Becoming a mother, and some thoughts on the first year
* I found this post in my draft folder, last added to about six months ago, and on re-reading it it didn't feel right to edit it to encompass the first two years, as it would be coming from such a different perspective.. Everything has moved on, and honestly I have forgotten so much about that first year that if I re-wrote it now all the corners would be rounded. Time takes the edge off, and this post very much needs them kept on. I hope you enjoy it, and will forgive me the time delay!
I meant to write this post when Rory turned one, and already I'm sure I've forgotten more about that first year than I remember. Motherhood keeps you present and has a way of making the past quickly fall away. Things that you swear blind at the time you'll never forget are replaced by all the things that take up your brain the next day, and the next day, and the day after that. And now, we're more than halfway through her second year and it's slipping away fast. But I'll dig deep...
It's been almost seven months since Rory took her first proper steps all by herself, and it seemed to me that with those steps she walked herself right into toddlerhood. I wrote a bit more about it recently in this post, Nineteen Months. Everything about her was different, and overnight she just wasn't my little baby anymore. And yes, I know, in many way she will always be my little baby, but honestly I love toddler Rory so much that I am OK with it. That ever growing distance, her ever shrinking need for me, I am OK with that too. Because every step I see her take towards independence makes me proud of her, and proud of me. It means I've done my job, taught her the right things and made her strong enough to explore the world without me. I'll always be here for her to fall back on, but if she doesn't need me to always hold her hand then that's a good thing.
2016 was our first year together, the year I met my Rory. It was the year that everything shifted, and the year I became a Mother. I've heard it described as finding a whole new room in your house that you didn't know existed, becoming a parent. Having Rory has transformed everything, to the point that me before her feels like a different person. A foreign country that I'll never re-visit. The love, joy and purpose she has brought into my life is incomparable to anything else, and it's something you can't fathom until you have a little human of your own. Your heart now beats outside your own chest, you have a primal instinct to love and protect them that will eclipse the love you feel for anyone else in your life. Watching them grow, experience the world for the first time and slowly seeing them develop into a little person really is magic.
But that first year? It's hard, so hard. Some people talk about how hard it is, but so many people don't. It's not a year for your health, your relationship or your work to thrive. It's a year for merely surviving, in so many areas of your life, because the one person who gets to thrive in all this is your baby. And as long as they are thriving, everything else can wait its turn. There are the obvious challenges of sleep deprivation, parenting conflicts, financial pressures and recurring illness but there's the less obvious and less talked about challenge that comes from the transition into becoming a parent. Becoming a mother. It's something that happens slowly, but you're forced into it abruptly with the fact that one day you are just you and the next day there is a baby to care for. All day and all night. Their need for you is so strong, that no matter how much you love it and them and how comfortable you feel as a mother, it is sure to overwhelm you at times.
There is nothing that can prepare you for the amount of yourself you will have to give in that first year. Your time, your energy, your sanity...I remember days when I didn't know how I was going to get through from one side to the other. The tiredness got the better of me over and over again. And the days when I was sick? Well they were some of the hardest I've ever had. So many days were a struggle, as were plenty of our nights. I found myself envious and resentful of how uneven the divide was between the responsibility of a mother and a father in caring for their child. Ours is a traditional split, with me taking on almost all of the childcare duties while Gav goes out to work. I know for others the split is more even, and for some it leans more towards the father taking on the primary care. Most parents just can't do it 50/50. Looking back on those early days of parenting, I am so grateful of the time I got to spend just my daughter and I. Of being thrown in at the deep end and having no choice but to learn to swim. But at the time, it was difficult and I experienced many times of jealousy that my partner was getting to go out to work each day, eat hot meals with both hands, have adult conversations, push his career forward while mine was on hold, go out for coffee with colleagues, sit still in meetings and just be able to be himself. His time was mostly his own, and I was so envious of that.
