucky she will know women with children older that her own, to give her glimmers of hope that one day she might be able to do these things again. The things that make her feel whole again. But today is not the day this is going happen. Today Stella will start at 5-30 and keep going till she collapses in the evening, only to have to get up during the night over and over.
Sometimes other women will tell Stella about the joy. The sheer bliss of newborn smell or rosy sleeping cheek or smiles. The telling won’t be enough to convey the heartrending and the unraveling of which will go with these. Or forever living with your heart outside of your body.