I am Chloe’s Mum
Note: This is a long-one. I wanted to mark the first year of being a parent with a short essay, so hope you enjoy.
One year of motherhood later I emerge, a real mother, not just a pretend one or a practicing one. The forever bit has now sunk in. I wear clean but un-ironed clothes and half-done ponytail along with banana smeared sunglasses and phone. The physical and mental adjustment has been complete: I am a mother. It’s taken a year.
I attended not a single prenatal or birthing class, partly from fear of purple scarfed birthing experts but also from lack of interest in all the options. I wanted and got a Caesar (her being breach almost guaranteed that) and decided to just ‘wing-it’ from day 1. You can only guess how much we had to learn.
At first my feeling of motherhood was aligned with I’ll try not to damage, ruin or accidentally maim her as I knew nothing of handling nor had I spent any time with a newborn. Along side this mentality was ‘please can I sleep some more’. I was a clumsy zombie. Motherhood stage one. Pass.
The first 48 hours at home was an uphill battle in baby appliance learning. You can read the instructions for car seats, nappy wrappers, bottle sterilizers and battery operated rockers all you like but real life in the fogginess of new parenthood is like assembling a whole IKEA showroom with one alan key.
Swaddling was my first fail. I am a master present wrapper and thought this was a crossover skill from my former life. Somehow I missed a foot or had two ends on the same side. I had to wake the faux-husband to get her swaddled after midnight snacks. It was my Everest to learn the delicate but firm art of swaddling or just loose more sleep. Getting more sleep is a great motivator for learning things and more so at 3am when the bed is calling.
Feeding was the next mountain range. My boobs were declared a drought zone and formula became her diet. But how to serve? My kitchen skills are still under a visitors pass so learning water temperature, cleanliness and bottle cleaning felt like I was back in the science lab. I was frustrated and embarrassed not be a boob feeder as it’s the medically the best feeding option; but I was secretly relieved not to pull out the saggy boobs in public.
Emotions, and the sheer force of them in all directions, were entertaining. Apart from every disaster known to the weather bureau manifesting as news for the first 3 months, any news story on babies, children being lost then found, medical miracles or room reveals had me in tears. Thank goodness a babies eyesight is so poorly otherwise she’d think I was a weepy bag of a mother.
I tried a mothers group at 4 weeks and found my stand-up comedy routines about her regurgitation, swaddling or the dog licking her – all my fail moments were not welcome in the stern rooms of the upper middle class suburb. I was scared of the other mothers, they were into motherhood in a serious way, they all breast feed, had funky accessories, designer prams but no sense of humour. My sister-in-law, whose daughter was 6 days older than mine, said ‘Come to the Redfern Mothers Group’. While the junkies raved on next door we discussed politics, nail polish and laughed. I’d found my mothers group.
Each Thursday I looked forward to Mothers group. There was always the burning issue of the week, why is she doing this, what can I do to improve that, or just lack of adult company meant it was one of the most helpful, refreshing hours of the week
Parenting is constant learning. I had baby books stacked in the bathroom (the only place I could read & where the light is good). I read each stage of development and anticipated teeth, smiles, movement and monthly birthdays with forensic fervour. The mothers group was a great source of such discussions when solids time arrived, or changing sleeping situations. We were studying our children, researching theories, debunking experts and recommending blogs and websites. A private Facebook group was set-up to capture all the links and images we discussed.
The shift in priorities was sudden and straight forward. We were a family, we had to co-ordinate our outings, talk about finances, the best way to do things from visiting relatives to re-arranging the house and furniture to best suit her safety and spread of toys.
Any money I earnt went on her. I thought about her needs. What was the best sleeping bag? What shoes does she need? What are the right toys? I succumbed to the idea that purchasing things would solve so much, only to see her favour clothes pegs over an expensive “intelligent” toy.
In the first 2 months of her life we visited the hospital many times, not because she was ill, but because my beloved aunt was dying of cancer. Letting her hold her great niece and bottle feed her was a simple pleasure. In fact taking a newborn into a cancer ward or hospice helped with the reality of the other end of life. The presence of her grand nieces brought her joy and was a welcome diversion for the other staff and patients.