Becoming a mother affects you physically and mentally, in a way that just won't ever be the same for a man becoming a father. That's not to diminish the transition for them, nor underplay the challenge they may initially have in bonding with a baby they didn't grow inside them, nor can feed with their own body. A woman's experience of having a child is more visceral, because they undergo the most incredible process of growing another human being inside their own. It's magical, sure, but it's also uncomfortable and exhausting. Pregnancy leaves its marks on you, widens your hips and your rib cage, sometimes your feet, stretches your skin and makes your hair fall out. Then there's the birth, a process to be marvelled at and one I really do feel priveleged to have experienced, but they don't call it labour for nothing. Rory's birth was a tough three day process, with my waters breaking early and needing me to be induced, have an epidural and ultimately a forceps delivery. The moment she was born was the most powerful, emotional and best experience I have ever had, but physically I was left exhausted and bruised. Mentally I showed symptoms of PTSD for a few weeks after the birth, with disturbing dreams, night sweats and flashbacks. The dreams reoccur even now, usually when I think too hard about having another baby, and physically I still have some minor issues left over from the forceps delivery.
Since becoming a mother, there's been many times I've bemoaned my new body. It's so different from my old one, and it's taken time to stop feeling so alien to me. My shape has changed, my old clothes don't fit or flatter the same, and I certainly don't have as much time to care for it as I used to. Enough time has passed now that my wardrobe has evolved, I am able to exercise regularly again and look after myself a little more because my arms are not always full with a helpless newborn. My experience of that first year, and certainly those early weeks and months is that in everyone's eyes the gratitude and love you feel for your new baby should eclipse any feelings you have as a woman and a new mother. Suddenly those two identities become wrapped up in one, that you barely have time to process it all yourself. And I am saying all this from the point of view of someone who didn't struggle with some of the more difficult parts of the transition. I had no problem breastfeeding, bonding with my baby and we were blessed to have no health issues for either myself or Rory after she was born. I can only imagine how hard it must be for someone that did struggle with those things, perhaps without support.
In the first few months of Rory's life, I remember yearning to be able to leave the house all by myself. Without a baby, without breastfeeding clothes, without a change mat, a burp cloth or a rattle. Even half an hour alone to go out and get coffee, and feel 'normal' was something I wanted to do more than anything. I loathed it when health visitors, doctors or baby group leaders referred to me as "Mum", because it seemed like my identity had been wiped out over night along with the birth of my child. I dealt with that by over working myself, and perhaps not succumbing to those early days as much as I should have, But that was my journey, and you will have yours. While it's true that you will never go back to who you were before you had a child (that portal has closed, my friends) it's also true that in time you will find peace with the person you are to become. You'll find your own definition of what it means to be a Mother, and how that fits with you as an individual and as an adult with wants and needs outside that of your baby. In my experience, the new person I became after having Rory is someone I grew to love and respect far more than before she was in my life. But that takes time, so if you don't feel like that right away it's OK, and more people should tell you that. It doesn't take away from the love you have for your baby, or for being a mother, just because you need time to process this new identity and find yourself amongst it all.
In the days before Rory turned one, I felt so emotional thinking back to myself in labour that time last year. It took me back to all the thoughts and feelings I had while bringing her into the world, when I didn't know what she looked like, or know anything about who she was. I was exhausted, scared and so ready just to have her in my arms. I lost faith more than a few times that there was even a baby in my belly, it took so long to get her out. Those memories of her birth have become the birth of me as her mother, and all those things I know now about what that means. Me, in labour, the last moments of being just myself. And now, I don't mourn for that person at all. I feel a pang of sadness looking at photos of me before her, because she has grown into the sweetest, funniest, most brilliant little companion and I don't know how I got by without her laughter. It's hard, that first year. That growing into your new self, all while meeting the sometimes hourly needs of your baby. But grow into yourself you will, uncomfortably so, like a butterfly tentatively emerging from it's cocoon after a long and transformative sleep. Everything you feel is OK, because it's all part of who you were learning how to live with who you will become. Bickering flatmates, soon to become the best of friends.
if you enjoyed this post and want to read more about motherhood, click here for more posts in the series. do leave me a comment and let me know what you think, i'd love to hear from you.
*all photos by Rebecca Caridad, taken November 2016.