I thought about my mother constantly. She died 3 years ago and it radically altered me. Family and children became more important, I needed to see my father and siblings more, for both the conversations you could only have with them and the physical connection back to Mum. Maybe this was why, at 43, I became a mother for the first time.
My faux-husband’s family is all in the UK so we had little family around. I longed for some extended Greek family situation but then realized we were both happy learning parenting alone. My mother in faux-law came out for 3 weeks in the early days. It was great to see her at 5am helping and we both enjoy sending her emails and photos. The virtual family experience.
I think I cried every day. Happy, I can’t believe I have a child tears. It wasn’t love, at first; I was deeply affected by the physical presence of my daughter. In holding her I couldn’t believe she was mine, nor that she would change and become a walking talking human. Taking care of her, getting her to sleep, feeding her was the first level of my commitment, but it wasn’t a love, just a warm feeling of responsibility.
I worked sporadically starting with a one day a week retail job when she was 3 months. In quiet moments I could smell her milkiness on me & I looked at photos of her on my phone. I was both glad to dress up, put on make-up, perfume and my dangly jewellery but also very eager to come home and see her face.
When she started smiling, when her hair became a bit crazy that’s when the love really started. But to be really materialistic, when she was 4 months, I won an out-there designer pram, a Bugaboo Missoni. It was expensive and obvious and I won it for her, it’s her pram. It’s now covered in biscuity prints and hides a collection of crumbs the dog now enjoys.
At 5 months she became loud and wriggly. I stopped seeing Mums and Bubs films and got my first taste of being told off in public for her loud baby noises. I was embarrassed and then annoyed. My mother’s pride is now activated to defend such a telling off by another restaurant patron, hey it was a pub and a Friday lunch, a baby can make noises!
Feeding solids at 6 months was fun to film. All that porridge, spoon manipulation and enthusiasm made for great messy photos. I followed the ‘baby led weaning’ website and placed real food on her tray table. She slurped up noodles, smashed pasta on her face and clutched slippery pieces of mango to her mouth. The dog sat under the IKEA high chair and had a great time. With her first tooth appearing at 11 months, she’s managed to gum her way through a great variety of food.
She went into her own room at 7 months. It took a bit to get the Faux-husband to move all his boy stuff out and again sleep was used as a bribe. I had admired beautiful pictures of other nurseries so it was time to be a mother-decorator. Apart from buying a bed on eBay, everything was given or handed down. I hung my old childhood paintings, displayed gifts and toys from friends and relatives. She responded by crawling off to her room and reading/ turning the pages of books in the natural light of her room. I peeked around the door to see her muttering to the pages of an upside down book. Oh, swell of the heart.
Sometime around the 9 month mark she slept through the night, it was a tease, as it didn’t happen again for a week, but we both woke up strangely. Is this what an 8 hour sleep is like?
It’s a tick chart. Once something has been done you start researching the next, which was walking. After pulling up, taping around furniture, gaining multiple ‘discovery bruises’ as she wobbled into tables. It took 2 to 3 months before the first steps at 11 months. I noticed girls were quicker to walk than boys but everything is within the range of normal from 7 months to 18 months
This year I’ve not read a single novel against my usual 1 to 2 novels a week pre-life. My reading is confined to parenting manuals, twitter feeds and, of course, countless reading of ‘Where’s the Green Sheep?’. I’ve come to admire brevity. Getting a story out in 28 pages or 140 characters is admirable.
Christmas and New Year co-incided with their one year birthdays and the mothers group had a picnic to celebrate. Some are walking, the rest are crawling and showing their sense of determination to reach the water features. We reflected back on a year ago when we were heavily pregnant in the heat of pre-Christmas, waddling down streets, taking up the bed with our bulbous bellies, and being told of the immense change we knew was about to happen; the becoming of a mother. We all agreed that parenting came first, and then came this enormous, wonderful, huge love.